The Seahawks have little on the line, having already clinched a wild-card playoff spot and unable to win the NFC West. And with the Carolina-Tampa Bay game being played at the same time, the Cardinals enter Sunday’s game unsure of its meaning.
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll spent the week insisting Sunday is about one thing and one thing only — winning a game against the Arizona Cardinals.
There will be no resting anyone for the postseason, he said. No playing it safe to prevent injuries. No calling it differently in case there could be another meeting down the road with the Cardinals with substantially more on the line.
“We’re going to go play ball,’’ Carroll said. “We’re playing ball to win.”
Still, it’s a game that feels mostly like a chore to get done with as quickly and painlessly as possible before moving on to the postseason.
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The Seahawks have little on the line, having already clinched a wild-card playoff spot and unable to win the NFC West.
They could improve their playoff positioning with a victory against the Cardinals in a game that kicks off at 1:25 p.m. But that’s only if the Green Bay Packers beat the Minnesota Vikings in their 5:30 p.m. game. That means the Seahawks will play the game without knowing if it means anything.
Even at that, what’s at stake for Seattle could be a matter of debate. Depending on the outcomes Sunday, the Seahawks will open the postseason at either Green Bay, Minnesota or Washington.
The most likely outcome based on the point spreads of the two games that will determine things — Seattle at Arizona and Minnesota at Green Bay — would point to the Seahawks heading to Lambeau Field and a return date with the Packers.
Though a few weeks ago that seemed like the least-favorable outcome, the Packers have since lost 38-8 to the Cardinals in a game that exposed some issues with the team’s offensive line. Minnesota and Washington, meanwhile, both appear on the rise.
The Seahawks also could lose and still end up going to Minnesota, a team the Seahawks beat 38-7 in Minneapolis last month (any scenario in which the Vikings beat the Packers sends Seattle back to Minnesota).
The Seahawks would head to Washington if the Seahawks and Packers win.
Carroll allowed that the Seahawks would make “smart decisions” about what is best for players over the long haul. (They also used the week as a dry run for the playoffs by leaving Friday, which it typically does for games in the Central or Eastern time zones.)
But when Carroll was asked Friday if being without both left tackle Russell Okung and right guard J.R. Sweezy for the game Sunday could alter how they might approach the use of quarterback Russell Wilson, he replied flatly, “No.”
“I think that this has to do with just the overall approach to how we compete,’’ Carroll said of not resting players. “We’re giving it everything we got every time we go, and we don’t know any other way.”
Arizona has a similarly nebulous situation when it comes to the meaning of the game. The Cardinals can clinch the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs with a win over the Seahawks and a Tampa Bay victory at Carolina.
But the Tampa Bay-Carolina game time was moved to coincide with the Seattle-Arizona contest, so the Cardinals won’t know as the game begins if the result will mean anything.
Arizona coach Bruce Arians, though, echoed Carroll in saying he had no plans to rest players regardless of the game’s meaning, or potential lack thereof.
Arians also noted Arizona hasn’t beaten the Seahawks at home during his three seasons as coach, despite having won two of three in Seattle in that time.
“I don’t think you get anything out of resting guys, especially playing a team that’s in our division and we haven’t beaten them at home in a couple of years,’’ he said.
Indeed, Arians and the Cardinals might relish the opportunity to try to make a further statement that the balance of power has shifted. Seattle essentially clinched the NFC West title a year ago with a 35-6 rout of the Cardinals in Arizona, punctuated by Marshawn Lynch’s 79-yard touchdown run and dive into the end zone.
When the two teams most recently played, though, Arizona won 39-32, the most points the Seahawks have allowed since 2010.
And the Seahawks were surprisingly defeated 23-17 last weekend at home by St. Louis, which halted the Seahawks’ five-game winning streak and revived concerns about the team’s offensive line.
Asked during the week about what he remembered about the first game with Arizona this season, cornerback Richard Sherman didn’t sound like someone planning to take it easy Sunday, ending his answer with, “There’s nobody in this league we can’t play with.”
And if they think the real test of that might not begin for another week, the Seahawks weren’t letting on.