The Seahawks have emerged as the NFL's sleeper du jour the past couple of weeks. The world has fallen in love with bite-sized quarterback Russell Wilson, leading some renowned experts to buy first-class tickets on the Seattle bandwagon. Grantland's Bill Simmons, the most widely-read football scribe on the planet, even has them making the Super Bowl!
Meanwhile, Arizona's hype train has been heading in the opposite direction. Hoping for one of their two quarterbacks—Kevin Kolb and John Skelton—to emerge as a viable starter this offseason, the Cardinals instead had to choose between the lesser of two evils.
Here's how the diametrically opposed nature of these two offseasons has effected the Vegas line, along with three predictions for Sunday afternoon's game:
Current Line: Seahawks -2.5
This line, over the duration of the past few months, has taken one of the most drastic turns in the league.
On May 1st it opened at Cardinals -2.5, but has since been bet a full five points in the opposite direction. Per Cantor bookmaker Mike Colbert, in an interview with ESPN's Chad Millman:
"This was us underestimating Seattle's worth. That game is traditionally is always going to be Zona minus-3, and the wiseguys bet against Zona in everything we did, and they bet on Seattle in everything. Smart guys rate them to be much better than Zona, obviously, because that game moved five points, on the road, with a rookie quarterback."
In simpler times, the "rookie QB on the road" thing would have scared off sharps, but in the current, revolutionary state of the NFL it's far less foreboding. The success of Andy Dalton and Cam Newton in 2011 has made bettors discernibly more confident in first-year signal-callers.
Prediction 1: Seattle's Defense—Not Russell Wilson—Will Steal the Show
Informed football prognosticators have been all over Seattle as of late, and the reason has much more to do with their defense than their charismatic QB.
Three Seahawks defensive backs made the Pro Bowl in 2011 (Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor and Brandon Browner) and the one who didn't (Richard Sherman) is probably the best of the bunch––an idea I expounded upon earlier this summer.
Up front, an imposing combination of Red Bryant, Chris Clemons, Jason Jones and contentious first-round draft pick Bruce Irvin could give them an equally prolific pass-rush. With the league skewing more and more toward the passing game, secondary and pass rush have become the two most paramount aspects of a defense.
The Hawks could keep the Cardinals in single digits this Sunday––especially considering the potentially historic incompetence of Arizona's quarterbacks. Which reminds me...
Prediction 2: Kevin Kolb Will Enter the Game at Some Point
Although tentative in preseason games, Kolb was purportedly the better QB during offseason practices. That says a little bit about the Kolb's prowess, but even more about Skelton's incompetence.
Skelton was a less-hyped Tim Tebow last season, pulling repeated late-game wins out of his rectum. So even if he's likely to close the game, there's a distinct possibility that Whisenhunt—fed up with his inert offense—tries to galvanize his players with a mid-game QB switch.
Do I have any empirical data to back this up? No. But given the entropy of Arizona's quarterback situation, you can't tell me it's not a distinct possibility.
Prediction 3: Seahawks 24 – Cardinals 7
I wrote at modest length about this yesterday, when I talked about choosing Seattle in the Las Vegas Hilton SuperContest, but I'll reiterate here.
There are serious reasons to worry about the Seahawks in Week 1. The rookie QB, the (potential) rookie RB and the fact they're opening on the road, in a dome.
But, when searching for a team to bet against, no unit inspires more confidence than the Arizona Cardinals. The faint possibility of Larry Fitzgerald or Patrick Peterson going off is a little disconcerting, but not enough to scare me away from this one.