Hawks & Cards each see the other as the top dog

Unless the Rams become more of a factor than we expect them to, the NFC West will be won by Seattle or Arizona.

So, it’s appropriate that they start off the second half of the season together, both coming off byes, and playing what should be a hard-hitting, highly intriguing game on “Sunday Night Football.”

This matchup brings a very interesting dichotomy: Each team sees the other as the top dog.

The Seahawks have owned the Cardinals and the NFC the past couple of seasons. The Cardinals, though, own the division lead right now and are playing their best football in Bruce Arians’ three seasons as coach – and that is saying something, considering they had won 21 games in his first two years.

But, they have not fared very well against the Seahawks, who are 3-1 vs. Arians, including an aggregate 54-9 sweep last season. Arians and his team knows the only way to win the division — and the NFC – is to beat Seattle.

“I mean, they’re the defending champions, and for us to become champions we have to beat them,” Arians told Seattle reporters. “I think we’re all in that same mindset. People ask if it’s a rivalry, and I would say no: We haven’t won enough for it to be a rivalry. We feel like we’ve gotten better, and they’re the measuring stick because they’re our division champs and our conference champs.”

But Arians’ club did beat the Seahawks in Seattle in 2013 – one of Russell Wilson’s three losses in 31 home games (playoffs included).

The Cardinals did not have Palmer in either game last season, so the Seahawks probably will throw out those games in preparing for Arizona’s offense. But, they picked off Palmer four times in Seattle in 2013, and Seattle still managed to lose, 17-10. So, the onus in this game really is going to be on Seattle’s offense.

Some have poo-pooed the quality of Arizona’s wins this year, which have come against clubs that are a combined 12-31.

But they have been winning those games handily: 31-19 vs. the Saints, 47-7 vs. the 49ers, 42-17 at Detroit, 26-18 vs. Baltimore and 34-20 at Cleveland. They lost by two to the Rams in Arizona and by 12 in Pittsburgh. Both of those games should be instructive for the Seahawks.

Arians’ team is as aggressive as any the Seahawks will see all season – in all phases.

“I don’t think we lack for any confidence,” Arians said. “We’ve won enough games in the last three years that we have enough confidence to go into any stadium and feel like we can win.”

Carson Palmer has been the NFC’s best quarterback – better even than Aaron Rodgers. Palmer leads the NFL with a stellar 9.18 yards per attempt – a reflection of Arizona’s penchant for throwing the ball deep. His 20 TD passes are second in the NFL, his 110.2 passer rating is third and his 2,386 yards are fifth.

“I think we’re a confident group. We understand we’ve got a good group,” he said. “And we attack, in every situation. On offense, on defense. (We don’t) control the clock and run the game at the line of scrimmage and just get in big personnel groups and wear you down. We’re going to spread you out, we’re going to take shots, and we’re going to be aggressive. If it’s third-and-2 or if it’s third-and-12, we’re going to bring cover zero from both situations on defense, and we’re going to take our shots in both situations on offense.”

The Cardinals obviously will be pumped up to try to become the first team to knock off Carroll’s Seahawks in Seattle in prime time – Carroll is 9-0 since he took over in 2010.

“I think the hype takes care of itself,” Arians said. “Nationally televised and it’s a big game. I want them to come in with a lot of respect for their opponent and know exactly what they’re getting into, and play smart and fast and physical.”

The Cardinals are the fourth division leader the Seahawks will have played this year, so Carroll’s team won’t be looking at it much differently.

“We’ve seen some first-place teams this year. We’re getting our fill of that,” Carroll said. “I’m sure it’s an exciting matchup looking from the outside in. It’s a big opportunity, as every week is. We’re going to try to play a terrific football game, just like we would no matter what’s going on.

“They’re loaded. They’re a fine football team. In that regard, it’s going to be just as hard as a bunch of these games have been. Everybody’s games are difficult. Everybody’s fighting at the end of these games to try to get their wins, and it doesn’t matter who you’re playing or what time it is. … If we’re fortunate, it’ll be another one of those and we’ll battle it out through the end.”

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