The undefeated Seattle Seahawks were on BYE last week, so instead of watching the division-leading Hawks play their magical brand of football, the 12’s out there kept a close eye on two important games—the two that impacted the NFC West.
First, on Sunday, the 49ers welcomed the Los Angeles Rams and served up a not-as-close-as-it-sounds 24-16 defeat. Then, on Monday, the Dallas Cowboys invited the Arizona Cardinals to AT&T Stadium, only to have the Cards unleash a monster MNF 38-10 thrashing upon their hosts.
At 5-0, the Seahawks sit atop the division, but with week six in the books, we now have a sharper picture of the divisional standings overall. While all three teams stand at least one game behind the Hawks, the Ram’s loss, Card’s win, and 49ers’ win have brought them within a game of each other.
Here’s how the NFC West looks heading into week seven:
The NFC’s Green Bay Packers (5-1) suffered their first loss on Sunday, leaving the Seahawks as the only undefeated team in the Conference. However, the AFC still has two unbeaten teams; the Tennessee Titans (5-0) and the Pittsburgh Steelers (5-0), and wouldn’t you know it, those two unbeaten squads face each other this week, ensuring one will fall out of the elite class of winners and one will carry on as such. Unless they tie, which would be oddly fitting for 2020.
The Seahawks are 5-0 this year for the first time in team history. Since 1978, when the NFL adopted a 16-game schedule, there have been 69 teams that started 5-0, and of those, 62 qualified for the playoffs that year. That’s an incredible success rate of 90%, essentially guaranteeing the Hawks will see the postseason this year.
More tangible than averages and stats, however, is the reality of what a BYE week did for the Hawks.
The extra time off helps the already-dangerous Seahawks get even better in three big ways:
1. Injured players, like Jamal Adams, can get 100% healthy and return to action.
2. Newly acquired players, like Damon ‘Snacks’ Harrison can adjust to the new playbook.
3. Heavily used players, like Russell Wilson can get rested up for the long season ahead.
It sounds wild to say so, but I don’t think we’ve seen the final form of the 2020 Seahawks, and that should terrify the rest of the NFL.
But as great as it is to have 5 wins (and it truly is great), there are still 11 scheduled games before the playoffs. And the Hawks want to win each and every one of them. First up, the Seahawks will face their first divisional matchup of the season, the red-hot Arizona Cardinals on a recently-flexed, prime-time Sunday Night Football showdown.
The 2020 Cardinals are a team on the rise. Under the leadership of head coach Kliff Kingsbury, second-year quarterback Kyler Murray has run and thrown his team to four wins and two losses against a range of opponents.
They opened the season with a surprising 24-20 upset win over the 49ers and followed that in week two with a 30-10 dismantling of the Washington Football Team. But then, as Murray was being brought-up in early-season MVP chatter, the Cards dropped two contests back-to-back; first, narrowly losing 23-26 to the Detroit Lions and then falling 21-31 to the revamped Carolina Panthers. However, week five was the turning-point the Cardinals needed, as they absolutely demolished the New York Jets in a 30-10 win before taking it even further with a shocking 38-10 whooping of the Dallas Cowboys. Those last two wins (but especially the most recent win over the Cowboys) have vaulted the Cardinals back into “contender” conversations, both for the team’s playoff potential and Murray’s MVP chances.
Now, there’s plenty to be said about the impacts of COVID-19 on the season generally or the quality of these opponents specifically, but winning in the NFL is always difficult and the Cardinals deserve credit for all the success they’ve had thus far. The Cards are a good team with good playmakers and a good coach. In the NFL, that’s usually enough to challenge for the division. But in the NFC West, the league’s toughest division by far, you need a little more. That’s why the Cardinals acquired top-notch wide receiver, DeAndre Hopkins, in the offseason.
Hopkins is among the very best pass catchers in the NFL. He has the ability at any time, in any game to take over and will his team to a win. Assuming he has a quarterback, who can get him the ball. And he does with Murray…sometimes.
Hopkins has ranged from heavily-involved to almost-invisible in the Cardinals offense, but whether it’s his 14 catches for 151 yards in week one or only reeling-in 2 of his 8 targets against Dallas, he’s a threat to score from anywhere on the field. So, the Hawks will have their hands full containing the fleet-of-foot Murray and covering the always-open-just-enough Hopkins.
However, after they face the Hawks and take a BYE week of their own, the remaining slate of opponents is tougher than I’m sure the Cardinals would like: From week nine onward, the Cards play the Miami Dolphins, the Buffalo Bills, the Seahawks again, the New England Patriots, the Rams, the New York Giants, the Philadelphia Eagles, the 49ers again, and the Rams again.
Of those matchups, I’m picking the Cardinals to win 5 games (Dolphins, Rams, Giants, Eagles, 49ers), putting their season total at 9 wins and 7 losses. Naturally, I didn’t pick them to beat the Hawks. But remember, divisional games are always extra spicy, so don’t put it past them to try and steal one of the two-games-in-four-weeks against Seattle. That’s right, the Hawks play the Cards twice in a month.
After playing (and hopefully beating) the Cardinals, the Seahawks will face the toughest stretch of the season—playing the 49ers, the Bills, the Rams, and the Cardinals again. In that run, they’ll very likely lose their first game, but if they can only drop one or two of those five, they’ll be in incredible shape for the rest of the year. Because… Starting week twelve, the Hawks will play the Eagles, Giants, Jets, and Washington, before closing out the divisional matchups with the Rams again and 49ers again. Without getting too far ahead of ourselves, barring a significant turn-of-events for the Hawks, that’s a favorable sequence of opponents to work through on the way to the postseason. But to put a famous Wilson quote in context, “Plan to win. Prepare to win. Expect to win.” Only works if you focus on one game at a time. And this week, it’s the Arizona Cardinals the Seahawks need to beat. Not only to remain undefeated, but to continue their climb towards the playoffs and, if we’re lucky, the Super Bowl.
The window is open. This is our year. Go Hawks.