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Arizona Cardinals know road to the top of the NFC West goes through Seattle

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (3) scrambles as Arizona Cardinals free safety Tyrann Mathieu defends during the first half of an NFL football game, Thursday, Oct. 17, 2013, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

TEMPE, Ariz. – To add an NFC West Championship banner next to the two that currently hang inside University of Phoenix Stadium, the Arizona Cardinals don’t have to beat the reigning titleholders, they need to beat them.

Certainly winning the division can be done without a victory over Seattle, but there’s a famous saying that goes, “to be the man, you gotta beat the man”; and right now, and until proven otherwise, the Seahawks fly the highest within the division.

“We want what they got,” cornerback Jerraud Powers said.

“As of now, the road goes through the Seahawks,” linebacker Alex Okafor added. “Everybody knows (the division) goes through them, and we just got to step up to the plate.”

The Cardinals take their first swings at the Seahawks coming up Sunday with the entire league watching on NBC’s Sunday Night Football.

Seattle (4-4) has won the NFC West each of the past two seasons—on their way to a pair of Super Bowl appearances—and three times since 2010, the year after the Cardinals run of back-to-back championships.

The Cardinals (6-2) enter the matchup carrying a two-game lead on their closest competitors.

“We’re just at a point in the season right now where those guys are kind of in our way,” safety Tyrann Mathieu said following practice Tuesday, the team’s first of the week after a five-day break with the bye. “We want to go somewhere and we have to go through those guys.”

The Cardinals went through the first half and put up some incredible numbers.

For starters, their offense has scored more points than any team not named New England thanks to 32 touchdowns, the most in the NFL.

Their defense is ranked third in total yards (312.8) and second in points allowed (19.1).

But who have the Cardinals played?

That’s the question many pundits have asked, pointing to the Cardinals’ six wins versus teams with a combined 14-35 record.

“Last time I checked, they’re all good (teams) in this league,” head coach Bruce Arians said. “Some records are different, but they’re all good.”

Added Mathieu, “We beat two Super Bowl quarterbacks, MVPs (New Orleans’ Drew Brees and Baltimore’s Joe Flaco). We played somebody.”

Still, the sentiment among many players inside the locker room is that the game against the Seahawks, especially in Seattle, provides the Cardinals with their first true test of the season.

“This is a chance for us to really go out there and see how good we really are against a team that we’ve struggled with in the past,” defensive tackle Calais Campbell said. “I feel like it’s a good chance for us to really that show we belong as true contenders.”

The Cardinals were swept by the Seahawks last season and have lost four of five overall in the series. Their one win came two years ago in Seattle, 17-10, with a healthy Carson Palmer at quarterback.

Palmer missed both meetings a year ago.

“We’re playing a big division game on the road. To win division games on the road, they’re huge,” Arians said. “This is our defending champs and we have a chance to go up there and win again.”

Despite their slow start, the Seahawks have won two in a row; and while their offense remains a work in progress, their defense has not allowed a touchdown in the past two weeks and is tied with Minnesota for the fewest points allowed (17.5) in the NFL.

“When we get down there (inside the red zone) a lot of time we’re going to have to get seven instead of getting three points, that’s the type of game this is,” running back Chris Johnson said. “We’re going to have to execute on a lot of the plays in order for us to get the win.”

It’s been five years since the Cardinals last won the NFC West.

The goal is for that drought not to reach six.

“You don’t really like to ‘X’ out anybody, but I’m pretty sure the division is going to come down to one of us,” Mathieu said, referring to the Cardinals and Seahawks. “We have to be ready. Our big playmakers have to make big plays. We have to score points, and we have to tackle.”

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