SEATTLE -- If the Seattle Seahawks are going to extend their streak of consecutive seasons in the playoffs to six straight years, they're going to have to find a way to solve the Arizona Cardinals' recent string of success at CenturyLink Field.
Otherwise, their season could be over on the same day as Arizona's.
In order to reach the postseason, the Seahawks (9-6) need to beat the Cardinals (7-8) and also need the Panthers to beat the Falcons. In that scenario -- and only that scenario -- the Seahawks will clinch the sixth and final playoff seed in the NFC.
"It's a championship game for us," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said of Sunday's contest.
The Cardinals have won here three out of the last four years and are getting so used to celebrating in Seattle that coach Bruce Arians let his emotions get the best of him following last Sunday's win over the New York Giants when he told his players, "We know that's our home field. We're going up there and kick their asses."
Arians' postgame locker room comments were intended for his players' ears only, but they were caught on camera and released publicly, much to his regret a couple days later.
"Things that you say to your team in your locker room are things that are supposed to be in your locker room, but it got out and I said it," Arians said. "We have won three times in a row up there."
Actually, the Cardinals have only won each of their last two trips to Seattle. They lost there in 2014, a game in which Drew Stanton started at quarterback for Arizona in place of Carson Palmer, who was injured. Stanton will be starting again this time, too, with Palmer on season-ending injured reserve because of a broken left arm suffered back in Week 7.
"You look at Carson's history up there, he's played phenomenally well," Stanton said. "I think the only time we lose up there is maybe when I played, huh?"
Correct. And it's not like the Cardinals have a ton on the line, either. A win would do a couple things like help them avoid a losing season and given Arians his 50th victory as Arizona's coach, which would be the most in franchise history.
A win also would knock the Seahawks out of playoff contention, however.
"This is our playoff game," Arians said. "Our guys will be motivated just like theirs. They're going to be super motivated because they have to win. It should be a great game. If you're going to be a spoiler, that's the one you want to do it against."
Seattle hasn't had much success defending its home turf against the Cardinals but is 4-0-1 against its NFC West rival in games played in Arizona since Arians became coach in 2013. That doesn't help the Seahawks this week, however. They know they wouldn't be in this position if they hadn't dropped back-to-back games earlier this month to the Jaguars 30-24 and the Rams 42-7.
But here they are, just a win away from becoming only the ninth team in NFL history to string together a 10-win season for the sixth straight year.
"We had a lot of people doubting us, a lot of people sleeping on us, and we love it," Seahawks middle linebacker Bobby Wagner said after last week's victory over the Cowboys. "We love to silence the doubters."
The Seahawks will have to get by the Cardinals first and their stout rush defense, which has held their last three opponents to an average of 46.3 yards per game and 2.2 yards per carry.
"They've been really tough," Carroll said. "You can't run the ball at them. Their activity and their aggressive style is just like it's been. We've seen this defense be good for years and they're really playing right back up to the kinds of numbers that they had shown in years past.
"They're aggressive with the line of scrimmage. They chase the football really well. Pretty good secondary and turning the ball over. They get picks and then they're not giving up big plays or their explosive plays are way down. So every aspect of there is on it with a really featured (pass) rushing in Chandler (Jones) and it's a good group."
Jones, Arizona's outside linebacker, leads the league with 15 sacks and is only two shy of setting the franchise single-season record.
"He's got all the right tools," Carroll said. "He's so tall and long and he's sudden. He's got a really good motor, which is always a big factor for the pass rushers. I mean, he just keeps bringing it."
That's what he and the Cardinals' other defenders will have to do if they hope to slow down Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, who enters Sunday's game 238 passing yards shy of reaching 4,000 for a third straight season.
"I think the thing that you marvel most about him is that he's always so competitive and so on point and available for big opportunities," Carroll said of Wilson. "His mind is always that something good's going to happen, and he seems to find a way to create it. The longer and the later it gets in a game, the better he is, and that's a great attribute."
The biggest offensive weapon for the Cardinals this season has been veteran wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who has reached 100 catches in a season for a fifth time in his career and reached 1,000 receiving yards for aa ninth time. The 34-year-old is coming off a nine-catch, 119-yard performance against the Giants in which he also caught a touchdown.
"It's remarkable," said Stanton, who is 8-4 as a starter for the Cardinals. "You look at him at his age and what he's able to do and go out there and produce. People know we're trying to get the ball in his hands. He's so dynamic when you get the ball in his hands and being able to do that. People have tried to find different ways to contain him. In certain games, it just seems like the ball was constantly going to him, and that was case in point last week.
"But, I think the nice thing about him is he does all that grunt work, as I've alluded to, so he should reap the benefits. He's in there doing it. I just wish we could get everybody on the same page with that because it sometimes feels like the scale's tilted in his favor, but those other guys are out there doing their part and really dictating a lot of coverage, as well, with J.J. (Nelson) and Smoke (John Brown) being able to take the top off of coverages and let him work underneath."