The surging Green Bay Packers (5-3) welcome the suddenly collapsing Arizona Cardinals (4-4) to Lambeau Field for a Week 9 matchup Sunday.
The two teams have been going in opposite directions over the last month. Green Bay has won three straight games and three of four since a 1-2 start, while the Cardinals have dropped four straight after starting a perfect 4-0.
In the following slides, we break down the matchups that will decide whether Green Bay wins its fourth straight game or Arizona snaps its four-game losing streak Sunday.
There may be no better blitzer from the inside linebacker position this season than Arizona's Daryl Washington, whose eight sacks are currently third-best in the NFL.
Washington has been able to generate pressure for defensive coordinator Ray Horton by using a variety of cross and delayed blitzes to shoot gaps and get to the quarterback. His sudden burst and explosion off the snap have helped create instant disruptions.
Packers center Jeff Saturday will have to be aware at all times of where Washington is. That includes after the snap, when Washington loves to follow behind Paris Lenon on the A-gap blitz and before the snap, when he sneaks to the line and immediately shoots the same gap.
With both running backs out and an offensive line that has been the NFL's worst this season, the Cardinals will likely need an explosive play or two out of punt returner Patrick Peterson Sunday.
Through eight games, PatrickPeterson has been quiet in the return game.
After returning four punts for touchdowns during his rookie season, Peterson has been shut out in the scoring department in 2012. His long return is just 29 yards. Could Peterson be due for a long return?
Packers punter Tim Masthay will be tasked with making sure he stays "due" Sunday. A reliable punting asset, Masthay leads the NFL in punts down inside the 20 this season. His net average is also in the top 10.
The Cardinals may need a big return from Peterson Sunday, but getting one may be difficult against the Packers' sound special teams.
For Arizona to upset the Packers in Green Bay, John Skelton must make sure every Cardinals drive ends with a kick Sunday. Punts, field goals and extra points are acceptable results. Turnovers are not.
Arizona's easiest path to a blowout Sunday will be giving the ball away, and Skelton has six turnovers (four interceptions, two fumbles) already in 2012. Protecting the football in the passing game is a must.
Also, the Cardinals have a receiving option in Larry Fitzgerald that could present the Packers obvious matchup problems. Keep in mind, Green Bay allowed big games to veteran receivers Reggie Wayne (13 catches, 212 yards) and Marques Colston (nine, 153) earlier this season.
Jermichael Finley, who has struggled catching the football in 2012, will attempt to recapture some of the magic that led to his career-best performance during the 2009 NFC Wild Card round in Arizona.
During that contest, Finley—then an up-and-comer at the tight end position—went off for 159 yards in the Packers' eventual 51-45 loss. The game remains the height of Finley's career three years later.
So far this season, Finley has just 28 catches for 265 yards and one score. His seven drops are the second-most in the NFL in 2012.
It will be on Adrian Wilson, and a bevy of other Cardinals, to keep Finley in check Sunday better than they did back in 2009. Things could ugly if Finley gets back on track for the Packers' already-loaded passing offense.
According to Pro Football Focus, no left tackle in the NFL has been worse this season than the Cardinals' D'Anthony Batiste. Things won't get much easier Sunday with Clay Matthews—second in the NFL in sacks with nine—opposite him every down.
Like the rest of the Cardinals offensive line, Batiste has been—for lack of a better word—awful this season.
Through eight games, PFF has Batiste credited with 12 sacks, five quarterback hits and 34 hurries. His 51 total quarterback disruptions are the worst in football.
Matthews hasn't been dominant the past three games (just one sack). But given the fact that Batiste has allowed at least one sack in seven of eight weeks, a bounce-back game for Matthews seems feasible Sunday.