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Thursday Night Preview: Who Has the Advantage in This NFC West Clash?

Two teams that have dominated the NFC West standings in recent years square off on Thursday night. Either the Seahawks or Cardinals have claimed the division title in 11 of the last 13 years, but both are in a position they haven't been in since the early 2000s -- looking up at the Rams.

The Seahawks, who lost a close game last week, still sit 7th in our current power rankings. Tonight, they hit the road to face a Cardinals squad that ranks 28th but is only one game back of Seattle in the division.

Can either team grab a win and close the gap on the division-leading Rams? Let's dig in and find out.

Quarterback Breakdown

This game is a tale of two very different quarterbacking situations.

Russell Wilson leads Seattle from under center, and he has been very efficient this year. Among the 34 quarterbacks with at least 100 drop backs, he ranks seventh in Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back (0.18). In terms of Passing Success Rate -- the percentage of drop backs that result in a positive NEP -- his 49.84% mark checks in fourth.

Carson Palmer broke his arm in late October and was placed on injured reserve, which means it's Drew Stanton-time. So far, that time hasn't been very fun. If we broaden our sample to quarterbacks with 40 or more drop backs, Stanton's Passing NEP per drop back mark of -0.14 ranks him 34th out of 44 signal callers. In terms of Passing Success Rate among that same group, he is 42nd with a mark of 30.43%.

Seattle clearly has the edge here, as you'd assume.

Running Back Play

Adrian Peterson was traded from New Orleans for a draft pick, and he's been pretty effective in his new colors. In two wins as a member of the Cardinals, All-Day Peterson has carried the rock 63 times for 293 yards. However, it hasn't been all puppy dogs and rainbows for his this year. Among the 30 backs with at least 75 carries, Peterson ranks 23rd in Rushing NEP per attempt (-0.10). He's the Cards' lead dog, however, and will be in for another busy day if Arizona can get out in front.

The Seattle backfield is a bit murkier, as Eddie Lacy, Thomas Rawls, J.D. McKissic, and C.J. Prosise (Chris Carson also saw playing time before breaking his leg) have all taken their turn being the alpha dog. If Week 9 is our indicator, Rawls may be the one to watch.

Last week, Rawls led the team with 11 backfield touches, posting 70 all-purpose yards. But in analyzing his performance this year, Rawls hasn't been all that effective. His -0.40 Rushing NEP per play mark is the worst in the league among runners with 30 carries or more. To be fair, no one is setting the world on fire running the ball for Seattle -- they rank 24th as a team in rushing offense this season, and that could be a large reason why they recently traded for offensive tackle Duane Brown.

Defensive Matchup

These defenses are in two very different spots -- the Seahawks have been one of the best defensive units this year, ranking 10th, while the Cardinals have struggled to a ranking of 18th.

As usual, Seattle has been ferocious against the pass, ranking second according to our schedule-adjusted numbers, while the 'Hawks rank 18th versus the run. Arizona, meanwhile, has been burned a bit through the air, ranking 22nd, while checking in 15 against the run.

In looking at Football Outsiders' adjusted sack rate, which displays sacks (plus intentional grounding penalties) per pass attempt adjusted for down, distance, and opponent, we may find the reason for their defensive ranking split. The Hawks have sacked opposing passers 23 times on their way to an an adjusted sack rate of 4.7%, which ranks 13th. The home Cardinals, who have notched 18 sacks this season, sit 29th with an adjusted sack rate of 5.0%.

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