Seattle Seahawks at Arizona Cardinals (-6.5, 47.5 o/u)
The Seattle Seahawks (9-6, 4-3 road) and Arizona Cardinals (13-2, 6-1 home) have a lot in common this season: they’ve both lost to the St. Louis Rams and they’ve both made the NFC playoffs. The former is a tad embarrassing, while the latter is a solid feat, especially to have a spot locked up before the final week even begins.
The Seahawks haven’t been a road monster this season. They’re only 4-3 away from the “Clink” and also suffered a loss to Arizona at home back in November. The team isn’t just another rendition of the 2013-14 Super Bowl champion any more. The Hawks have become something that they haven’t been in a long time – underdogs.
The Cardinals, meanwhile, are riding an all-time high. Carson Palmer has led the team to one of its best seasons ever and can even lock up the NFC title this weekend if all goes according to plan. If Arizona wins and the Carolina Panthers lose (to Tampa Bay), the Cardinals will have home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.
This would be a huge jump for the franchise – which earned its first ever playoff bye thanks to a dominant Week 16 win over Green Bay – and head coach Bruce Arians. Arians has been steady since he arrived in Arizona three seasons ago, raising a winning a team full of home-grown talent. But it hasn’t always been high times for the bench boss.
Last season, after losing Carson Palmer to injury (and then backup Drew Stanton), the team had to rely on third-stringer Ryan Lindley for its playoff run – a run that was cut short in the first round by Carolina.
So yes, they’d love to have a little payback, “if all goes according to plan.”
The Cardinals are 6-1 at home and 4-1 against their own division this season. The team has been nothing short of excellent and deserves to end the season on a high note.
But the Cards’ chances against Seattle may be hindered by injury paranoia. Palmer has been injury-prone throughout his career and has missed significant time in the past couple seasons. Having the veteran slinger face Michael Bennet and Seattle’s fearsome front seven might be a mistake entering the final week. Is the risk of losing the team MVP really worth homefield in a potential matchup with the Panthers in the NFC Championship Game? That will be for Arians to decide. In the end, it’s about what gives the team the best shot at the Lombardi Trophy and nothing else.
In the curious case of Seattle, a once dominant defense will have to find a way to deal with league’s hottest offense. In years past, this wouldn’t be a tough task for the Legion of Boom. This season, though, Seattle’s deadly D got off to an extremely slow start. They have been turning the corner, but are still serving up poor performances; case in point: the team’s 39-30 win over Pittsburgh in Week 12, when the secondary was torched for 456 yards.
Despite the final result, the unit was one of the lone bright lights in Seattle’s 23-17 loss to St. Louis, giving up just 207 total yards. The Hawks defense now sits top-five in both total defense and rush defense. But they did surrender two majors to a Case Keenum-led offense en route to a 23-17 loss. And if you can’t beat a team led by Case Keenum, good luck beating one with Carson Palmer at the helm.
Arizona has the league’s best offense, putting up 420 yards per game. The Hawks haven’t played an offense that prolific since the Pittsburgh game and have generally struggled against quality competition this year. In fact, the Hawks are 0-4 against division leaders (Green Bay, Cincinnati, Carolina, and Arizona).
Now would be a great time for the Seattle to notch its first such win. Another loss would send them on the road to face the NFC North champ in the Wild Card round, while a win would keep them alive for the no. 5 seed (which comes with a plum matchup against Washington).
The Cardinals, who are 9-6 ATS on the season, are favored by 6.5 in this tilt. Arizona has been able to get the job done in myriad ways this year. If it’s not the air attack of Carson Palmer, it’s the ground-and-pound of rookie back David Johnson. If it’s not the offense at all, it’s the defense which has 14 sacks, eight forced fumbles, and three picks in the last last three games alone.
If Arians trots out his usual roster, Arizona is just too strong.
Pick: Cardinals (-6.5)
(Photo credit: Greg Buch FFSwami.com (Flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Photo has been cropped.)
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