This is it; we're heading into the playoff stretch of the NFL season and the battle for postseason mediocrity begins Sunday when the Seattle Seahawks visit the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. Which NFC West team will, unfortunately for fans of actual good football, be guaranteed an unearned spot in the brackets?
Regardless of the quality of play, this game is important for both teams, so a hard-fought battle should be anticipated - even if it's fought using NERF guns and water balloons in lieu of swords and spears.
Sunday's game starts a marshmallow-soft stretch of schedule for the Cardinals. Five of their final eight games are at home, and three of those are against divisional opponents. Only one of their remaining seven opponents has a winning record. This is a perfect time for the Red Birds to gain some ground and wheeze and huff their way to their third straight NFC West title.
The Seahawks, meanwhile, will be glad to have Matt Hasselbeck back in the lineup after backup Charlie Whitehurst's flop-tastic nosedive against the New York Giants. Sort of, anyway. Like Arizona, Seattle's starter under center isn't a huge relief from the backup. Hasselbeck has thrown only six touchdowns to seven interceptions, taken 22 sacks and accumulated an opposite-of-good 70.8 QB rating.
Meanwhile, in the desert, re-crowned starter Derek Anderson had his first no-turnover game of the season (as a starter) last week against Minnesota and hopes to continue with those shenanigans against a defense that ranks 30 in defending the pass.
The most interesting storyline of the game is likely the faceoff between Leon Washington and LaRod Stephens-Howling, two of the top kick-off returners in the league. Both have two returns for touchdowns and their average return yards have them both in the top ten. With how inept both offenses have been, is it possible the only points on the scoreboard Sunday are from Washington and The Hyphen?
Really, though, this game is a battle of who will screw up the least on their way to winning the division. The loser of this game will have a hard time staying on top of an entirely soft bunch of teams all playing the "who's the least worst" odds.