TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) The Arizona Cardinals went back to work on Tuesday, and no one pretended that next Sunday night's game at Seattle is just another one on the schedule.
''Those guys are kind of in our way,'' safety Tyrann Mathieu said. ''We want to go somewhere, and we have to go through those guys.''
A win for the Cardinals (6-2), and Arizona would have a three-game lead over the Seahawks (4-4) in the NFC West. A loss and Seattle would be very close in the rearview mirror, one game out with seven to play, including the regular-season finale in Arizona. And the Cardinals have a rugged schedule between now and then.
''We're playing a big division game on the road,'' coach Bruce Arians said. ''To win division games on the road, they're huge. This is our defending champs and we have a chance to go up there and win again.''
Under Arians, the Cardinals have beaten the Seahawks once in four tries. That was two years ago, a 10-7 slugfest in Seattle. That Seahawks team went on to win the Super Bowl. Last year, Arizona was without Carson Palmer in two losses to a Seahawks team that repeated as NFC champions and lost a wild Super Bowl to New England, a game played in Arizona's home stadium.
''It's always going to be fun,'' Cardinals cornerback Jerraud Powers said of playing Seattle. ''I don't think it's a rival yet. Since I've been here, we've only beaten them one time. You've got to beat those guys for it to be some type of rival.''
None of the teams Arizona has beaten this season has a winning record, which leads to the perception that the Cardinals' record is not that impressive, a notion Arians disputes.
''Last time I checked, they're all good in this league,'' he said. ''Some records are different, but they're all good.''
No one will dispute the quality of opposition the rest of the way.
After the game in Seattle, Arizona plays at home on Sunday night against Cincinnati (8-0). Later, there are home games against Minnesota and Green Bay and a road game in St. Louis, all capped by the Seahawks rematch.
''Oh man, our next couple of games are going to be really tough,'' Cardinals running back Chris Johnson said, ''basically our last eight games. If we can come out and win these games, it will give us a lot of momentum into the playoffs.''
That, of course, is a long way off.
A year ago, Arizona was in much the same situation, getting off to a 9-1 start with a big lead over the Seahawks.
But with Palmer out for the season with a torn ACL, backup Drew Stanton was the quarterback in a 19-3 loss in Seattle. Arizona still had a chance to win the division. But Stanton also went down with a knee injury and Ryan Lindley, signed off the San Diego practice squad, was the quarterback in a 35-6 home loss to Seattle, the next-to-last game of the regular season.
The Cardinals lost their regular-season finale to San Francisco then limped into a wild card playoff game at Carolina, losing 27-16.
In sharp contrast, Arizona will be as healthy as it's been all season next Sunday.
Arians said outside linebacker Alex Okafor (calf), tight end Darren Fells (shoulder), wide receiver John Brown (hamstring) and Powers (hamstring) participated in the bonus practice the team had Tuesday after its bye week. All four missed the Nov. 1 win over the Cleveland Browns. Okafor, the team's sack leader, and Fells, the starting tight end, have been out much longer than that.
Whoever does play will be in for a rough night. The Cardinals have come to expect that from the Seahawks.
''It's going to be a smash-mouth game,'' Powers said, ''and whoever is most physical usually is going to win.''
Defensive lineman Calais Campbell, who has 10 sacks at Century Link Field, said he thinks ''this game is going to be won up front.''
And Arians said neither team should have the edge in confidence.
''I think you'll have two teams with their chests sticking out,'' he said.
''We're 6-2 so we should be the more confident team,'' he said.
But all agreed the road to the Super Bowl must go through Seattle.
''There's no doubt,'' Arians said, ''no doubt.''
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