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Divisional Foes Set to Collide in the Desert

After losing both matchups in 2014, the Cards managed to beat Seattle last year, what does this year’s first contest look like

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Arizona Cardinals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Cardinals will come into their divisional showdown with the Seahawks fresh off a 28-3 thumping of the Jets, but they are likely to find scoring a bit more challenging as they face off against a much tougher defense. The Seahawks, meanwhile, will arrive in Tempe fresh off a comeback win over the Falcons that, once again, showcased the resiliency that has been a hallmark of the team since Pete Carroll took over.

In the only matchup that really mattered last season (the Cardinals had already locked up their playoff position and rested many players during the last game of the season and the Seahawks won easily, 36-6) Arizona bested the Seahawks, in Seattle, 39-32. While that Cardinals team was known for pushing the ball down the field, the 2016 offense focuses more on a strong running game and intermediate passing attack. The Cardinals have found an elite running back in David Johnson, who became the first player in team history to have multiple games of at least 100 yards rushing and three touchdowns when he torched the Jets on Monday night. Johnson also leads all players with 833 yards from scrimmage.

After struggling to get their passing game on track through their first five games, the Cardinals finally made an adjustment and began taking advantage of all the short and medium throws that are available when a defense begins taking away deep shots. In their win over the Jets, Carson Palmer’s longest pass through the air was only 13 yards. While it may not cause too many highlight plays, it certainly worked well as Palmer connected on almost 68 percent of his throws and, most importantly, didn’t throw an interception after throwing five in the four games he played prior to missing the win over the 49ers with a concussion.

With the Cardinals rejuvenated offense, it will be strength against strength as the Seahawks defense is once again tops in the league. Ranked #1 in overall defense (second against the run and pass) Seattle will look to shut down the Arizona offense, but they may have to do it without some of their best players. Michael Bennett suffered a knee injury in their win over Atlanta and while initial reports were good, his status is still uncertain. Kam Chancellor missed the Falcons game with a strained groin and it is also unclear if he will return this week.

While Bennett only has three sacks on the year, he is still a key piece in the Seahawks front seven and they will need all hands on deck if they are going to slow the Cardinals balanced attack, especially if Chancellor is out. His replacement, Kelcie McCray, missed a coverage audible during the Falcons game and it led to a 36-yard touchdown pass to Julio Jones and a visibly upset Richard Sherman, whose anger served as a distraction to the team for the remainder of the game.

This matchup has recently become one of the most exciting in sports. Ranking up there with Green Bay vs. Chicago, Mets vs. Yankees, and Blackhawks vs. Red Wings. It should stay this way for years to come.

At 4-1, the Seahawks would remain in first place even with a loss (the Cardinals are currently 3-3) but having just won a game when trailing by seven points or more in the 4th quarter for the first time since 2013, a year in which they also started 4-1 and won the Super Bowl, a win would push their current winning streak to four games and give them a significant lead over the rest of the division, keeping them on track for a repeat of that championship season.