- Associated Press - Saturday, November 22, 2014

SEATTLE (AP) - That trip to Seattle two Decembers ago when the Arizona Cardinals were handed a 58-0 embarrassment doesn’t even register.

The game that means more, and to some degree is responsible for Arizona’s league-best 9-1 record this season, came last December.

The Cardinals came to Seattle, did not play well and still ended the Seahawks’ 14-game home win streak with a 17-10 victory.

It didn’t get the Cardinals to the playoffs. But nearly a year later, with the Cardinals visiting Seattle this Sunday, it was the game where everything Arizona coach Bruce Arians was trying to sell paid off.

“It was very critical. I can’t deny that. It was probably the cement,” Arians said. “We had played real hard and gave a game away down in San Francisco and to win that one, especially because we had four turnovers and we didn’t really play great, but we played hard and hung in there so that was really the cement and that’s been the building block that we’ve used since.”

If Arizona can match what it did a year ago in Seattle, the Cardinals may put the final stake in claiming the NFC West title.

They are already three games up on both the 49ers and Seahawks in the division and hold a two-game lead over everyone else in the NFC in the race for home-field advantage.

And a win for the second straight year at CenturyLink Field would give further validity that the Cardinals’ best start since 1948 isn’t a fluke.

If Seattle has any hopes of getting back in the division race a victory over Arizona is a must. The Seahawks (6-4) will have their chances to get back into the division race with five of their final six games against NFC West foes. Or the defending champs could get quickly swept out of the playoff conversation.

After last week’s 24-20 loss at Kansas City, the Seahawks margin for error is almost zero.

“We have six games left and I believe we can still win the division,” Seattle linebacker K.J. Wright said. “But it all starts with this week and we’ve got to have this. This is a must-have for us.”

Drew Stanton will make his second start at quarterback since Carson Palmer went down with a season-ending knee injury. He threw for a career-high 306 yards last week against Detroit and completed passes to 10 different receivers. But he also threw two interceptions and will be challenged by Seattle’s unfriendly confines and its stellar secondary.

“You look at everything that’s transpired and we dealt with a lot of stuff, but we’ve been successful,” Stanton said. “We can’t start listening to outside critics because early on in the year, people tried to write us off when Carson was out and we had a lot of question marks - people wanted to sit here and doubt us. So we’ve done a good job of blocking that out.”

Here’s what else to watch as Arizona and Seattle meet for the first of two games in less than a month:

RUN LOUDLY, SPEAK BARELY: Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch is coming off his two best games of the season and his first time topping 100 yards in consecutive games since Weeks 9 and 10 of last season. He’s also heading into Sunday $100,000 lighter in the wallet after getting fined by the league for violations of its media policy. Lynch rushed for 140 yards against the Giants and followed up with 124 against Kansas City.

If he can reach the century mark against Arizona he would break the Cardinals’ streak of 20 straight games without allowing a 100-yard rusher and post three-straight 100-yard games for the first time since the end of the 2012 season.

BRING THE HEAT: Seattle knows it’s about to face an assortment of blitzes from Arizona’s defense. The Cardinals have 10 sacks in their past two games. Alex Okafor has three of his team-high five sacks this season in the past two games.

In four games against Russell Wilson, Arizona has 11 sacks.

STOP THE RUN: Seattle’s run defense surrendered 159 yards to Jamaal Charles last week, the most by any running back against Seattle since Adrian Peterson in 2012. The Seahawks can’t let Andre Ellington have the same success if they want to put pressure on Stanton.

STOUT SECOND HALF: In the past three games, Arizona is allowing nearly nothing in the second half. Opponents have had 18 second-half possessions during those three games and Arizona has allowed only seven points and forced six turnovers.

QUICK TURNAROUND: If facing the team with the best record in the NFL wasn’t difficult enough, the Seahawks don’t get much recovery time. They’ll have just three days of rest after Sunday’s game before a Thanksgiving night showdown with rival San Francisco.

“We never worry about a short week there’s nothing we can do about it,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said.


AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

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