A glance at the top storylines for the Cardinals-Seahawks game Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium:
Bruce Arians insists he's going to play the finale straight with his starters. The Cardinals do have a chance to win the NFC No. 1 seed if they win and the Panthers lose at home against Tampa, and that drama was set up nicely when the NFL moved the Panthers-Bucs game later so it would coincide with the Cards-Seahawks game. So what happens if the Cardinals get to halftime and the Panthers are beating up on the Bucs? A good question. Whatever happens, going in, the Cards have something to gain with a win and the right result across the country. We'll see how much players might be peeking down on the sideline.
The NFC Best
No, maybe nothing tangible could be on the line. The Cardinals have long held the NFC West crown this season. They have also already beaten the Seahawks once. But this is still a rivalry, and it is still the Seahawks, and it's hard for Arians and his players to just dismiss a matchup with the two-time defending NFC champions. Sweeping the Seahawks – which hasn't happened since 2009 – is a very attractive carrot. So too is sending a message should the Seahawks have to return to University of Phoenix Stadium at some point in the playoffs.
Russell, did you see what happened to Aaron?
Russell Wilson is a pesky man to contain in the pocket, with the ability to find a guy down the field on the move or take off running and kill a defense. The Cardinals know him well, after seven meetings against Wilson already in his career. But Aaron Rodgers can move a bit in the pocket too, and the Cards swarmed him last week to the tune of nine sacks. The Seahawks' offensive line isn't great, but it's better than Green Bay's these days, and Wilson is a tick more mobile than Rodgers. But the Cards may have a way to be smart about containing the QB – and that will go a long way in determining the outcome.
On the ground, who wins?
The Seahawks, with top two running backs Marshawn Lynch and Thomas Rawls out, have thrown the ball more of late with a lot of success. But this is still a team built to run first, and the Cardinals have done a nice job making sure teams can't run (the Cards are fourth in the league in run defense). On the other side, the Cardinals are sixth in the NFL rushing the ball themselves (the Seahawks are third) and need 110 yards on the ground to reach the impressive 2,000-yard mark as a team. The Cardinals were able to throw the ball on Seattle in the first meeting, but there still has to be an effort on the ground. And David Johnson is a good place to start.
Goodness gracious, stay healthy
Playing or not playing, the Cardinals need to come out of the game relatively healthy. They can't afford any major injuries, especially to their quarterback. Arians knows this, and Carson Palmer knows this. Going into the weekend – and going into the bye – the Cardinals don't have major lingering injuries that would be a problem by the time their playoffs start. Making sure that fact doesn't change by Sunday night is crucial, even if it may be left to luck.