4:05 PM ET, November 16, 2008
CenturyLink Field, Seattle, WA
The Seattle Seahawks have had a stranglehold on the NFC West for years, but their reign appears to be nearing an end.
As the most likely beneficiaries of Seattle's downfall, the Arizona Cardinals would love to speed up the process.
The Cardinals look to continue their quest for their first division title in 33 years and facilitate the end of the Seahawks' four-year run at the top of the NFC West when the clubs square off in Seattle on Sunday.
The Seahawks have dominated the NFC West in recent years, winning four straight titles while going 17-7 within the division in that stretch. This year's club, however, hasn't played like a contender.
Plagued by injuries at the skill positions, Seattle (2-7) ranks 30th in the league with 260.2 yards per game and 27th with 18.9 points a contest. The Seahawks' defense hasn't been much better, giving up 372.1 yards per game to rank 27th.
While the Seahawks appear doomed to miss the playoffs for the first time since 2002, the Cardinals (6-3) have their sights set on making the postseason for the first time since 1998.
Because the Cardinals are the only team in the NFC West with more than two wins, it would take an Arizona collapse as well as a surge from one of the struggling teams in the division to prevent the Cardinals from capturing their first division crown since they finished atop the NFC East in 1975.
Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt is excited for the opportunity to take advantage of a nemesis as his club continues its push for the postseason.
"They've been the bullies on the block for a long time," Whisenhunt said of the Seahawks. "For a confidence builder for your team, especially a team you hope to get into the playoffs and be successful, you have to exorcise some of those demons."
In his second season at the helm, Whisenhunt has the Cardinals off to their best start since 1984, four years before the franchise moved to Arizona from St. Louis. Though the Cardinals didn't play like an elite team at times during Monday night's 29-24 win over San Francisco, Whisenhunt stressed the positives, including Arizona's goal-line stand as the final seconds wound down.
"There will be enough criticism when those games don't come out with a win that there has to be some praise when you do find a way to win," he told the Cardinals' official Web site. "That's an important part of being a division champion and getting to the playoffs. You have to learn how to win in any situation."
Arizona committed 10 penalties for a season high-tying 71 yards, struggled to make tackles and scored touchdowns on only three of six possessions in the red zone Monday.
"There were things that were difficult for us and we still came out with a win," Whisenhunt said. "To me that's the sign of a team that is mentally tougher, that expects to win instead of expecting to lose."
Whisenhunt hopes his club can build on last week's victory as it tries to end a five-game losing streak in Seattle.
The return of Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, however, could make the Cardinals' job that much more challenging.
Hasselbeck hasn't played since Oct. 5 because of knee and back injuries, but took all the first-team snaps in Friday's practice. Coach Mike Holmgren said his three-time Pro Bowl passer is ready to start for the first time in six weeks against the Cardinals.
"His experience -- he sees more things," Holmgren said. "He can get us out of a bad play maybe a little bit easier. I think any time you get a player back, at any position, I think you get a little boost."
Hasselbeck is excited about returning against the division-leading Cardinals.
"Typically, it's been just flipped," he said of the games with Arizona, when Seattle has usually been the heavy favorite. "Now, the fact we are running uphill, it was talked about (Monday) and will be talked about all week."
Hasselbeck will try to turn around a Seattle offense that hasn't cracked 300 total yards since his last full game Sept. 21, though the Seahawks came close with 298 in last Sunday's 21-19 loss to Miami.
Holmgren, who has said he won't coach in the NFL next season, said after that loss that he's "doing my darndest to keep my head above water" and provide a positive example for his players for the remainder of this season.
That's despite his worst record after nine games since 2000, the early stages of his rebuilding Seattle into a perennial contender.
"Outwardly, I hope I've handled the team well. Inwardly, you'll never know how much it hurts (to lose so much)," he said with a small smile. "It's hard."
The Seahawks and Cardinals meet again in Arizona in both teams' regular-season finale Dec. 28.
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|Avg Points Allowed||22.8||25.7|
Team Averages & NFL Ranks
|TEAM OFFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|TEAM DEFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|Pass Yds Allowed||ARI|
|Rush Yds Allowed||ARI|
Head to Head Matchups (Since 2001)
|Seattle leads 8-6|
|Dec 9, 2007||ARI 21, @SEA 42|
|Sep 16, 2007||ARI 23, SEA 20|
|Dec 10, 2006||ARI 27, SEA 21|
|Sep 17, 2006||ARI 10, @SEA 21|
|Nov 6, 2005||ARI 19, SEA 33|
|Sep 25, 2005||ARI 12, @SEA 37|
|Dec 26, 2004||ARI 21, @SEA 24|
|Oct 24, 2004||ARI 25, SEA 17|
|Dec 21, 2003||ARI 10, @SEA 28|
|Sep 14, 2003||ARI 0, SEA 38|
|Nov 10, 2002||ARI 6, SEA 27|
|Sep 15, 2002||ARI 24, @SEA 13|