Cam Newton. Brock Osweiler. Aaron Rodgers. Viewers. The entire Cleveland Browns organization.
There have been many disappointments to start the NFL season, many of them (except Cleveland) stemming from failed expectations. It’s early, but six weeks in, we’re starting to realize that some things we thought were givens simply won’t be the case.
Perhaps no story was more baffling than the start the Arizona Cardinals got off to. An opening night loss to the Patriots would be excusable if it weren’t for the fact it was Jimmy Garoppolo, not Tom Brady, taking the snaps for New England.
The low point in their start was undoubtedly a 17-13 loss at home to the Rams, which dropped them to 1-3 and had pundits scratching their heads. For a team like Arizona, which many believed to the favorites in the NFC West, questions began to swirl about where their season was headed.
But, as Bruce Arians-led teams are known to do, the Cardinals suddenly find themselves back in the thick of things.
After back-to-back wins – the latest a 28-3 beat down of the New York Jets – Arizona is 3-3, healthy, and feeling like they're one big win away from reabsorbing the title of favorites in the West.
The Seahawks, fresh off their somewhat controversial win over Atlanta, will head to Arizona with two missions in mind: lock in their first road win of the year against a formidable for, and put a stranglehold on the division. At 4-1, Seattle is hitting their stride after a Week 2 loss to the Rams, and seem to have the inside track; assuming, of course, that they can stay healthy and not lose mental focus.
Because at this point, that may be their biggest challenge: complacency. After Sunday’s matchup against the Cardinals, only a November 10th trip to Foxboro stands in their way of being favorites in all of their remaining games.
After the Seahawks’ win over Atlanta, where the secondary was unpardonably mistake-laden, Seattle faces their second straight high octane offense. While the Cardinals have been inconsistent, they still have Larry Fitzgerald, David Johnson, and Carson Palmer. Now in his 13th season, Palmer – who is 23rd in the NFL in total QBR, far below his usual ranking – has had an incredulously up and down season. In a Week 3 loss to the Bills, he threw four picks with no touchdowns. His 60.4% completion percentage is his lowest since 2008 when he was with the Bengals.
Arizona’s offense, in general, has found some life in David Johnson; they possess the 10th best offense in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus. Defensively, Chandler Jones – formerly of the Patriots – has been a revelation. In Sunday’s win over the Jets, Jones posted the highest defensive rating in the game; New York simply had no way of stopping him.
If Arizona has any dreams of winning the NFC West, Sunday is a must win. Falling three games behind the Seahawks will all but close the door on that, especially with Seattle looking at, ostensibly, a 10-1 or 11-0 finish. With two matchups against the ‘hawks left, Arizona must get both to have a chance.
Both teams enter Sunday riding a wave of confidence, but from different stratospheres. Seattle has figured their offense out; their defense is stout as ever.
Arizona survived their early season struggles, and are hoping their AARP-led offensive stars, Fitzgerald and Palmer, can stay healthy to put together a win.
Seattle 21 Arizona 17
It’s official: Seattle finally knows how to use their tight end. It’s not a one or two game thing; Jimmy Graham is once again a bona fide weapon. In his last three game – all wins, coincidentally – he has amassed 302 yards. Or, put another way, 85% of his total yards this season. Another way to look at it? He’s already at 58% of his total yards from all of last season.
Arizona’s defense, 6th in the NFL in overall rating, possesses one of the best secondaries in the NFL with Tyrann Mathieu, Patrick Peterson, and Co. But they’ll have their hands full with the likes of Doug Baldwin, Tyler Lockett, and Jermaine Kearse. With attention being paid to them deep, look for Graham to again exploit the underneath and middle of the field.
And guess what? Russell Wilson now knows where to find him.