Thanks to a running game explosion and quarterback Aaron Rodgers rediscovering the form that made him last season’s MVP, the Green Bay Packers (11-6) move on to the NFC’s Divisional Round where they’ll face the formidable Arizona Cardinals (13-3) on Saturday night at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.
The matchup will come nearly three weeks after Arizona and quarterback Carson Palmer throttled and stomped the Packers 38-8 in Week 16 of the regular season, also on their home turf. The Cardinals walloped Rodgers for eight sacks and hit him another 12 times while forcing four turnovers and limiting Green Bay to a measly 178 total offensive yards even with first-team All-Pro safety Tyrann Mathieu out due to a torn ACL.
The games coming so close together, coupled with Arizona resting up for a week after it secured the conference’s No. 2 seed, has tagged the Packers as seven-point underdogs. But they didn’t look like the same team against Washington in the wild-card victory.
With running backs Eddie Lacy and James Starks each scoring touchdowns and netting 116 of the team’s 141 rushing yards, Rodgers lit up Washington for 210 yards and two touchdowns for a 35-18 win and the right to play Arizona for the third time in postseason history.
The two squads last met in the 2009 playoffs, scoring a combined 96 points and netting 1,024 yards, but Arizona prevailed off former linebacker Karlos Dansby’s 17-yard fumble return for a touchdown and 51-45 win.
Much like that year, the Cardinals are coming off a successful run to the NFC West crown and the Packers squeaked by to earn a wild-card berth after Rodgers and the rest of Green Bay struggled down the stretch.
But this year Arizona looks even stronger, and it nearly captured the top seed in the conference. Palmer registered a career-high 4,671 yards and 35 touchdowns to 11 interceptions for a 104.6 passer rating and Arizona owned the second-highest scoring offense in the league with 30.6 points per game.
Sporting a pair of 1,000-yard receivers in Larry Fitzgerald and John Brown, with Michael Floyd not too far behind, the Cardinals and Palmer won a franchise-record 13 games and now look for their first postseason win in five years.
However, the Packers might have found their stride, in particular on defense. Green Bay limited Washington to 84 rushing yards after holding previous opponents to 119.1 yards per game, and sacked quarterback Kirk Cousins six times when it took the final three games of the regular season to equal that amount.
Still, Arizona’s been far more formidable on the defensive side of the ball as well. Led by linebacker Calais Campbell and the now hurt Mathieu, the Cardinals were fifth in the NFL in total defense, seventh in points allowed per game, sixth against the run, and eighth against the pass, all while forcing 33 turnovers and holding opponents to a 35.7 success rate on third down.
Betting Odds: Arizona -7
Over/Under: 50 points
Prediction: Green Bay over Arizona, 33-27