Week 16 preview: Seattle hosts Arizona Cardinals in NFC West showdown

(photo credit: Matt Kartozian/US Presswire)

(photo credit: Matt Kartozian/US Presswire)

When the Arizona Cardinals faced Seattle for the first time this season back in Week 7, the 34-22 Seahawks victory surprised very few. At the time, the 6-1 Seahawks appeared to be light years ahead of the 3-4 Cardinals, delivering a dominating performance in all phases of the game.

Fast forward nine weeks ahead to the rematch of the NFC West teams, and you get a vastly difference picture. Since Week 7, the division rivals sport identical 6-1 records. Needless to say, the matchup at CenturyLink field will be a little less one-sided that the University of Phoenix Stadium result, at least going into the game.

The home field will be a huge factor, though. The Seahawks are one of four teams currently undefeated at home, painting a David and Goliath situation for the Arizona Cardinals. If they want to win and stay relevant in the playoff picture this late in the season, they need to help their own fortunes by defeating the Seahawks in a place where they rarely lose; a homefield that is as much a gamebreaker as any in the NFL.

Here’s a look at some of the matchups to watch in Sunday’s game:

Marshawn Lynch vs Arizona run defense

In typical unstoppable force versus immovable object fashion, this NFC West matchup will feature two of the most elite units in the whole National Football League.

Behind Marshawn Lynch, the Seattle rushing offensive trails only Philadelphia for the best the NFL in terms of yardage. Arizona, on the other hand, trails no one in the NFL; Todd Bowles and his unit give up the fewest rushing yards per game in the NFL.

Something has to give. Arizona was able to keep Philadelphia’s rushing attack under wraps, and in Week 7, even Marshawn Lynch had a modest 91 rushing yards against the Cardinals.

Arizona O-line vs Seattle D-line

When the two teams faced off in Week 7, Carson Palmer was sacked seven times for 54 yards by an aggressive Seattle pass rush. Even more astounding – eight different players on Seattle’s defense added at least half a sack to their stat line in that game. In other words, Arizona’s offensive line got exposed.

Since then, though, Arizona’s pass protection unit has been as solid as any in the NFL. As a result, Carson Palmer has been one of the hottest quarterbacks in the NFL.

All I can say is that if eight people reach Carson Palmer in this game, that’s not a winning formula for the Arizona Cardinals.

Seattle passing game vs Arizona secondary

Down Tyrann Mathieu and possibly Rashad Johnson (listed as doubtful for Sunday’s game as of Friday), Arizona’s secondary isn’t at the same level it was in Week 7 when it was exposed by Russell Wilson and company.

I don’t think Golden Tate, Doug Baldwin and Zach Miller are exactly barn-burners, but Russell Wilson will find the open man, and Seattle will have their big plays. Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles just needs to do his best to limit those big plays and make some stops to put the offense in good situations.

If Arizona wants to win and thereby have some breathing room in the tight NFC playoff race, they can’t play from behind all game.

Prediction

As homer as I am, I think Seattle has the upper hand. Arizona could really benefit from winning this game, but so can Seattle, as a win for them puts them closer to homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. And at home, where Seattle has been all but guaranteed, the Seahawks cash this one, SEA 28 – 24 ARI.

The game will be played Sunday, December 22nd at CenturyLink Field in Seattle, Washington. Kickoff will be at 4:05 ET, and broadcast on FOX.