That's right, the youthful Green Bay Packers will march into University of Phoenix Stadium and beat the NFC Champions. Is it that hard to believe? I realize the 33-7 win for the Packers in Week 17 was meaningless. But momentum is a big deal in the playoffs. After all, it was Arizona a year ago that won three out four entering the playoffs last season.
However, when you take a look at the numbers, this bold prediction isn't very bold at all. It's no secret that both of these teams love to pass the ball. Both teams have a pretty good pass rush. But Aaron Rodgers is used to the pressure, probably more than any quarterback in the NFL. Rodgers' mobility will prove to be a huge advantage for the Pack.
The Packers are going to want to come out and throw the ball to their playmaking receivers. Well, it shouldn't be much of a problem when you consider Arizona is No. 23 in the NFL against the pass. The Packers are ranked No. 5 against the pass. Since Week Eight, the only quarterback to have a good game against the Packers was Ben Roethlisberger. I dare you to name another. Let's also not forget when Arizona is on the field, they'll be facing a pass defense that's picked off the opposition a league-best 30 times this season.
On third down, the Packers have the best quarterback in the NFL. Aaron Rodgers' passer rating on third down is a ridiculous 135.4 with 14 touchdowns and zero interceptions. The Cardinals rank No. 21 in third down percentage.
Let's not forget that both of the quarterbacks in this game are two of the best play action quarterbacks the NFL can offer. It is January after all, it's that time of the season to run the ball. Both of these quarterback play better when the ground attack is rolling.
Neither of these teams are great at running the ball. The Packers are ranked 14th, which obviously is in the top half of the league. The Cardinals rank 28th...which is not! Ryan Grant and Beanie Wells are effective at running the ball. Ryan Grant quietly ran for over 1,200 yards and 11 touchdowns on the season. That's good for third best in the NFC, only behind Steven Jackson and Adrian Peterson. I'd say that's pretty damn good company.
How effective can these two ground games be against each other? Well the Packers are the No. 1 rush defense in the NFL and have allowed a league-low five touchdowns over the entire season. The Cardinals are ranked No. 17 against the run and No. 17 in rushing touchdowns allowed. The Packers allow an average of 3.6 yards per carry, good for second best in the NFL. The Cardinals allow an average of 4.5 yards per carry—24th in the NFL.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Packers ranked second in the NFL in total defense. The Cardinals are 20th in total defense.
The Cardinals' biggest advantage in this game is lining Anquan Boldin up in the slot against nickel back Jarrett Bush. What if Boldin can't play this weekend? What if he can? Is that one advantage big enough to dictate the game? I don't think so.
Another advantage the Cardinals may have in this game are Pro Bowlers. The Cardinals have four pro bowlers to the Packers' three. We'll just have to wait and see if that's the deciding edge. But I don't think so.
I realized that I've thrown a lot of statistics out here, and stats don't mean anything when game time comes around. But we can argue all day and it wouldn't mean a thing. Bottom line: Numbers don't lie.
Anybody who thinks the Green Bay Packers gave away something by playing their starters deep into the third quarter are mistaken. Realistically, if you as a team get halfway into the season and can't watch film to figure out a team's tendencies, you don't deserve to be coaching in the NFL. If you think the Packers don't have enough Arizona film because they rested Kurt Warner for most of the game Week 17, you are once again mistaken.
The outcome of this game will be decided by coaching, execution, and will. It has nothing to do with how much time these guys played last week. One thing's for sure, it's gonna be one hell of a ride come Sunday afternoon!