Arizona Cardinals at Seattle Seahawks (-3, 45 o/u)
Playoff implications will abound this Sunday when the Arizona Cardinals (6-2, 3-1 Away) visit the Seattle Seahawks (4-4, 2-1 Home) at CenturyLink Field (8:30 PM Eastern).
The Cardinals have a solid two-game lead over the Rams and Seahawks in the NFC West, but still have three games left against their closest division rivals – and already dropped a game to St. Louis in Week 4.
Arizona was in a similar position last year, but dropped both games to Seattle (including a 35-9 loss in Phoenix back in December) and ultimately watched an early division lead slip away in the final weeks of the season. This season is shaping up a little differently as the Cards have been able to stay relatively healthy. Quarterback Carson Palmer, who was lost for most of last season to a shoulder injury, appears hale and hearty, throwing for 2,386 yards, 20 touchdowns, and just six interceptions this season.
Palmer’s prolific passing stats, coupled with a strong run game led by the resurgent Chris Johnson (third in the league with 676 rushing yards), have the Cardinals sitting second in the NFL in scoring at 32.9 points per game.
“Carson is playing phenomenal football,” said Seahawks coach Pete Carroll (Palmer’s former coach at USC) to the Associated Press. “He looks as good as he’s ever looked. He’s in great command of the offense. I think it’s really the best I’ve ever seen him in all the years he’s been out there playing.”
Seattle, long dominant at “the Clink,” have not looked themselves at home this season. The ‘Hawks already lost once at home, dropping a 27-23 decision to the Carolina Panthers a few weeks ago, and also struggled to get by the Lions in Week 4, needing a forced-fumble on the goalline – plus a blown call – to hang on for a 13-10 win.
One thing that hasn’t changed for Seattle is its stout defense. Even after the departure of defensive coordinator Dan Quinn (now the head coach in Atlanta), the team is still sitting second in the league in scoring (17.5 points against per game). They’re also second in the NFL against the pass (186.4 YPG) and top-ten against the run (98.5 YPG).
The offense hasn’t really held up its end of the bargain. Quarterback Russell Wilson has done his best to keep the Seattle passing attack viable (throwing for 1,878 yards, nine touchdowns, and six interceptions), but he’s been under constant pressure all season thanks to a Swiss-cheese offensive line and has taken a league-high 31 sacks.
But Wilson isn’t looking to pin the blame on his blockers.
“It first starts with me. I have to do a better job,” Wilson said Thursday during a press conference. “I have to find ways to get the ball to the right guy … and find ways to communicate better down there. Communication. And execution.”
Heading into the season, fans and pundits alike were expecting “the right guy” to be new tight end Jimmy Graham. Graham has 38 catches this season and two receiving touchdowns – both of which lead the team – but he’s well off the pace he set in New Orleans the last few years when he averaged just over 85 catches and double-digit touchdowns.
There is reason for optimism, though. Carroll and the coaching staff really struggled to integrate the longtime Saint into the offense early in the year, but have done a better job of late; Graham is averaging over six catches and 80 yards per game during the last three.
Both teams come into Sunday’s game with ATS trends that should worry bettors. Arizona is 1-4 ATS in its last five in Seattle, while the Seahawks are 2-7-2 ATS in their last 11, overall (along with 1-4 ATS in their last five home games and 0-4-1 ATS in their last five against teams with a winning record).
Though they’ve struggled of late in Seattle, the Cards have actually been a good road bet recently, going 5-2 outside of Arizona. With this year’s Seahawks looking a little more vulnerable than in years past – especially at home – take the Cardinals and the points.
Pick: Cardinals +3.
(Photo credit: Philip Robertson from New York, NY, USA (Loudest crowd roar at a sports stadium Seahawks-10) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Photo may appear cropped.)