Aaron Rodgers vs. Carson Palmer sounds like a matchup worthy of a Super Bowl, but observers will have to settle for Saturday's divisional-round showdown between the Green Bay Packers and Arizona Cardinals instead.
It's not a bad thing, though. Rodgers continues to pull off minor miracles behind an iffy offensive line without top wide receiver Jordy Nelson (knee), gunning through the first round of the postseason to earn a chance for revenge against the Cardinals.
Palmer remains undeterred as a starter, riding an elite defense and a Madden-esque depth of weapons after securing first place in arguably the best division in football and a first-round bye.
Below, let's nail down some predictions for the contest based on past results and projections.
When: Saturday, January 16, at 8:15 p.m. ET
Where: University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona
Spread: Arizona (-7)
Packers Run Game Falters
Much of the hype surrounding the Packers now focuses on their ground game. For a Rodgers-led team, that says a lot about the state of the Green Bay offense this season.
In the 35-18 win against Washington last weekend, Eddie Lacy ran 12 times for 63 yards and a touchdown. James Starks provided the embodiment of balance, rushing 12 times for 53 yards and a score.
The balance helped Rodgers open things up through the air, tossing two touchdowns while taking only one sack.
It was better than the Week 16 loss to the Cardinals, when Rodgers took eight sacks and tossed one touchdown and one pick. The ground game needed 26 carries to reach 101 yards in the 38-8 defeat.
"They were very aggressive to the line of scrimmage," Green Bay head coach Mike McCarthy said after the loss, per ESPN.com. "They played very well and took advantage of it."
No kidding. Here's the problem for Green Bay: Lacy and Starks both averaged 4.1 yards per carry in the regular season. Rodgers took 46 sacks. Both numbers improved against Washington, but last week's opposition ranked 26th against the run in the regular season.
Arizona won't allow Rodgers to lean on the run game for balance, nor will it stop bringing the heat. No Green Bay running back has hit 100 yards in a game since Week 14, and it has happened only four times this year.
Without any sort of balance, don't expect to hear much from Lacy and Starks on Saturday, especially if the team falls behind early.
Carson Palmer Hits Cruise Control
How hard did Palmer have to work in the first game against the Packers?
Try 18-of-27 passing for 265 yards and a pair of scores while the ground game ran for 121 yards and a score on 4.7 yards per carry and Green Bay turned the ball over four times.
Green Bay quietly boasts one of the better defenses in the league, ranking 12th in the NFL after allowing just 20.2 points per game in the regular season. But even a strong secondary and a pass rush that tallied 43 sacks didn't have an answer for the Cardinals.
How could it have? Three different Arizona runners had at least seven carries and 39 yards. Michael Floyd, Larry Fitzgerald and John Brown each did respectable damage through the air, and running back David Johnson turned three catches into 88 yards.
And it was par for the course, given how each player's season has unfolded:
So while the thought of countering a Clay Matthews-led pass rush sounds difficult, the Cardinals have more weapons than the Packers can keep up with.
Palmer's not prone to inefficiency or turning the ball over. He completed 63.7 percent of his passes this year for 4,671 yards with 35 touchdowns and 11 picks. During the regular season, he tossed multiple interceptions in just two games, and his completion percentage fell below 60 percent just twice (with the second time being a season-ending loss to Seattle in which he didn't even play the entire game).
Like the first time out, Palmer won't have an issue with the Packers on Saturday. He's careful with the ball despite often going for home run plays, and his wealth of weapons will spread Green Bay's defense thin.
If the Packers cannot take care of the football, this contest will be as ugly as the first.
Luckily for the Packers, the first loss happened; otherwise, Arizona might have blindsided them in the playoffs. Green Bay at least now knows what to expect—this is the postseason, and neither team will change much of what got it to this point.
Palmer has plenty of weapons to lean on to eat the clock, and if the Cardinals pull ahead early, it will only make the job easier for the Arizona defense, which should feast against wideouts who cannot create separation and an offensive line that will struggle to give Rodgers time push the ball downfield.
Expect the second half to belong to the Cardinals after the two teams feel each other out in the first.
Prediction: Cardinals win, 24-17.