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Seahawks shouldering all the pressure on Sunday

It’s hard not to get excited about the Sunday Night Football game. Seattle is the two-time defending NFC champion. Arizona is a playoff team from last year with a two-game lead over the Seahawks in the NFC West. So much is on the line in a battle between two teams in a rivalry that is starting to get good.

Seattle beat Arizona twice last year, but Carson Palmer played in neither of those games and Larry Fitzgerald missed one. The last time Palmer played against the Seahawks, he beat them in Seattle. The last time the Seahawks beat Arizona, they faced Ryan Lindley.

Seattle deserves and has earned more respect than Arizona, but it is the team doing the chasing, not the team in control of the division.

And make no mistake about this: Seattle needs this game, has to have it. It is a must-win if they want to repeat as division champions.

It’s not for Arizona. Sure, it would be nice to win if you are the Cardinals. For all intents and purposes, an Arizona win would eliminate the Seahawks from contention for the NFC West title and force them to focus on the wild card.

A win by Arizona gives it a three-game lead over the Seahawks with seven games to play and hands Seattle its fourth conference loss compared to just one for Arizona. The Seahawks winning a tie-breaker over the Cardinals, should they somehow make up that difference, seems highly unlikely. So Seattle has to win.

Arizona can afford to lose and still be in a good spot to win the West. Not ideal, but still a good spot. The Cardinals would still be a game ahead of Seattle and the rematch would be at University of Phoenix Stadium. They would have two conference losses compared to three for Seattle. They would still be ahead of the Rams, no matter what the result of the St. Louis-Chicago game Sunday.

Now, Arizona losing may give Seattle the momentum, and we do remember the Seahawks started out 3-3 last season before winning nine of their last 10 games to capture the division crown. But this team is different.

The Seahawks can’t protect the quarterback behind a shaky offensive line, can’t run the ball effectively with Marshawn Lynch averaging just 3.6 yards per carry having missed two games because of a hamstring injury. They haven’t found a way to incorporate Jimmy Graham into the offense. They collapse late in games, having blown fourth quarter leads against Green Bay, Cincinnati and Carolina. And the only teams they have beaten are Chicago, Detroit, San Francisco and Dallas. So to think that they can go on a run like last year is unrealistic.

Arizona knows the importance of the game and doesn’t want to give its opponent any confidence going forward. But if they lose, it’s not the end of the world. The Cardinals will still be the favorites to win the West.

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