As Carolina hogs attention, other NFC contenders lurking

December 23, 2015

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) The unbeaten Carolina Panthers are understandably hogging attention in the NFC, but the Arizona Cardinals have been just as successful over the past two months. And the Seattle Seahawks are making their trademark late-season surge.

Don't count out the Green Bay Packers, either. They know a thing or two about playoff football.

Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson doesn't begrudge the Panthers their share of the limelight.

''They deserve all the attention,'' he said. ''They're undefeated in the National Football League, and they beat us. That's the honesty of it. It comes down to winning games, and they beat us in a tough environment (in Seattle). So you've got to give them a lot of respect.''

That Carolina victory in Seattle came back on Oct. 18. The Seahawks (9-5) have won five straight since their home loss to Arizona and would hold the top wild-card spot if the playoffs were to begin today.

There's a strong possibility Seattle could play at Carolina in the NFC's divisional round. And the Seahawks, led by Wilson's near-flawless performances, are a long way from being the team that sputtered to a 2-4 start.

Seattle coach Pete Carroll uses the words ''balance'' and ''harmony'' to describe the reasons for his team's change of fortune.

''It's like tuning in on the radio dial,'' he said. ''You've got to get it right. It's a big challenge. It's what everybody's seeking as they go through these seasons. You can see it. Look what happened to Kansas City, look how they've turned it around and got going, and put together a great year and a great run. It finally hits, and you try to hold on to it as long as you can.''

Oddsmakers certainly aren't overwhelmed by Carolina. rates the Panthers' chance of winning the Super Bowl at 5 to 1, only slightly better than Arizona and Seattle at 6 to 1. The Packers are a longer shot at 12 to 1, which doesn't' bother Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers at all.

''I like where we're at,'' he said. ''People are talking about everybody else, which has always been a good position for us, and rightfully so. Arizona's playing great. Carson's (Palmer) having a hell of a year. Carolina's undefeated. Seattle's coming on. We're just kind of hanging here at 10-4, knowing that we're going to be a tough team in the playoffs.''

Green Bay plays at Arizona (12-2) on Sunday with plenty at stake for both teams. The Cardinals can clinch at least the No. 2 seed in the NFC and the first-round bye that goes with it. A Green Bay win ensures the Packers will remain alone in first place in the NFC North and would leave them just a game behind Arizona for the NFC's No. 2 seed heading into the final week of the schedule.

The Cardinals conclude their regular season with a home game against Seattle, while Green Bay hosts the Minnesota Vikings, who enter this week a game behind the Packers in the NFC North.

So a loss to Green Bay would put the Cardinals, currently flying high with an eight-game winning streak, in a precarious position to lose that precious first-round bye.

''They've been that way for a month,'' Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said of this game's importance. ''There ain't nothing different about this one.''

Any of those four matchups over the next two weeks could be a preview of a playoff game. Arians said he hopes he sees the Packers or Seahawks again down the road.

''We've got to win so we do see them again, hopefully at our place,'' he said.

The Cardinals aren't sneaking up on anyone anymore. They have played on prime-time television five times in the last eight weeks and have won all five games.

''That's what we want as players. We want to play in front of everybody and play in big games,'' Palmer said. ''We've been fortunate to play well in prime-times games and we want to keep that going.''


AP Sports Writer Tim Booth in Seattle contributed to this report


AP NFL website: and AP NFL Twitter feed: