NFC playoff race breakdown: Arizona’s chances at No. 1 seed

TEMPE, Ariz. — It should be apparent that a Cardinals win in Seattle on Sunday would all but cement Arizona’s third NFC West title since 2008. Seattle would be four games back while the 49ers, if they beat the Redskins, would be three back with five games to play and a loss to Arizona already on their ledger.

But what if the Cardinals lose in Seattle? What are their chances of still winning the NFC West and earning the No. 1 seed for the NFC playoffs? 

Here’s a breakdown of schedules for each team still in the realistic running for the top seed in the conference, along with their chances at the various NFC seeds and the most likely outcome, courtesy of sportsclubstats.com.

For obvious reasons, we have excluded the sad-sack NFC South where Atlanta currently leads the division with a 4-6 record (all four wins have come against division opponents).

As you can see, the Cardinals have an 87 percent chance of earning either the No. 1 seed or the No. 2 seed in the playoffs. That would afford them a first-round bye and at least one home game (the divisional round).  Of course, this is getting a little ahead of ourselves and it certainly isn’t a topic the Cardinals are thinking about at this point as they head to Seattle to face a desperate Seahawks team.

"They’re the world champs. We’re just 9-1," coach Bruce Arians said. "We haven’t done (expletive)."

CARDINALS (9-1) at SEAHAWKS (6-4)

When: 2:05 p.m. Sunday
Where: CenturyLink Field, Seattle
TV: FOX (Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Erin Andrews)

3 THINGS TO WATCH

Seahawks run game: The sideshow will be whether Marshawn Lynch returns to the locker room at halftime, but Lynch is also the bell cow for the Seahawks offense. He has 813 yards rushing and nine rushing touchdowns on 177 attempts while QB Russell Wilson has 571 yards on 74 attempts with four touchdowns. Seattle nearly averages as much on the ground as it does through the air. The Seahawks own the league’s top-ranked rushing offense; the Cardinals have the league’s third-ranked run defense. This is strength against strength.

The secondaries: These are two of the best in the game. The Seahawks can play glove-tight in coverage and the Cardinals (15 interceptions, second in the NFL) can take the ball away. 

Drew Stanton’s reads: The Cardinals QB tossed his first two interceptions last week against the Lions and he’ll be facing a better secondary this week that comes with multiple looks, disguises coverages well and plays very tight on receivers. How much has Stanton learned from last week’s mistakes?

INJURY REPORT

Cardinals: DT Ed Stinson (toe) is out; WR Larry Fitzgerald (knee) is questionable; LB Lorenzo Alexander (knee), RB Andre Ellington (hip/foot), RB Robert Hughes (hamstring), S Rashad Johnson (back), LB Sam Acho (neck), LB Larry Foote (hip) and NT Dan Williams (elbow) are probable.

Seahawks: LB Kevin Pierre-Louis (shoulder) C Max Unger (knee/ankle) and CB Marcus Burley (hamstring) are out; DE Demarcus Dobbs (knee) is doubtful; G James Carpenter (ankle) is questionable; DE Michael Bennett (non injury), RB Marshawn Lynch (back), CB Byron Maxwell (calf), LB Brock Coyle (glute), G J.R. Sweezy (thigh) and LB Bobby Wagner (toe) are probable.

WHAT’S AT STAKE?

For the Cardinals, a win would all but eliminate the Seahawks from the NFC West race and relegate Seattle to battling for a wild card spot. If Seattle wins, the Seahawks still have hope of catching the Cardinals with another game between the teams on Dec. 21 in Glendale and the cardinals facing a tough overall schedule with their backup quarterback.

OUTLOOK

The Seahawks have far too much at state to let this one slip away. And despite their insistence that last season’s Cardinals win at CenturyLink Field doesn’t provide extra motivation, we don’t believe them.

PREDICTION

Seahawks 24, Cardinals 13

— The Cardinals have allowed 17 four-quarter points in their nine victories.

— Seahawks DE O’Brien Schofield played for the Cardinals from 2010-12. He was a fourth-round pick (130th overall) in 2010 and played in 35 games in three years, totaling 70 tackles and 10.5 sacks. 

— Cardinals TE John Carlson played for the Seahawks from 2008-11 after being drafted by Seattle in the second round (38th overall) in 2008. In his first two years, he posted the top two single-season totals by a TE in Seahawks history in receptions (55 in 2008, 51 in 2009) and receiving yards (627 in 2008, 574 in 2009). 

— The Cardinals and Seahawks have split the season series in each of the last three years, with Arizona earning a win in Week 16 last season. That win snapped a streak of 14 consecutive home wins for the Seahawks. 

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