When it comes to analyzing an NFL matchup, often times perception is reality. It wasn't too long ago that the Seattle Seahawks vs Arizona Cardinals game was viewed as a pure coin flip. Fast forward a couple months and the birds from the Northwest seem like the clear-cut favorite.
The Cardinals opened as slight favorites in Las Vegas way back in May, but there has been a steady trickle of action on Seattle ever since the preseason started.
Now that we've had a few weeks to see both teams, it's actually the Seahawks who are favored by -2.5 points (odds courtesy of SBRforum). I still like them to cover this spread, but I would be hesitant to recommend it when a much more favorable number was available just over a week ago.
Holes in the Cardinals' (N)O-line
When I previewed the Cardinals back in July, the biggest caveat I had for them was their O-line. It was decent in run-blocking in 2011, but the pass-blocking was atrocious. Not much has changed. Making things worse is the loss of left tackle Levi Brown.
Poor Ken Whisenhunt can't even evaluate the quarterbacks he has because they are on the ground or on the run more than the pocket. Just when we thought Kevin Kolb had separated himself with a touchdown drive against the Titans, he opened the next half with a pick-six.
According to Football Outsiders, when you look at who is better against a pass rush, John Skelton was the 26th-rated QB against pressure in 2011 and Kolb was 30th. This isn't a good sign going forward. They have some nice pieces around them, but I'm not sure it will make a difference at the end of the day.
In fact, when I look up and down the Arizona roster, there is quite a bit to like on both sides of the ball. Beanie Wells seems injury prone, but he's effective when he's on the field. Ryan Williams could (and should) overtake him as the starter and LaRod Stephens-Howling is dynamic on third down.
Everyone knows what they have in Larry Fitzgerald, but it's Michael Floyd who people are excited about now. In time, he's going to form an excellent one-two punch on the outside.
It's just a shame that the entire deck of cards is on the verge of imploding due to the guys in the trenches.
Most of the damage will come from a highly touted Seahawks defense. They have the potential to be something special this year, and they didn't do much in the preseason to think any different.
They have aggressive cover corners on the outside in Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman and possibly the best pair of safeties in Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor.
Chris Clemons is going to wreak havoc up front and he's complemented by a group of guys that aren't household names, but they could be soon. Don't be surprised if you hear the names Greg Scruggs, Bruce Irvin, Jaye Howard, and Jason Jones on September 9. This is a deep and talented collection of linemen.
Flynn Wilson We Trust
I'll be one of the first to admit that I wasn't very optimistic about the Seahawks' offense heading into training camp. I like Matt Flynn, but I looked around and didn't see a quality supporting cast.
Pull out the eraser, because how fast things can change in the Not For Long league.
Russell Wilson had an outstanding preseason and gave Pete Carroll no choice but to hand him the starting job. Looking at it a little closer, it's not only the receivers that will benefit from Wilson at QB, because when you have a QB who doubles as a running threat, the defensive lineman are kept honest and must protect the backside lanes.
This can open tremendous opportunities in the run game, as we've seen in other similar situations (Vince Young and Chris Johnson, Michael Vick and LeSean McCoy, etc). Marshawn Lynch will be the direct benefactor, but Leon Washington and rookie Robert Turbin will also contribute.
Sidney Rice headlines the options on the outside, but Braylon Edwards played well enough to earn a roster spot and Golden Tate is expected to do more this year.
Outlining this offensive attack is important because the Cardinals actually have a very underrated defense. I was surprised when Russell Wilson picked apart the Chiefs' defense (even if it was vanilla and missing some pieces), but I'll be even more shocked if he's able to waltz into Arizona and do the same.
They have two dynamic playmakers in their secondary in Adrian Wilson and Patrick Peterson. Adding William Gay could make this a formidable set of defensive backs. Ray Horton runs an aggressive scheme too, so it won't be a cakewalk for Seattle offensively. Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell headline up front and will test the Seahawks' O-line.
A few weeks ago, I would have sided with the Cardinals if I was forced to make a pick. I realize the preseason is meaningless and nobody is game-planning, but it doesn't take any particular football savvy to recognize the problems Arizona have on offense.
It doesn't matter if the skill positions are loaded with pro-bowlers if you can't protect the quarterback, who can't compensate for the pressure, then they are going nowhere fast. Seattle's defense should prove too much and give them enough opportunities to win the game outright.
NFL Pick: Seahawks.