Seahawks Look to Sweep Cardinals

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The Arizona Cardinals have managed to remain atop the NFC despite being without their No. 1 quarterback for much of the season.

They’ll have to turn to yet another backup against the NFL’s most dominant defense.

Ryan Lindley will start for the Cardinals as they try to clinch home-field advantage Sunday night against the visiting Seattle Seahawks.

Arizona’s 12-6 win at St. Louis last Sunday, combined with other results, clinched the team’s first playoff appearance since 2009. A victory over the Seahawks would give the Cardinals (11-3) a franchise record for wins along with home field, which would mean three potential postseason games at University of Phoenix Stadium, the site of Super Bowl XLIX.

“Knowing that we’re in, there’s some comfort,” coach Bruce Arians said. “But knowing that’s at stake, we don’t want to travel to play.”

Arizona is 7-0 at home for its highest home victory total since 1925. A perfect season in Glendale, though, will have to be completed with Lindley – 1-3 with no touchdowns and seven interceptions in four career starts – at the helm.

Lindley gets the nod over rookie Logan Thomas, who Arians said could also be used in a different package. Lindley was 4 of 10 for 30 yards while filling in against St. Louis after Drew Stanton suffered a sprained right knee.

Stanton, who was making his eighth start in place of Carson Palmer, is expected to be out two to four weeks.

Lindley was signed off San Diego’s practice squad Nov. 11. He spent 2013 as Arizona’s No. 3 quarterback but was cut after Thomas beat him out in the preseason.

Lindley completed 52.0 percent of his passes for 752 yards in six games with the Cardinals in 2012, including an 8-for-17 performance for 59 yards in a 58-0 loss at Seattle.

”It’s night and day,” he said. ”The amount I’ve learned and not only grown as a person in two years, but from these guys – B.A. (Arians), from Carson, from Drew. I’m a totally different person and totally different player from that point.”

Stanton was 14 of 26 for 149 yards and an interception in Arizona’s 19-3 loss at Seattle on Nov. 23. The Cardinals, who were without leading receiver Larry Fitzgerald due to a sprained left MCL, were held to a season-low 204 yards.

That victory started a four-game winning streak for the Seahawks (10-4), who can clinch their fourth playoff appearance in five years with a win and a loss or tie by Philadelphia, Detroit or Green Bay. It would also put them back in control for a second straight division title with the head-to-head tiebreaker against Arizona in their favor.

“That’s not stuff we talk about. It’s so obvious why we don’t talk about it,” coach Pete Carroll said. ”We’ve been preparing for championship games all season long and playing like they are, and the more you do that the more comfortable I hope we feel with the big setting that this one brings and all the hype that people are going to put on it. We’re not going to play any different.”

Seattle, allowing a league-low 272.4 yards per game, has limited its last four opponents to 27 total points and an average of 188.0 yards. The Seahawks registered a season-high six sacks and limited Colin Kaepernick to 141 passing yards in eliminating the 49ers from postseason contention with Sunday’s 17-7 victory.

They were tied for second to last with 13 sacks through their first 10 games, but have 16 over their last four. Jordan Hill, Cliff Avril, Bruce Irvin, Michael Bennett and K.J. Wright all have at least two apiece in that span.

“That is a real good part of our game right now,” Carroll said. “We’re going to try and keep pushing it. I always think it starts up front with the guys rushing the passer, but we certainly feed off one another and it will certainly be important down the stretch.”

Russell Wilson has posted a 101.2 passer rating over his last four games but has taken 18 sacks in that stretch and will be operating behind a depleted offensive line. Center Max Unger could miss a fifth straight contest with ankle and knee injuries and left tackle Russell Okung is not likely to play after suffering a bruised lung against San Francisco.

Wilson was 17 of 22 for 211 yards and a TD and ran 10 times for 73 yards in the first meeting with Arizona.

Seattle hopes for a better performance from Marshawn Lynch after the Cardinals limited the NFL’s third-leading rusher to 39 yards on 15 carries in the first meeting. They’ve given up 4.8 yards per carry in three games since.

Arizona has run the ball 33 times in each of its last two games and figures to rely on Kerwynn Williams to take some pressure off Lindley. Williams has 34 carries for 175 yards over the last two weeks.

Richard Sherman has six interceptions in his last six meetings with the Cardinals.

The Seahawks had dropped six of seven in Arizona prior to a 34-22 win there last Oct. 17

NFL Week 16

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Saturday, Dec. 20
Game Time/Score TV Location
Philadelphia at Washington 1:30 pm NFLN FedEx Field -
San Diego at San Francisco 5:25 pm CBS Levi’s Stadium -
Sunday, Dec. 21
Game Time/Score TV Location/Tickets
Atlanta at New Orleans 1:00 pm FOX Mercedes-Benz Superdome -
Kansas City at Pittsburgh 10:00 am CBS Heinz Field -
Baltimore at Houston 10:00 am CBS NRG Stadium -
Green Bay at Tampa Bay 10:00 am FOX Raymond James Stadium -
Minnesota at Miami 10:00 am FOX Sun Life Stadium -
Detroit at Chicago 10:00 am FOX Soldier Field -
Cleveland at Carolina 10:00 am CBS Bank of America Stadium -
New England at N.Y. Jets 10:00 am CBS MetLife Stadium -
N.Y. Giants at St. Louis 105 pm FOX Edward Jones Dome -
Buffalo at Oakland 1:25 pm CBS O.co Coliseum -
Indianapolis at Dallas 1:25 pm CBS AT&T Stadium -
Seattle at Arizona 5:30 pm NBC University of Phoenix Stadium -
Monday, Dec. 22
Game Time/Score TV Location/Tickets
Denver at Cincinnati 5:30 pm ESPN Paul Brown Stadium -

Celtics Trade Star to Mavs

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Coming into this season, the Celtics were looking at two possible paths.

One, their preferred plan, was to let point guard Rajon Rondo return to All-Star form, watch the team around him start to grow and improve and be prepared to have Rondo serve as a selling point when the team came to free agency next summer.

The other was to wave the white flag, recognize that Rondo would be better off elsewhere and move him along via trade before free agency came.

At 9-14, and with Rondo averaging 10.8 assists and 7.5 rebounds — but just 8.3 points on 40.5 percent shooting — it appears the Celtics have seen enough to determine that the time to move Rondo is now.

On Thursday, Celtics president Danny Ainge moved closer to a deal that would send Rondo to the Mavericks for a package focused on center Brandan Wright and a future first-round draft pick.

The implication for Boston is clear: The rebuilding program is about to get longer and messier.

The hope had been that the presence of an All-Star point guard in Boston might entice some of the quality big men who could hit the free-agent market. That would return the Celtics, who were in the NBA Finals just four years ago, to prominence quickly.

But Ainge has obviously made the calculation that Rondo alone is not going to be enough to bring in the top names. Besides, many of those top names are likely to stay put anyway.

Despite rumors that Kevin Love would be willing to leave Cleveland, it’s highly probable he stays with the Cavs. Center Marc Gasol has expressed his happiness with the Grizzlies, and he won’t leave as long as they are willing to pay him what he’s worth. The same can be said for the Trail Blazers’ LaMarcus Aldridge and the Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan.

Combine what could be a dwindling free-agent crop with Boston’s generally disappointing start to the year, and Ainge’s move on Rondo makes some sense.

The deal leave Boston with an embarrassment of riches when it comes to future draft picks. The Celtics already own their own pick in the next four drafts, but they also have the Clippers’ pick this year, the Nets’ pick (which could be a good one) and the Cavaliers’ pick in 2016, as well as Brooklyn’s 2018 pick. In 2017, the Celtics have the right to swap picks with the Nets.

On the other side, the Mavericks move into the ring as a contender in the Western Conference.

Dallas has managed an outstanding start, at 19-8, but ranks only sixth in the stacked West. The big hole in its lineup — which includes star Dirk Nowtizki, guard Monta Ellis, center Tyson Chandler and forward Chandler Parsons — has been at point guard. Ellis is the Mavs’ top assists man, at 4.7 per game.

The Celtics will send Rondo and forward Dwight Powell to Dallas for Jameer Nelson, Jae Crowder, Brandan Wright, two draft picks and a $12.9 million trade exception.

”Welcome to Rajon Rondo the newest member of the Dallas Mavericks,” team owner Mark Cuban wrote on the social media application Cyber Dust shortly before the official announcement. Cuban also thanked the three departing players, calling them ”Amazing players and better people.”

Seahawks Looking Good

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When the Cardinals last played the Seahawks, there was talk of locker room turmoil for the defending Super Bowl champs.

Seattle had traded unhappy receiver Percy Harvin, absorbed a report that suggested teammates don’t like quarterback Russell Wilson because he isn’t “black enough,” and dealt with the bizarre behavior of running back Marshawn Lynch, who didn’t join his teammates in the locker room at halftime of a loss to Kansas City, instead choosing to stay on the sidelines in the frigid cold.

Coach Pete Carroll questioned then whether the stories being written about the Seahawks’ strife were overblown. Whether they were or not, it’s clear they did not tear the Seahawks apart. Seattle is 4-0 since, including that 19-3 win over the Cardinals on Nov. 23 in at Century Link Field.

“We’ve kind of recaptured the intensity that it takes to play at a really high level,” Carroll said via conference call on Wednesday. “We have just reconnected with the essence of playing defense, which is playing as hard as you can, as physical as you can, hauling tail around the field. It was there for us. We just hadn’t captured it on a consistent basis.”

With a win in Glendale on Sunday, the Seahawks would take over the NFC West lead with one game to play and hold the tiebreaker over the Cardinals. They could also be one win away from clinching the conference’s top seed, a first-round bye and home field advantage, raising the strong possibility that Seattle could become the first repeat Super Bowl champ since New England in 2004 and 2005.

“We never even talk about that,” Carroll said on a conference call. “We just try to win the next game. We’ve got a championship opportunity this weekend as always. This one happens to be on the road. We’re going to go try to get it.”   

If the Seahawks win out, the only way they wouldn’t be the top seed in the NFC is to finish in a tie with the Cowboys at 12-4 since Dallas defeated Seattle earlier this season.

“There’s a lot at stake in this game, but we come in with the same mindset — we’re focused on what we need to do,” Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner said. 

As Carroll noted, a big part of Seattle’s success stems from the fact the Seahawks have been on a defensive roll, allowing just 27 total points in their last four games. The defense is ranked No. 1 overall in the NFL (272.4 yards per game), No. 1 against the pass (184.3), No. 5 against the run (88.1) and No. 2 in points per game (17.3).

A big part of that defensive resurgence has been a return to health. Wagner missed five games with a torn ligament in his foot. Strong safety Kam Chancellor, who had offseason hip surgery, missed two games earlier this season with a groin injury and was playing with ankle problems, but he also is back at full health.

“There were a lot of guys that were playing out of position because of our injuries,” said Wagner, who noted a feeling of comfort now with almost everyone back. “When you go out there and you have big play after big play and hit after hit and you see five or six people in the backfield, it does nothing but help your confidence, and I feel like we’re very confident right now. We just want to keep it going.” 

Russell Wilson Making Moves

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Super Bowl-winning quarterback Russell Wilson is preparing himself for what promises to be a huge payday that’s expected to come following the season.

Wilson, in a leak to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, announced that he has moved on from agent Bus Cook and will likely go with his baseball agent, Mark Rodgers.

In a memo the NFL sent teams today, it informed them that Seahawks QB Russell Wilson, eligible for a new deal after this season, is changing agents, per sources.

Another source said that Wilson is likely to go with his baseball agent, Mark Rodgers. Wilson did speak recently with his former NFL agent Bus Cook, and praised Cook but wanted to keep all his business with one agent, thus the change.

A source close to Wilson said Cook was not fired, but simply the quarterback was making a change.

A couple things strike this as odd.

As Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio indicates, Rodgers does not have a single client in the National Football League. Meanwhile, Cook is among the most active agents around the football world.

This obviously doesn’t mean that Wilson is quitting football to explore a career with the Texas Rangers, who actually own his baseball rights.

Instead, it’s an indication that Wilson wants to buck the recent trend of young quarterbacks taking year-by-year contracts. Remember, Colin Kaepernick’s “record” deal actually affords San Francisco the right to release him at any time without taking a long-term salary cap hit. The same can be said for Andy Dalton, who signed a mega-deal just months ago.

This makes perfect sense. Wilson has been more successful than either of those quarterbacks. The interesting dynamic here is that any thought of the young signal caller taking less in order for Seattle to retain other important players is pretty much thrown out the window with this move.

It’s also interesting that Wilson would go out of his way to make it known that he didn’t fire Cook. Wilson ended the relationship with Cook, which means the agent was relieved of his duties; fired.

It’s one thing to go out of your way to maintain a clean image to the press. It’s a completely different thing to make it so darn obvious. It’s a business, and Wilson has every right in the world to do what’s best for his bottom line.

No matter what happens to end the season and in the playoffs, Wilson is going to get paid this upcoming offseason. Suggestions are that his deal will be somewhere north of $20 million per season.

And to be honest, this latest move makes it feel like Wilson will be going for the cash.