As the Arizona Cardinals prepare for their 2021 regular season finale against the Seattle Seahawks, there remains potential change in playoff positioning depending on the outcome of this game and others.
If the Cardinals win and the San Francisco 49ers defeat the Los Angeles Rams, Arizona will be NFC West Champions. They would guarantee themselves a home game in the Wild Card round in the playoffs and could move as high up as the No. 2 seed if both the Rams and Buccaneers lose.
As it stands right now, Arizona is currently sitting at, and will finish no worse, than the No. 5 seed in the NFC with a playoff spot secured. It is strange to say the Seahawks have nothing to play for but pride, considering how good they have been every season over the last decade but here we are.
Darren Urban of the Arizona Cardinals’ official team website recently tweeted out that the roof of State Farm Stadium will be open on Sunday when the two NFC West rivals meet.
Will the Cardinals close out their regular season on a strong note with a two-game win streak heading into the Wild Card round of the playoffs? Will they finish as NFC West Champions?
Here are three things to watch for in Week 18:
1. Another big day for Chandler Jones incoming?
To simply put it, 13.5 sacks.
Yes, that is the number of sacks Chandler Jones has had against the Seattle Seahawks since his arrival in Arizona in 2016 and they seemingly have no luck protecting Russell Wilson from his onslaught. In the Cardinals’ Week 11 matchup against the Seahawks, Jones had two sacks and four pressures as Arizona cruised to a 23-13 victory.
In nine out of his 10 career games against Seattle dating back to his New England days, Jones has had a sack or more. With Markus Golden and Devon Kennard back from the COVID-19/Reserve list, that means more pass rushers for the Seahawks’ struggling offensive line to deal with. Cardinals’ 2021 first-round pick Zaven Collins should have quite a bit of playing time on Sunday because of his quality performance last weekend at outside linebacker.
2. Cardinals’ cornerback depth to be tested yet again with Robert Alford on injured reserve and Marco Wilson (shoulder) ruled out for a second straight week
Antonio Hamilton and Kevin Peterson both played respectably well as the boundary cornerbacks last weekend considering the matchups that they had against CeeDee Lamb, Amari Cooper, and Michael Gallup. Cardinals’ top cornerback Byron Murphy started the first half of the season on fire but has struggled lately, allowing three touchdowns the last three weeks. With Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf coming to town, Murphy must find a way to recapture the form he had earlier on in the season because the Seahawks play really well on the Cardinals’ home field.
Though I previously mentioned Jones’ success against the Seahawks’ quarterback, Russell Wilson has a 6-2-1 record against the Cardinals at State Farm/University of Phoenix Stadium since he was drafted by Seattle in 2012. Bashaud Breeland, an eight-year veteran signed to Arizona’s practice squad, could make his debut as a Cardinal on Sunday. Budda Baker and Jalen Thompson both play exceptionally well against Seattle in their respective careers and they will be needed to disrupt the Seahawks’ backfield with the emergence of running back Rashaad Penny, who had 170 rushing yards and two touchdowns last weekend.
3. With Chase Edmonds (ribs/toe) ruled out and James Conner (heel) ruled as a game-day decision, it is time for Kyler Murray to take flight with a complete dominant performance on Sunday
Especially over the last two weeks, there have been quite a few more designed runs for Kyler Murray than normal and for good reason as he has racked up 118 rushing yards during that time. If Conner is ruled out, expect the Cardinals to use a combination of Eno Benjamin and Jonathan Ward with more than just a sprinkle of Murray in the ground game. And the vertical game will likely be the emphasis considering the lack of usage between the two second-year running backs.
Zach Ertz has been targeted a whopping 70 times in his 10 games as a Cardinal and the Seahawks’ have one of the more generous defenses against tight ends, allowing the fourth-most touchdowns (9) to the position. They allowed two touchdowns to Ertz in their previous game against Arizona. A.J. Green, Antoine Wesley, and Christian Kirk will also be used quite a bit in this NFC West matchup especially if Conner does not play. 2021 second-round pick Rondale Moore has been ruled out as well.
If this Seahawks-Cardinals matchup is anything like the game last year when Arizona’s Isaiah Simmons made a game-changing interception in overtime to win in a 37-34 thriller, get your popcorn ready because we will be in for a great show. I do not think this will be Russell Wilson’s final game as a Seahawk but in any case, I expect both him and Kyler Murray to play the best that they have all season on Sunday. Kliff Kingsbury versus Pete Carroll resumes.
This matchup will kickoff at 4:25 P.M. ET on January 9, 2022 at State Farm Stadium with Adam Amin (play-by-play), Mark Schlereth (analyst) and Shannon Spake (sideline) as the commentators on FOX. For more information, click here.