Seahawks set sights on playoff return


LOS ANGELES: Super Bowl champions Seattle will try to move closer to an NFL post-season berth on Sunday (Monday in Manila) when they take on playoff-bound Arizona in an NFC West division clash.

Heading into the penultimate week of the regular season, 21 teams are still eyeing the playoffs.

Only three teams — Denver, Indianapolis and New England — have locked up division titles and Arizona are the only other club to have punched their post-season ticket.

The Cardinals were assured of their first playoff berth since 2009 on Sunday, and a 12th win of the season would give them the division crown as well as home field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs — but victory will be a tall order against the surging Seahawks, who are still in the hunt themselves for the NFC West crown.

The Seahawks have won four straight and seven of their last eight.

“We’re having a great time right now,” Seahawks safety Earl Thomas said.

Arizona are also down to their third quarterback, after Drew Stanton exited early from last week’s win against St Louis with a right knee injury. Stanton was making his fifth start since Carson Palmer went down with a season-ending left knee injury in November.

That leaves Ryan Lindley, now seeing his first NFL action since 2012, to guide the Cardinals offense as they try to maximize their chances of a Super Bowl appearance in a season in which their home stadium is hosting the championship extravaganza.

NFC East leaders Dallas control their own destiny as they host AFC South champions Indianapolis.

They can clinch a playoff spot with a win and a loss for Philadelphia at Washington in another NFC East clash on Saturday.

“We can’t really worry about how it all plays out,” Cowboys tight end Jason Witten said. “We have to handle our business and control what we can. At this point in the season, you know what you are playing for and it’s just one game at a time.”

The Cowboys’ league-leading rusher DeMarco Murray broke his left hand in a win over Philadelphia last week, but has returned to limited practice and could play.

Pittsburgh can clinch at least a wildcard berth with a victory over Kansas City.

At 9-5 they are tied for second with Baltimore in an AFC North headed by Cincinnati, who face a tough contest with Denver on Monday.

Baltimore, meanwhile, visit a Houston team that will have rookie Tom Savage at quarterback because of a leg injury to Ryan Fitzpatrick.

NFC South showdown

New Orleans host Atlanta in a game that could prove crucial in deciding the NFC South title.

The Saints lead the weak division but both Atlanta and Carolina remain in the mix.

Carolina will host Cleveland this week, and the Panthers need to win their last two games and have the Saints lose at least once to gain the division title.

Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is expected to start as he continues to progress after breaking two bones in his lower back in a road accident last week.

The Detroit Lions will try to take another step toward a playoff berth and perhaps the NFC North crown as they visit Chicago.

They’ll face a Bears team in disarray, with Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler benched for Sunday’s game in favor of Jimmy Clausen, who hasn’t started a game since 2010.

In other games, the New England Patriots continue their quest for a first-round bye as they take on the New York Jets.

San Diego try to keep their playoff hopes alive against San Francisco, Green Bay, tied with Detroit atop the NFC North, visit Tampa Bay, Buffalo seek a rare win in Oakland and St Louis host the New York Giants. AFP


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