Forget first impressions, at least as far as Seattle rookie quarterback Russell Wilson and the Arizona Cardinals are concerned.
Wilson’s first NFL start was a flop. In Week 1, he failed to find the end zone with four shots from the 6-yard line in the final minute, and the Seahawks fell 20-16 at Arizona.
But the Cardinals (4-8) are now riding an eight-game losing streak, and Wilson has rallied Seattle (7-5) into playoff contention and within striking distance of San Francisco (8-3-1) atop the NFC West.
With one team rising and the other falling hard, The Gold Sheet handicapper Bruce Marshall is recommending the Seahawks as 10-point favorites over the Cardinals today.
“I’m going out on a limb to say Seattle will win the NFC West. I believe in this team,” Marshall said. “I think the Seahawks will overtake the Niners and win the division.
“Wilson is improving by leaps and bounds every week. I’m really high on Wilson. He has a feel for the game, and I think he’s the real deal.”
A third-round draft pick from Wisconsin, Wilson won the starting job in the preseason, and coach Pete Carroll was questioned for taking the gamble. But Wilson has completed 63.4 percent of his passes for 2,344 yards and 19 touchdowns. He also has 298 yards rushing.
Wilson has thrown 11 touchdown passes and no interceptions at home, where Seattle is 5-0 straight up and against the spread this season and has nine straight covers.
“Carroll was right. He saw something in Wilson in the preseason,” Marshall said. “Carroll has a nasty defense, and a great record at home. I would be surprised if the Cardinals score double digits, and I think the Seahawks will be able to win by at least two touchdowns.”
Marshall (Goldsheet.com) analyzes the rest of today’s Week 14 schedule:
■ Baltimore at Washington
(-2½): The Redskins are hanging in the playoff race. I’ve become a disbeliever in the Ravens. Joe Flacco’s numbers drop off on the road, where he has only four TD passes. The Baltimore defense is not what it was and is not dominating opponents. I’m not sure the Ravens are going to get over the hump with Flacco. Robert Griffin III makes more things happen. Baltimore has been in seven games decided by three points or fewer. I’m going with Washington.
■ Kansas City at Cleveland (-6½): The Chiefs have been playing better, covering three of their past four, and they do have the angle of quarterback Brady Quinn and coach Romeo Crennel returning to Cleveland. I think the Browns’ Pat Shurmur is coaching for his job. I’m not sure Brandon Weeden is a quarterback who can extend the margin, so Cleveland makes for an uncomfortable favorite. I would take Kansas City and the points.
■ San Diego at Pittsburgh (-8): Norv Turner is done as Chargers coach, but the question is will management wait for the end of the season to fire him? San Diego is a mess. It’s a team that just finds ways to lose and not cover. Philip Rivers does not look like he’s throwing the ball with the same velocity. Ben Roethlisberger is back at quarterback for the Steelers, and I’ll be laying the points. We have to take advantage of going against Turner while we can. We’re running out of chances.
■ Tennessee at Indianapolis (-5½): The Titans are another mess, and coach Mike Munchak might not survive. Running back Chris Johnson is complaining about the offense, and Jake Locker’s development has fallen behind other young quarterbacks. Tennessee is doing everything wrong. The Colts are doing everything right, and Andrew Luck has them headed for the playoffs. I don’t want to touch the Titans.
■ New York Jets (-3) at Jacksonville: Jets coach Rex Ryan might have been flipping coins when deciding who to start at QB. I really thought he would go with Greg McElroy. Mark Sanchez, who has 12 touchdown passes, 13 interceptions and five fumbles, has looked so bad that I can’t lay points with the Jets on the road. The Jaguars offense is moving better with Chad Henne at quarterback. I’m taking the points with Jacksonville.
■ Chicago (-3) at Minnesota: The Vikings have started to flounder, and wide receiver Percy Harvin’s absence has hurt the offense. The Bears have taken a lot of injuries, and they look almost like a pretender to me. But Chicago has handled Minnesota lately, winning the past six meetings. I found this one to be tough, and I have a lean to the Bears, but it’s not a strong opinion.
■ Atlanta (-3½) at Carolina: This is one of my upset picks. I am less impressed by the Falcons than any team carrying one loss into December that I can remember in a long time. Matt Ryan has bailed them out a lot. The Panthers rushed for 199 yards in the first meeting, but lost on a late field goal. Carolina quarterback Cam Newton has played better the past month. I think it will be a close game and the hook could come into play, so I’ll take the Panthers, who have a definite shot.
■ Philadelphia at Tampa Bay (-7½): Rookie quarterback Nick Foles has looked a little better, but I can’t go with the Eagles. I can’t believe coach Andy Reid is going to survive beyond this season. Doug Martin (1,106 yards, nine touchdowns) is making a huge difference running the ball for the Buccaneers, and quarterback Josh Freeman (23 touchdowns, eight interceptions) has cut down his mistakes. I don’t like Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano, but he has the team playing on a much higher level. It’s a bigger point spread, but I don’t want to back Philadelphia.
■ St. Louis at Buffalo (-3): I trust Rams coach Jeff Fisher over the Bills’ Chan Gailey. St. Louis is staying in the playoff hunt for another week, and Fisher’s defense is getting it done. The Buffalo run defense is a sieve. Defensive edges make the Rams more reliable in this spot, and they are 4-1 ATS on the road, so I’ll take the underdog.
■ Dallas at Cincinnati (-3): This is actually a spot where I will give the Cowboys a look. They play better on the road, and Tony Romo’s numbers are better on the road. The Bengals have been winning, but it’s at the expense of suspect opposition – Kansas City, Oakland and San Diego the past three weeks. I’m going to take Dallas. The Giants (7-5) have thrown the Cowboys (6-6) a lifeline in the NFC East, and they’re still sort of alive for the playoffs.
■ Miami at San Francisco (-10): The Dolphins defense might be good enough to keep them in this game. Going with Colin Kaepernick at quarterback is a measured gamble by 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh. Kaepernick has more upside, but also more downside. He can make some big plays, and the 49ers can run the ball. Rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s efforts have been inconsistent, and I’m not sure Miami is going to do much against the San Francisco defense. I think I could lay 10 points, but it’s not my favorite play on the card.
■ New Orleans at New York Giants (-5): We keep expecting the Saints to rally, but I just don’t think it’s going to happen for them. Drew Brees is not going to throw five interceptions again, as he did against Atlanta, but this team has too many distractions. The concern with the Giants is laying points with them at home. The Giants looked spectacular in wins over Green Bay and San Francisco, but sometimes they go flat. I think we’ll see a good effort out of Eli Manning and the Giants, so I’ll go that way.
■ Detroit at Green Bay (-7): The Lions are kind of the NFC version of the Chargers. They are competitive most weeks but find ways to lose. Aaron Rodgers and the Packers are having trouble extending margins. The Green Bay defense will be without injured linebacker Clay Matthews again. Wayne Fontes is the last Lions coach to win at Lambeau Field, and that was in 1991. But Matthew Stafford has a chance to keep this close, and Detroit probably will cover but lose the game.
COMPILED BY MATT YOUMANS
LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL