Countdown to kickoff

Greetings from Qwest Field, where the Seahawks and Cardinals are preparing for what is a big game in the NFC West regardless of how you slice, dice, mince and shred it. The winner today makes up ground on the division-leading 49ers, and also makes a statement in what has become a pretty good rivalry.

The 49ers are 3-2 and have a bye today. So the 2-2 Cardinals can move into a tie with a win, while the 2-3 Seahawks can pull to within half a game entering their bye week.

Two big questions in this big game:

How will Seahawks’ quarterback Matt Hasselbeck respond in his second game back after missing 2½ games because of a fractured rib? Last week, he was sacked only once and hit just four times by the Jaguars, as the Seahawks rolled to a 41-0 victory, and Hasselbeck’s return provided an emotional lift for the entire team.

Will the Seahawks be able to get pressure on QB Kurt Warner to disrupt the Cardinals’ passing game, and do it with a four-man rush? Give Warner time and he will “pick you apart,” as cornerback Kelly Jennings put it. Blitz and he will more often than not exploit the vacated area.

Two players to watch today:

Ken Lucas. The Seahawks’ veteran cornerback spent the week in Mississippi, where his father’s funeral was Friday. He was working out. He has the game plan and video to study. But how much will the events of the past week play into how he plays? The Seahawks need his size and physical style to help offset the Cardinals’ duo of Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin, who combined to catch 23 passes for 332 yards in last year’s game at Qwest.

Edgerrin James. The leading rusher among active players needs 18 yards to move into the Top 10 on the NFL’s all-time list, and he could accomplish this feat against the team he played for the past three seasons. If James is getting the ball – and the needed yards – it’s a good sign, because it will mean the Seahawks are not playing from behind.

Looking for an intangible in this one? It’s Betsy Hasselbeck, Matt’s mom. The Seahawks are unbeaten when she attends games at Qwest, and she will be on hand today. How do we know this? Matt tweeted it.

The Seahawks’ inactive list shouldn’t come with any surprises, because LB Leroy Hill, OT Walter Jones, OT Sean Locklear, OG Rob Sims and S C.J. Wallace are injured and will not play. But we’ll back later with the official list.

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