By Dave Thomas

Even though this is just past the halfway point of the 2015 NFL regular season, the Seattle Seahawks know that the next three weeks are very likely critical if they are to defend their back-to-back NFC Championships when all is said and done. Coming off of their bye week, the Seahawks prepare for a home invasion this coming Sunday evening from the NFC West-leading Arizona Cardinals (6-2). If Seattle (4-4) can send the Cards back to the desert with a loss, things will become very interesting in the division to say the least, especially with a season-ending game between the two in Arizona on Jan. 3.

For now, however, Seattle is poised to take it one game at a time, this despite having the next three games at home before a December road trip to Minnesota.

Cardinals Flying High Behind Palmer

It does not come as a big secret to the folks in Glendale, Arizona and elsewhere across the nation that the Cardinals will pretty much go as far as veteran quarterback Carson Palmer does. Hit with injuries at times during his career, Palmer is having a solid 2015 campaign to date. Through eight games, the USC product has thrown for 2,386 yards and 20 TD’s, leaving him with a QB passer rating to date of 110.2. If Arizona is to break Seattle’s hold on the NFC title the last couple of years, a healthy Palmer come January is all but a necessity. As for his favorite targets, Palmer no doubt enjoys having the likes of Larry Fitzgerald (706 yards receiving, seven touchdowns) and John Brown (562 yards, three TD’s) as his main weapons.

Meantime, Arizona’s ground game, something that has definitely thwarted it from being a true playoff contender in recent years, is led this season by former New York Jet and Tennessee Titans’ draft pick Chris Johnson, who comes into the contest this Sunday with 676 yards and three scores on the ground.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Cardinals turn to safeties Deone Bucannon (56 total tackles) and Rashad Johnson (four INT’s), along with veteran linebacker Dwight Freeney (two sacks).

After a 3-0 start to the season, Arizona fell to division foe St. Louis (24-22), then lost to Pittsburgh (25-13) two weeks later before righting things with a pair of victories (Baltimore, Cleveland) heading into its bye week. While every team will tell you it has expectations coming into a new season, the folks in Arizona likely meant it when they said that before the 2015 season kicked off. There has never really been a question of the talent in Glendale, just whether or not the players, coaches and management could put together the best 53-man roster and then keep the majority of them healthy through the season.

Sitting in first place with a two-game lead over both Seattle and St. Louis through eight games, Arizona has a chance this Sunday evening in the Pacific Northwest to show Seattle fans and its own for that matter that this Cardinal team truly is or real. For the all-time series between the two teams, it is deadlocked at 16-16.

Dave Thomas has been covering the sports world since his first job as a sports editor for a weekly newspaper in Pennsylvania back in 1989. He has covered a Super Bowl, college bowl games, MLB, NBA and more. His work can be found on Examiner.com.

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