Seattle looks every bit the preseason Super Bowl contender it was made out to be. Arizona has struggled to live up to similar expectations -- but a win over the Seahawks on Sunday Night Football could be just what the Cardinals need to get back on track.
Arizona has rebounded from a brutal start with two straight wins, but those victories came over a pair of teams currently languishing at 1-5. A suboptimal Carson Palmer and backup Drew Stanton teamed up to rout the 49ers and Jets in big wins that stopped short of inspirational. On Sunday, the Cardinals will face a much stiffer test when NFC West leader Seattle makes the trip south to Glendale for a primetime faceoff.
A concussion knocked Palmer out of action for a game and a half earlier in the season, but he failed to play up to his 2015 standards even when healthy. The veteran passer exploded for 4,671 passing yards and 35 touchdowns last fall but has looked more like the disgruntled player who demanded his way out of Cincinnati to start 2016. His completion rate is the lowest it has been since 2008 and he's been responsible for more turnovers (eight) than touchdown passes (seven).
A solid running game has helped disguise some of the team's aerial deficiencies. Arizona ranks fourth in the league in rushing yards thanks to a strong sophomore campaign from tailback David Johnson. The Northern Iowa graduate is on pace for a 1,500-yard, 20-plus touchdown season after an explosive start to the Cardinals' 3-3 campaign.
Seattle has been hot after a 1-1 start, though two of the wins on its recent three-game streak came against the same underwhelming teams Arizona had beaten. The Seahawks proved their legitimacy and earned their biggest win of the season last week when a strong defensive effort -- and an uncalled pass interference penalty -- helped them derail a scorching-hot Atlanta offense.
Russell Wilson led a Seattle rally that produced nine points in the game's final 8:34 to stake the Seahawks' claim as one of the NFC's top teams. The young veteran connected with nine different targets for 270 yards to help take the pressure off a beleaguered running game and deliver a legitimizing victory.
But Wilson may struggle to find his footing against a ferocious Arizona pass rush. The Cardinals shipped Jonathan Cooper and a second-round draft pick to New England for Chandler Jones, and the young linebacker/defensive end has teamed with Markus Golden to harass quarterbacks in 2016. The pair has combined for 10 sacks already this season to transform one of the team's 2015 weaknesses into one of its biggest strengths.
If the Seattle passing game can't move the ball, Sunday night's game could be a low-scoring affair. The Seahawks have struggled to run the ball since Marshawn Lynch retired. This fall, they've gained just 3.2 yards per carry -- ranked 30th in the NFL. Christine Michael had a two-touchdown performance last week but needed 18 carries to gain 64 yards. Unless he can be more efficient with the ball in his hands, Seattle will have to rely on Wilson to carry the team past its NFC West rivals.
How to Watch Seahawks vs. Cardinals on Sunday
Time: 8:30 p.m. ET
Location: University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz.
Announcers: Cris Collinsworth, Al Michaels, Michele Tafoya
Online Streaming: Sunday Ticket, NBC Sports