Before the days of Blaine Gabbert and Jim Tomsula, there was a fierce rivalry in the NFC West. When Seattle and San Francisco met on the field, thunder struck and curtains were drawn. The intensity of the competition was only trumped by the ferocity of the hits delivered. It was the best football on the planet for a few years. The disdain among the fanbases remains, even if the on-field competition has waned. Now, the Cardinals ride into Seattle desperate to prove to themselves, their fans, and the Seahawks that they are the new top dog.
One interesting element of the Seahawks/49ers rivalry was determining the date it started. Seahawks fans would point to the moment Jim Harbaugh came aboard in 2011 and beat the Seahawks in Seattle, showing little class when assistant coaches ran through the stadium yelling “Merry Christmas!” after the win. San Francisco fans probably bring up the 42-13 blowout in 2012, which was the first time Seattle had beat the Harbaugh-led 49ers.
It is hard for a rivalry to form until each side is truly threatened by the other. Seattle was looking up at San Francisco for two years, and there was no team more intimidating than those 49ers with the likes of Justin Smith, Patrick Willis, NaVarro Bowman, Donte Whitner, Vernon Davis, Delanie Walker, Aldon Smith, Frank Gore, Mike Iupati, Joe Staley and the rest of that crew. You knew that if Seattle could beat the 49ers, they could beat anyone. That proved to be true in 2013 when they made the Broncos look like the undercard in the Super Bowl after barely fighting their way past the 49ers.
Arizona is in a similar spot to where Seattle was in 2012. They believe they are the team on the upswing, poised to knock off the two-time Super Bowl participant. The Seahawks have been the toughest team in the NFL for a few years, and have had the best defense in football for three straight seasons. The Cardinals remember being spanked 58-0. They remember being 9-1 last season before Seattle beat them twice and took the division. They remember Seattle playing a Super Bowl on their home turf.
The Seahawks remember all those things as well, but it all adds up to an afterthought the way an older brother doesn’t think twice about dominating his little brother in anything they do. Seattle still lives in a world where they believe that if they play to their potential, there is no team in football that can hang with them. This season has challenged that notion as they have shown rare vulnerability.
Still, it would be surprising if anyone in the Seattle locker room has doubts about their ability to beat the Cardinals or is intimidated by them in any way. That is not to say the Seahawks lack respect for their first place opponent. It simply does not rise to the level of a rivalry just yet.
Cardinals best chance
Arizona had a myriad of reasons for why they were unable to win consistently overall or beat the Seahawks when it mattered the past few years. Those are all gone now. They have their starting quarterback, and he’s playing at an MVP level. They have their starting running back, and he is playing at a Pro Bowl level. They have a healthy offensive line, and all their key players on defense.
Seattle, on the other hand, has never been more vulnerable. Their offensive line has been one of the worst in football. Their quarterback has been uneven and unsure of himself. The defense has been more susceptible to the big play than in the past, and has surrendered large fourth quarter leads. They are 4-4 for a reason.
Losing this game to Seattle would be crushing for Arizona. It would bring back all the fears and doubts that have built up during these years of unmet expectations. Seattle would close to within one game of the division lead, and be setup to win the tie-breaker later in the season.
Most importantly, it would steal belief from that Cardinals locker room. If they cannot beat the Seahawks with all their best players playing great football and the Seahawks at their worst, when will they?
Stage is set
To dismiss either the Seahawks or the Cardinals would be foolish. Both have good reasons to think they will win this game and seize momentum within the division race. Both teams will play this game with confidence and physicality. There will be plays that take your breath away and plays that make you stand up.
These are the games that make being a fan so fun. Predicting which side will come out on top is just blather. There is greatness on both sides that will come to play. Which team gets the best performances from their best players will win. Look for Seattle to establish their physical dominance and the Cardinals to try and do the same. Look for Arizona to show no fear of the Seattle secondary as they attack down the field, and look for the Seahawks to be ready for it.
Earl Thomas. Larry Fitzgerald. Kam Chancellor. Tyrann Mathieu. Marshawn Lynch. Chris Johnson. Richard Sherman. Patrick Peterson. Calais Campbell. Michael Bennett. Carson Palmer. Russell Wilson.
The stars will be out Sunday night. A rivarly is ready for its day.