Playoff talk is heating up for the Super Bowl champions, the Seahawks. Their biggest game of the season is this Sunday against the first-place Cardinals in Arizona. Kickoff is 5:30.
KPLU sports commentator Art Thiel says there's a lot at stake.
'This Is For The NFC West'
"This is the battle between the two best teams in the NFC West," Art said. "Arizona is 11-3, the Seahawks are 10-4. A win by Seattle would tie the teams but the Seahawks would have the tiebreaker over Arizona because they beat them in November, 19-3, in Seattle.
"Those are the stakes. It doesn’t guarantee the NFC West because there are some permutations that could happen in the subsequent final week of the season that might deny a championship. But it’s pretty remote so, for all intents and purposes, this is for the NFC West."
Art says if the Seahawks can finish with one of the two best records in the NFC, they would draw a first-round bye in the playoffs.
"That’s so important this time of year when you can rest injured players and perhaps get them back," he said. "That is the route the Seahawks went last year when they did the best possible thing that a playoff team can do, which is: win the division, get home field advantage with that No.1 seed and get that bye and then have two home games.
"That’s what they’re aspiring to do this time. And they’ve got a reasonable shot when we thought three or four weeks ago they were really out of luck and may not even make the playoffs."
Has Arizona's Luck Run Out?
Arizona is starting its third-string quarterback on Sunday since their starting and backup quarterbacks are injured. Ryan Lindley hasn't had much time to get to know his fellow teammates.
"A month ago this guy was on the practice squad of the San Diego Chargers," Art said. "And now he’s starting in the biggest game for the franchise in the last five years! That’s the last time they were in the playoffs.
"They’ve done a remarkable job at surviving injuries up to this point. But I think a lot of fans and a lot of odds makers are looking at this as the game where the Arizona luck runs out."
Seahawks Favored To Win
Art says Lindley is the main reason the Seahawks are seven-point favorites to win the game.
"They’ve got the weak quarterback going against the No. 1-ranked defense in the NFL," he said. "The Seahawks have done it again for the second year in a row. It’s a remarkable streak that the Seahawks have had. If they again are No. 1, that will be three years in a row — the first time in over 40 years that an NFL team has had the No. 1 defense three straight years."
While the Seahawks' defense is No. 1, their offensive line has struggled.
"The Seahawks’ big worry is protecting Russell Wilson," Art said. "The last time they played (the Cardinals), Wilson was sacked seven times. When he stayed upright he did well — he completed 17 of 22 passes. But the Seahawks have several injuries on their front line. They’re a little vulnerable.
"There's a lot of drama in the matchups between the two offenses but I think there’s probably going to be a little edge to Seattle. I’m saying Seattle 13, Arizona 9."