NFL Preview - Arizona (9-1) at Seattle (6-4)
By Michael Rushton, Contributing NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - The Arizona Cardinals may have the best record in the NFL, but head coach Bruce Arians was pretty blunt about how little that means if the team doesn't accomplish something this season.
The NFC West-leading Cardinals look to make a statement on Sunday as they travel to the rough confines of CenturyLink Field to battle the rival Seattle Seahawks for the first time this season.
Arizona has ripped off six straight wins, its longest winning streak since 1977, to get to 9-1 on the season. That has the Cardinals three games up on both the Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers in the division standings, but Arizona has another game versus Seattle left this season and one more against the Niners.
In fact, the Cards play four of their last six games on the road and host the Seahawks on Dec. 21 before capping the regular season in San Francisco.
Seattle has won 21 of its past 23 at home, including playoffs, but one of those losses came to a visiting Arizona team in Week 16 of last season. That 17-10 win by the Cardinals snapped the Seahawks' 14-game win streak at CenturyLink Field and was the first career home loss for quarterback Russell Wilson.
The Cardinals are 3-3 in their last six trips to Seattle and are looking to become the first team since Atlanta in 2010-11 to beat the Seahawks on their home turf in back-to-back seasons.
Yet, despite the Cardinals' better record, the Seahawks are largely viewed as the favorite.
"We would have anticipated that," said Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians. "Going up there, everybody is usually an underdog. It's another one of those things that, we don't really need any extra motivation, especially at their place.
"They're the world champions. We're just 9-1. We haven't done (expletive). This is a big game."
The Cardinals matched their best start in club history through 10 games with a 14-6 win over the Detroit Lions on Sunday. Drew Stanton stepped in for an injured Carson Palmer and threw touchdown passes to Michael Floyd on Arizona's first two drives.
Stanton threw scoring passes of 42 and 12 yards to Floyd in the first nine minutes of the game.
"Drew did what we expected him to do," wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said of Stanton. "There was no question that he was going to go out there and play well."
Stanton made his career-high fourth start of the season as Palmer was lost for the season due to a torn ACL in his left knee suffered the previous week. He threw for a career-high 306 yards and was also picked off twice.
Arizona has won 16 of its past 19 games dating back to last season and has won nine of its first 10 for the first time in franchise history since the Chicago-based club went 11-1 in 1948.
With two games left versus the Cardinals, the Seahawks have time to make up the three-game gap but they'll need to quickly rebound from last Sunday's 24-20 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.
Seattle went ahead when Wilson hit tight end Tony Moeaki for a one-yard score with 23 seconds left in the third quarter, but the Chiefs quickly answered with their third rushing touchdown of the game to grab the lead for good.
Wilson connected on 20-of-32 passes for 178 yards and two touchdowns for the Seahawks (6-4), who had a three-game winning streak snapped. Wilson also carried the ball eight times for 71 yards.
"We played a good football team out there today," said Wilson. "It was a heart-breaking loss; we thought we could have and should have won it, but they played a great game and we played a great game. Two great NFL teams going after it in a tough environment."
Marshawn Lynch rushed for 124 yards on 24 carries for Seattle.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
The Cardinals' defense has masked some offensive inconsistency by holding opponents to under 300 yards in three straight games and four of the past five. Arizona also has held its opponent to 20 points or fewer in six straight and nine of 10 games this season, the lone exception a 41-20 loss in Denver back on Oct. 5.
Arizona has gotten after the quarterback with 10 sacks in the past two games, getting at least one from seven different players, and safety Rashad Johnson pulled in the team's 15th interception of the season versus Detroit.
The Cards rank third in points allowed per game at 17.6 and are third against the run, yielding 80.5 yards per game. They have not allowed a 100-yard rusher in 20 straight games.
Lynch will challenge that streak as he ran for 124 of his club's 204 yards on the ground versus the Chiefs. The Pro Bowl back, who has run for nine scores and caught another three touchdown passes, has gone over 100 yards rushing in back-to-back games after being held under the mark in seven straight.
Arizona, which is tied for second in the NFL with a plus-11 turnover ratio, may need its defense to step up again with Fitzgerald possibly being forced to miss this game due to a knee injury. The 31-year-old leads the club with 46 catches and 658 yards, and last weekend became the second-youngest receiver behind Randy Moss to reach 12,000 career yards.
Fitzgerald, though, was unable to practice on Wednesday.
"It is a little bit iffy because he's a little bit sorer than I thought he would be," Arians told Arizona's website. "We knew he would be. Hopefully it'll loosen up as the week goes on."
Arizona's offense thrives on not turning the ball over, but Seattle is in line to get middle linebacker Bobby Wagner back this weekend. He had missed the last five games with a torn ligament in his toe, but returned to practice.
Wagner's availability would allow K.J. Wright to slide back to weak-side linebacker. Wright leads Seattle with 75 tackles and Wagner is still fourth on the club with 50.
"I'm glad he's back," Wright told Seattle's website of Wagner. "I believe he was definitely headed toward a Pro Bowl year, the way he was playing, all those packages he's good in."
The Seahawks did lose Pro Bowl center Max Unger for possibly the next 3-to-4 weeks due to a sprained ankle, but offensive guard James Carpenter has a chance to return from his own ankle ailment that has held him out of the past two games.
Expect a hard-nosed battle between these division rivals, with Seattle's top- ranked ground attack (174.2 yards per game) trying to break through Arizona's stingy defense.
Part of the Cardinals' success in defending the run may come because they are giving up 263.2 ypg through the air, so Wilson should be given a chance to air it out before falling back to making plays with his feet.
Seattle ranks third in total defense and the potential absence of Fitzgerald will put a lot of pressure on Stanton and the club's 30th-ranked ground attack. That should be all the Seahawks need in their own building to take care of business.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Seahawks 20, Cardinals 16
11/21 10:19:08 ET