Game Preview: Seahawks face Cardinals with playoffs on the line, needing help from Panthers

SEATTLE, WA - DECEMBER 24: Wide receiver Doug Baldwin #89 of the Seattle Seahawks heads for a touchdown against the Arizona Cardinals at CenturyLink Field on December 24, 2016 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)

Fresh off a 21-12 Christmas Eve victory over the Dallas Cowboys, the Seattle Seahawks find themselves one win and an Atlanta Falcons loss away from making the playoffs for the sixth year in a row.

Fans and players surely will be scoreboard watching on Sunday, as both the Seahawks-Cardinals and Panthers-Falcons games will kick off at 1:25 p.m. Seattle time.

It is a unique position for Pete Carroll-led Seahawks teams, which have never needed additional help to reach the playoffs in the eight seasons since Carroll arrived, but it's a challenge that Seahawks players have embraced with open arms.

“I don’t know how we can be any more motivated than we have to win the football game,’’ Carroll said this week.

With the playoffs on the line, a Seahawks win coupled with a Falcons loss could mark one of the more exciting atmospheres at CenturyLink Field in recent memory.

Watch Steve Raible's Scouting Report on Saturday at 7 p.m. on KIRO 7 for a complete preview of Sunday's game against the Cardinals. Hear the best of Steve's one-on-one interview with linebacker Michael Whilhoite, his '710 with 710' segment with KIRO radio's Mike Salk and Danny O'Neill, and more. 

Here are three keys to victory for the Seahawks on Sunday:

1. Offensive Wake-Up Call 

In last week's 21-12 victory over the Dallas Cowboys, the Seahawks became the first team in the Super Bowl era to have more penalty yards (142) than total yards (136).

It marked the second-straight week that the Seahawks struggled to get going offensively, and further showed Seattle's inability to run the ball.

Russell Wilson is now responsible for 35 (32 passing, and three rushing) of the Seahawks' 36 offensive touchdowns this season, and it has become increasingly clear in recent weeks that the team's offense goes as Wilson does.

Against the Cardinals on Sunday, the Seahawks will need a vintage Russell Wilson performance that fans have not seen in the past two weeks to help kick-start a struggling offense.

Look for Wilson to come out strong from the start, limit turnovers, and maybe even create some magic of his own like he did in the team's November matchup:

2. Home Field Advantage

After losing only six games at home from 2012 to 2016, this year's Seahawks team has already lost three games in front of the 12s at CenturyLink Field. A loss on Sunday would not only end Seattle's Season, but would also mark the fourth time in the past five seasons that the Cardinals have won in Seattle.

After beating the Giants last week, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians relished in his team's recent success in Seattle and told his team, "We know that's our home field. We're going up there and kick their asses."

“Bruce gets to say whatever he wants, man. He can say whatever he wants. OK, bring ’em on. Let’s go. We’ll go play some football on Sunday and we’ll figure it out," Pete Carroll said of Arians' comments, and the Seahawks head coach went so far as to issue a challenge to the 12s on Friday:

The 12s will need to be at their best Sunday to show the Cardinals that CenturyLink Field is still one of the best home-field advantages in the NFL. A win coupled with a Falcons loss could result in one of the loudest atmospheres at CenturyLink Field this season.

3. Special Teams Emphasis

In the Seahawks' week 10 victory over the Cardinals, kicker Blair Walsh was coming off one of the worst games of his career where he missed three field goals against the Redskins in Seattle's 17-14 loss.

Walsh responded by making both of his field goals and extra points against the Cardinals, but has converted on just six of nine field goal attempts since.

The Seahawks special teams units will also need to be on their A game in punt and kick return coverage, following last week's bounce-back performance.

After allowing Pharoh Cooper of the Rams to rack up 128 return yards on seven punts (46 yards more than the 2013 Seahawks gave up all season), Seattle gave up only 32 return yards on five punts against the Cowboys.

Seattle will need strong performances from all phases of special teams Sunday to win what could be a low-scoring game against the Cardinals.