RENTON, Wash. – For once, Pete Carroll’s insistence that each week is a “championship week” is a literal assessment.
The 12-2 Seahawks host the resurgent Arizona Cardinals (9-5) at CenturyLink Field today with an opportunity to lock up what they want.
If Seattle wins, it will clinch the NFC West division title, the conference’s top seed, a first-round playoff bye and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
It would be its first division championship since 2010.
“We’re going to go for it this week,” Carroll said. “This is a championship matchup and we’re going to do everything we can to go get it done.”
But Arizona is much improved from Week 7, when Seattle handled the Cardinals. After taking a 14-0 lead on the road, a third-quarter Seahawks surge dismantled questions of the outcome.
The Cardinals have won six of seven since to position themselves for a shot at a Wild Card playoff spot.
“They’re just cleaner, sharper, better at everything,” Carroll said. “They really have come together. You can see how efficient (they have) been in the last couple of months.”
They are better than anyone in the league at stopping the run. Arizona is No. 1 in rushing yards allowed. The Seahawks are second in rushing yards gained. Carroll said the Cardinals’ run-stopping prowess will not stop him from remaining a run-first coach.
An Arizona injury may change the number of deep shots the Seahawks take today. The Cardinals will be without both starting safeties. Rookie star Tyrann Mathieu is out for the year after he tore his ACL and LCL against St. Louis on Dec. 8.
Last Sunday, Rashad Johnson sprained his ankle. Rookie free agent Tony Jefferson will step in for Johnson at free safety, who is listed as doubtful on the team’s injury report. The Cardinals like to blitz often, so Jefferson will be a crucial player today.
Arizona also brings to town a pair of tackles who have never been to CenturyLink Field. Right tackle Eric Winston has eight false starts this season.
In addition, quarterback Carson Palmer is hurting. When healthy, he is about as mobile as a fire hydrant. An ankle sprain will further reduce his mobility.
However, Palmer has been precise during Arizona’s run. He’s thrown nine touchdowns with just two interceptions in the last six games.
“He’s playing like you could always imagine him to play,” said Carroll, who had Palmer at USC.
The Seahawks are dealing with an injury issue, too. Starting right guard J.R. Sweezy is out after suffering a concussion against the New York Giants last Sunday. Sweezy was the only offensive lineman to start every game this year for the Seahawks.
Carroll did not specify Sweezy’s replacement. Paul McQuistan is a candidate, though the Seahawks have been rotating him and James Carpenter at left guard. And there are questions of Carpenter’s game-long stamina.
Backup center and guard Lemuel Jeanpierre is another option, as is rookie Alvin Bailey.
Whomever the Seahawks plug-in, along with the rest of the line, will face one of the best defensive fronts in the NFL. Tackle Darnell Dockett is a three-time Pro-Bowler and end Calais Campbell has six sacks, a forced fumble and eight stuffs.
For all his might, Dockett was part of a defining and embarrassing moment in the first meeting. Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch knocked Dockett’s helmet off and him to the ground in scoring.
That’s just the message Seattle wants to send again today when a title is attainable.