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O’Neil: Seahawks chasing something meaningful Sunday vs Cardinals — consistency

Seahawks QB Russell Wilson was a guest on The Late Late Show with James Corden. (AP)

The Seahawks don’t need to win Sunday’s game to make the playoffs.

Their postseason berth was assured the minute they beat the Chiefs last week.

Seattle may not even need to beat the Cardinals in the regular-season finale to secure playoff positioning. Unless the Vikings upset the Chicago Bears, the Seahawks will be the No. 5 seed even if they lose to Arizona.

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That doesn’t mean that Sunday’s game isn’t important, though, because the Seahawks are chasing something that is much more meaningful than the negligible difference between being the first or the second wild-card entrant in the NFC playoffs. They’re trying to demonstrate some consistency.

A win over the Cardinals may not say much, but losing to a last-place team like this would say plenty about the expectations we should have for Seattle’s postseason run. Namely: There shouldn’t be any.

The Cardinals allow an average of 153.1 yards rushing per game, most in the league, which is inviting for the Seahawks, who’re averaging a league-high 158.5 rushing yards.

Not only that, but the Cardinals are getting worse. Since Arizona’s Week 13 upset of Green Bay – a result so infuriating that it precipitated the Packers’ decision to fire coach Mike McCarthy – the Cardinals have lost three straight games by a combined score of 88-26. It’s widely expected that the Cardinals will fire first-year coach Steve Wilks at the conclusion of this season.

Throughout this season the Seahawks have demonstrated that they’re more than capable of standing toe-to-toe with some of the very best teams in the league. Their two losses to the division-winning Rams came by a combined total of seven points. They had the ball and a chance to tie the score in the fourth quarter against the Bears in Week 2 and against the Chargers last month. Both of those teams are headed to the playoffs.

But look no further than Seattle’s overtime loss in San Francisco two weeks ago for an example that the Seahawks remain eminently capable of shooting themselves in the foot. Repeatedly. Throw in the fact that Arizona has won three straight road games in Seattle and was 4-1 here under former coach Bruce Arians and it should be clear that Seattle can’t take anything for granted.

The Seahawks have already outplayed the expectations that many had for them. This was supposed to be a down year after all the offseason changes, and yet here they are, headed back to the playoffs for the seventh time in Pete Carroll’s nine seasons as head coach.

Seattle’s season has provided plenty of reasons for optimism heading forward. Last year, the Seahawks finished 9-7 but they were an older team, stung by injuries and the uncertainty around players who had been part of the bedrock for those back-to-back Super Bowl appearances.

They’re currently 9-6, but loaded with young players who very well may grow into the kind of playmakers they are being asked to replace.

No one is wondering what direction Seattle is going anymore. The only question is how quickly they can get back to being a viable Super Bowl threat, and while a victory over the 3-12 Arizona Cardinals isn’t going to convince anyone that the Seahawks have arrived, Seattle’s going to post the kind of victory that will make you at least wonder how deep into January they may go.

Seattle 23, Arizona 6.