By Brandon Burnett
Cold, Hard Football Facts Wizard of the NFC West (@B_Burnett49er)
How bad has the NFC West been lately?
After combining for a league-leading 14 wins through five weeks, the NFCW has only four since. Yep, four wins in four weeks, from four teams. Every team in the division had a winning record through Week 5, and now half of them are under .500 less then a month later.
Much of the blame goes to the Cardinals, who have now dropped five consecutive games after a 4-0 start. One more loss and Arizona will match the six-game losing streak it endured in 2011.
Let's look at what we learned from Week 9's NFCW action.
1. The Seahawks Ruled the Air on Sunday
Seattle dropped five spots in Defensive Passer Rating after succumbing to a Matthew Stafford breakout performance in Week 8.
That must've really gotten under the skin of what is one of the NFL's top secondaries.
In their 30-20 win over the Vikings Sunday, the Seahawks held QB Christian Ponder to a season-low 2.86 yards per pass attempt. Ponder has struggled mightily in recent weeks, and experienced a day as pathetic as this one against Arizona just two games prior. Nonetheless, holding an opposing signal-caller to 63 yards passing on 22 attempts just a week after Stafford went for 352 yards and three scores is an improvement of monumental proportions.
As far as the offense is concerned, one thing is becoming more and more clear each week: Russell Wilson is going to be under center in Seattle for quite some time.
Wilson completed 16 of his 24 attempts against Minnesota, going for 173 yards and three touchdowns. The rookie has yet to throw an interception at CenturyLink Field, totaling nine TDs in four home games. His passer rating has been 99.3 or higher in every game.
That's not entirely surprising, considering the Seahawks are practically invincible in front of the 12th man. Seattle is now 4-0 at home as opposed to 1-4 on the road. Wilson has struggled in his three games against divisional opponents, but each game was on the road. It'll be interesting to see how he performs against defenses like the 49ers and Cardinals at home.
Perhaps more impressively, Marshawn Lynch rumbled his way to a third straight 100-yard rushing day. Beast Mode now has 881 yards on the ground over nine games and is on pace to finish with a career-high 1,566 yards. Lynch's 4.8 yards per carry is also the highest of his seven-year career.
It's hard to say Seattle controlled the ground game, though, after allowing 182 rushing yards to Adrian Peterson on just 17 carries. Granted, AP has been a man on a mission (four 100-yard games in six weeks), but the Seahawks' run defense has been a mess in recent weeks.
Seattle dropped 10 spots (No. 7 to No. 17) in our Defensive Hog Index heading into Week 9, and Sunday's performance did little to boost that ranking.
2. The Cardinals Are Stuck in Reverse
We thought St. Louis heading into a bye week on a three-game losing streak was bad, Arizona's five-game losing streak heading into its week off is just embarrassing.
Granted, it was Aaron Rodgers and the red-hot Packers that sent the Cardinals to a 31-17 loss and a losing record just five weeks after being undefeated at 4-0. The reigning MVP continued his recent tear on Sunday, adding another four TD passes, giving him 22 in the last six weeks.
Tossing 22 touchdown passes in six games? That's just sick. Perhaps we can thank the Seahawks for that. After all, when the Pack lost to Seattle in Week 3, Rodgers didn't have a single TD pass. That hadn't happened since Week 15 of 2010, when he left with an injury after 11 attempts.
Oh, my bad. This is supposed to be about the Cardinals and the massive collapse they find themselves in the midst of.
Well, there were some positives from Sunday's loss. Arizona's 17 points on offense was the most its scored since Week 5. The offensive line surrendered just two sacks, its lowest amount allowed since Week 2. Rookie WR Michael Floyd's 80 yards receiving was more than double what he's gained in any other game this year.
Hmm. Guess that's about it.
It wasn't just the Packers' passing game eating up a struggling Cardinals' defense. Green Bay pounded out 176 yards on the ground, which was more than three times the amount of yards Arizona gained (54) in the run game. The Pack came into Week 9 averaging 90 rushing yards per game, and basically doubled that against Arizona.
The Cardinals desperately need every second of their week off. When they return to action Nov. 18, it'll be in the Georgia Dome against the currently undefeated (8-0) Falcons.
3. Is a 10-Win Season Achievable for the Seahawks?
The Seahawks are 4-0 at home, and I would not be the least bit shocked to see them finish the season 8-0 at CenturyLink. The only game they may not be the favorite is against the Niners in Week 16. They'll host the Jets, Cardinals and Rams in their other three homes games—all should-win matchups.
If that did happen, Seattle would need just one road win to reach a 10-6 season. By no means will that guarantee them a spot in the postseason, but it would be a three-game improvement from a year ago nonetheless. The Seahawks still get Miami, Chicago and Buffalo on the road. I woudn't bank on a victory at Soldier Field, but Miami and Buffalo should be much easier foes.
I'm still sticking with my 9-7 prediction for the 'Hawks, but 10-6 would not surprise me one bit if Wilson keeps getting better and Lynch stays healthy. So long as he's on the field, Beast Mode is going to be Beast Mode. And that makes life much easier on the rookie QB.
One other thing to note; Seattle's four losses have all been by seven points or less. Losses are losses, but the fact that the Seahawks have had a chance to win every game this year has to make fans a little happy. Especially considering they lost four different games by 10 points or more just a year ago.
4. Is a 10-Loss Season Imminent For the Cardinals?
How a team could start 4-0 and finish 6-10 is beyond me, but let's discuss just how possible this may actually be.
In addition to the trip to Atlanta in Week 10, Arizona closes the season with games against the Seahawks, Lions, Bears and 49ers. Chicago, Seattle and San Fran all arguably have top-five NFL defenses, and the Lions are finally starting to get hot. The other two opponents the Cardinals will face are the Rams and Jets.
I've tried, but I just can't see this team winning on the road in Seattle or San Francisco. Can they beat the Bears or the Falcons? Sounds like four losses to me. All four of those teams came into Week 9 No. 6 or higher in Bendability, with Arizona sitting at No. 26 in Scoreability.
If the Cardinals did drop those four games, they'd have to win two out of three against the Rams, Jets and Lions to avoid a 6-10 (or worse) season.
Who seriously thought of that as a possibility just a month ago?
5. Looking Forward to Week 10
The 49ers and Rams each return from bye weeks only to face each other at Candlestick Park on Sunday. St. Louis looks to stop a three-game slide, while San Fran will try and extend its winning streak to three games. The Niners swept the series in 2011 and haven't lost to the Rams at home since 2007.
As previously mentioned, the Cardinals are idle in Week 10, and face the Falcons coming out of the bye week.
The Seahawks host the Jets on Sunday in an attempt to move to 5-0 at home in 2012. New York was idle in Week 9 but has dropped four of their last five games, including a blowout home loss to the Dolphins in Week 8. Seattle has scored 54 points in their last two games, and the Jets have allowed 59 in their last two.