Cardinals running back David Johnson hopes to find some running room against a tough Seahawks defense.
SEATTLE – When the schedule was released in April, back when optimism reigned, this was supposed to be the NFC West crescendo -- its two powers facing off again with divisional supremacy in the balance.
The Seahawks lived up to their end of the bargain, but the Cardinals fell flat, so motivation these days must come in other forms.
Among them is the new concept of being the spoiler.
The Cardinals, historically, have practice at it, but for the first time under Bruce Arians, they will go into a regular season game mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. So now, the focus is less on what the Cardinals (5-8-1) can do for themselves on Saturday and more about complicating Seattle's Super Bowl path.
"If we can't get it, why the hell would we help you out?" linebacker Kevin Minter said with a chuckle.
Seattle is pushing for the all-important first-round bye, something the Cardinals used to their advantage a season ago. The Seahawks will be favored, as they have excelled while the Cardinals have fallen off since their Week 7 matchup which ended in a 6-6 tie.
That game was a slugfest, with both defenses absorbing anything the offenses threw at them. The Cardinals more than matched Seattle's physicality that day, and must bring the fire again or risk getting run over.
"Playing against Seattle, there's only two options: You get to be the hammer or you're going to be the nail," wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. "You better decide early what it's going to be."
CenturyLink Field is a notoriously hard place to play, as the Seahawks are 7-0 there this season and 26-5 over the past four years. That hasn't intimidated the Cardinals, who are responsible for handing Seattle two of those losses.
They left with a striking 17-10 upset in 2013, and then added an exhilarating 39-32 win last year which propelled the Cardinals to an easy division title. This game is different, as the Cardinals need a patchwork offensive line to hold up and a defense to steady itself after allowing a season-high 48 points to the Saints in last week's loss.
"I'm glad that wasn't the last game of the season," safety Tony Jefferson said.
There could be snow falling down during the matchup, but the Cardinals quizzed this week said they won't be wearing long sleeves. Cornerback Patrick Peterson is avoiding them because it makes it harder to hold onto the ball on punt returns.
Jefferson wants to show his old-school roots.
"This is a toughness game," Jefferson said. "This is a game where you don't wear gloves, you wear finger tape."
There is not enough on the line for this game to be a prime chapter in Seahawks-Cardinals lore, but it can still be a notable subsection. The Cardinals will head back home on Christmas Eve night, but before they leave, would love to leave a lump of coal in Seattle's stocking.
"We've got nothing to lose," Fitzgerald said. "Why not go up there, lay it on the line and make it miserable for them on Christmas?"
COOPER, HUMPHRIES WON'T PLAY
Cornerback Marcus Cooper (back) and left tackle D.J. Humphries (concussion) have been ruled out of the game, while safety Tyrann Mathieu (shoulder) will miss the rest of the season after being placed on injured reserve. The loss of Cooper and Mathueu complicates the Cardinals' slot cornerback position, which is now without its top three options since safety Tyvon Branch is also on injured reserve.
Wide receiver John Brown (illness) and cornerback Brandon Williams (back) are questionable for the game. The Seahawks will be missing running back C.J. Prosise because of a shoulder injury.