Seattle Seahawks Vs. Arizona Cardinals: Who Will Win The NFC West?
This is a division-changing week in the NFL.
Not too often you can say that.
But in a year like this one, where parity has seemed to reign more than usual, this week looms large in determining the outcome of the NFC West.
Perhaps more so than any other division, any team could win the NFC West.
It could be San Francisco. Or the Rams. They play each other this week, actually, in San Francisco.
But more realistically, the NFC West could be defined by this Sunday's game in Glendale.
Before you Niners and Rams fans out there freak out, here are 10 reasons that the winner of this game could very well represent the NFC West in the playoffs.
1. The Schedules
I'll be frank here: Arizona and Seattle have the easier schedules remaining of the four teams in the West.
You don't need to know who Arizona plays. All you need to know is that the combined record of those teams is 12-36.
As for Seattle, they play half of their games at home, with their road games all being winnable, as they play New Orleans, Arizona, Tampa Bay and San Fran on the road.
The Rams, meanwhile, still have to go play Atlanta on the road, along with New Orleans, Arizona, Seattle and Denver. Not to mention they host the Chiefs.
San Francisco doesn't exactly have as much of a cakewalk as first thought either, as they travel to Green Bay and San Diego, along with Arizona and St. Louis. They also host the surprising Bucs.
While everyone's schedule isn't exactly Cincinnati's, it appears from first glance that Arizona and Seattle have the easier tasks.
2. The History
Since 2004, the division winner has either been Arizona or Seattle.
Granted, that does not mean the 49ers or the Rams won't win the division.
Take, for example, the AFC West. Just because the Chargers have dominated recently does not mean the Chiefs won't win it this year.
But this is more about where teams have been and what they are comfortable doing.
Seattle and Arizona have had recent history winning divisions and going to the playoffs that San Francisco and St. Louis don't have.
I believe that this experience will greatly assist both the Seahawks and the Cardinals in the late stages of the NFC West race.
3. The Records
1-15 and 0-5.
Those numbers are the record the Rams had last season and the record the 49ers had to start this year respectively.
No team that went 1-15 the previous year in the NFL went to the playoffs the next season to my knowledge.
Also to my knowledge, a team that has started a year 0-5 has never made the playoffs.
Nothing is impossible, but there's a reason those statistics have never been broken.
4. The Season Thus Far
Things consistently change in the NFL, but if we look back at who each team in the West has beaten, it is rather interesting.
Arizona has beaten two solid teams in Oakland and New Orleans and has beaten the Rams on the road.
They also may have had the toughest schedule of all the NFC West teams, having faced San Diego, New Orleans, Atlanta and Minnesota in their first eight games, not to mention up-and-comers Oakland and Tampa Bay.
Seattle, though they haven't had as tough a schedule, have won the home games they should've and even pulled an upset against the Bears on the road.
Meanwhile, the only overtly tough opponent the Rams have had to face were the Chargers, and that was at home. The other tough opponent? The Redskins, that too at home.
The 49ers have had a tough schedule, like the Cardinals, but they were supposed to win the West.
I believe the early season tests for the Cardinals and Seahawks have prepared them better to win the West than the Rams or Niners.
5. The Passing Games
Stats don't tell everything, I'm afraid.
For example, the stats don't say that Arizona and Seattle have better passing games than St. Louis or San Fran.
So maybe this is a bit of a stretch, but hear me out.
We all know that the best receiving corps lies in Arizona, right? Well, minus the tight end anyway.
So if Derek Anderson, or Max Hall, or whoever, gets his act together, the Arizona pass game will improve.
Seattle, in the meantime, will benefit from getting Matt Hasselbeck back this week (at least that is the report anyway), and even though they don't have Deion Branch anymore, they benefit from having Hasselbeck's experience.
The Rams? They're down to their backup receivers and mediocre tight ends (and Steven Jackson, but hey, he can't do everything).
The Niners? They're down to Troy Smith. Sure, he did well against the Broncos, but what QB wouldn't? I'll believe more when I see it from him.
In a passing league like the NFL, I think the passing games of the Cardinals and 'Hawks will win out eventually.
6. The Momentum
You just get the feeling that this is a huge momentum game for whatever team that wins.
First off, it's become a bigger rivalry over the last few years since Arizona has improved.
Couple that with both teams' easier schedules in the last part of the season, and a win like this could really carry one of these two teams to success later on in the season.
7. The Scenario
Both teams could honestly have better records.
Arizona especially has been either unlucky or extremely lucky.
They were lucky against Oakland, with Sebastian Janikowski missing a field goal as time expired.
Unlucky with back-to-back three-point losses to Tampa Bay and Minnesota.
Seattle, on the other hand, has been blown out a couple of times where they probably shouldn't have been, considering that the division is there for the taking.
Therefore, both teams have to be fired up coming into this game, making the emotional carryover from a win in this game even bigger.
8. The Special Teams
There is no doubt in my mind, however, that these two have some of the best special teams in all of the NFL.
In fact, they may have two of the best, if not the best, kickoff returners in all of the NFL, with LaRod Stephens-Howling for Arizona and Leon Washington for Seattle.
Arizona has gone even beyond that as well, blocking kicks, returning fumbles for touchdowns on kickoffs and the like.
Seattle has maybe the most consistent kicker in the division, and perhaps the NFC, in Olindo Mare.
This game could be won or lost on special teams.
9. The Quarterbacks
Before you start laughing, there's one reason that this matchup is so important from the quarterback perspective:
Derek Anderson and Matt Hasselbeck are the two most experienced starting QBs in the West right now.
In some instances in the NFL, experience will overcome talent a little bit.
So even though they are not playing like the two best QBs in the division, the fact that they've both been in this type of situation before, in a tight division, gives me cause to believe that it will assist the team as whole that wins this game.
At least that's my theory. Sorry, Sam Bradford.
10. The Coaches
I end this slideshow with maybe the biggest reason I think that it will be one of these two teams that wins the West: the coaches.
Ken Whisenhunt has had more success in Arizona than any other previous coach and is the only one of the four head coaches in the division with Super Bowl experience.
But more than just that, he's come from the Pittsburgh way of doing things and understands how to win in situations like this.
As for Seattle, even though it may have been over-hyped that Pete Carroll was coming in, the fact of the matter is that he's done an excellent job with what he's been given.
He's also put the Seahawks in a very good position to win the West.
It will be interesting to watch the chess match between these two come Sunday.