Five things to watch for Sunday when the Cardinals play the Seahawks at CenturyLink Field:
Motivation is a real thing
The Seahawks clinched a playoff spot last week and are likely going to end up as the fifth seed. They would clinch that possibility with a win, and still get it in 50 percent of the scenarios even if the Cardinals beat them. But the Seahawks insist they want to stay sharp by playing starters, and you can’t totally discount the idea the Cardinals have done very, very well in Seattle recently. For the Cardinals, winning means something. Not in the standings, not really. But for peace of mind, for a team that has been knocked around much of the season, a victory would be meaningful – especially for a batch of rookies, starting with QB Josh Rosen, that need to be the building blocks of this team going forward.
Running down the list, from 1 to 32
The Cardinals have had run defense issues all season, but they have moved in the wrong direction two weeks in a row. First was 215 yards allowed to the Falcons, who up until then had the worst rushing unit in the league. Then came the 269 yards allowed to the Rams, who were using a back (C.J. Anderson) who had signed just a few days earlier. The Seahawks, meanwhile, have the best rushing attack in the NFL. It’s not the ideal time for the Cardinals to figure out what ails them, but then again, it would be a special accomplishment to slow the Seahawks down.
Some final prep for Josh Rosen
Rosen said he hit the rookie wall hard in Atlanta a couple weeks ago, and truthfully, he has looked like there has been a slight step back in that time even with all the shortcomings his injury-decimated supporting cast has in itself. But Rosen looks forward to road trips like this, where the crowd will be into the game and where Rosen expects to feel on a yearly basis for some time to come. No one wants Rosen to get hurt. But this is the last chance for “real” football experience for a long time, perhaps truly until the regular-season opener of 2019. Rosen needs the work. He will benefit from the reps.
All eyes still are on Fitz
Last week was the potential home finale. But this is the potential finale finale. If the Cardinals were playoff-bound, the “what will Fitz do” storyline would be muted, for multiple reasons. But they are not, and it is not. So Larry Fitzgerald goes into this game at Seattle with it perhaps being his final NFL game, needing 14 yards to be the second player in NFL history (Jerry Rice) with at least 2,000 receiving yards against three teams (thanks, NFC West!). A late burst of targets might get him past his lowest-target total in a season, but the Seahawks know what they are dealing with in Fitz. Trying to get him loose (at least) one more time hopefully is high up in the game plan.
What comes next
It’ll be the second straight year that there will be a game in Seattle to end the season Sunday and yet, Monday will hold the most important weight. There will have to be changes after this kind of season, but what? The roster will change. Will coaches? Other places? The season wraps up but the 2019 season arrives for the Cardinals even before the calendar says as much, because every decision – no matter what direction it goes – maps out the plan of recovery.