When Arizona Karlos Dansby snatched a ball plucked away from quarterback Aaron Rodgers by Michael Adams, the Arizona Cardinals not only proved most experts wrong in picking the red-hot Packers, but also blew up a set of trends that had been forming in the first round.
Prior to Arizona winning, the team with Week 17 momentum was the dominant winner in every game. The Baltimore Ravens defeated the Oakland Raiders in Week 17 to earn their playoff chance while New England fell to the Houston Texans amidst a morale-crushing Wes Welker injury.
The other three matchups had all occurred in the final week of the regular season. Dallas translated its domination of Philadelphia in the finale to a playoff embarrassment of the Eagles. The New York Jets pounded a weary and injury-riddled Bengals team in the last week of play, then went on to punish them again 24-14 in the playoff opener.
Arizona was soundly defeated by Green Bay to close the season. The 33-7 victory did not translate across the playoffs, however, as Cardinals advanced to the second round by sending Green Bay home.
The game also ran contrary to the youth-served trend over the first three games. The average age difference in starting quarterbacks was 25 to 32. The closest age matchup was 29-year-old Tony Romo against 33-year-old Donovan McNabb. Each of the three younger quarterbacks manned the winning team.
The twelve year difference between 26-year-old Aaron Rodgers and 38-year-old Kurt Warner represented the greatest gap. It also represented the only matchup in which youth was not served.
Game-long defense was also the key to the first three victories. Cincinnati, New England, and Philadelphia all scored 14 points apiece while never catching up to their opponents' early leads. The Packers 45 points amounted to more than the other three losing teams' combined. One caveat to the equation could be stating that, like the other teams, Arizona’s defense technically won the game, thanks to a game-ending strip of Aaron Rodgers.
What is tied to the defensive differential of the Cardinals win is ball control. The Cardinals did win the time of possession battle, but it was by a negligible 96 second margin. The next closest match had a five minute swing in time of possession, with the Baltimore Ravens controlling the ball for 32.5 minutes to New England’s 27.5.
The final element was the domination factor. While one could argue that Cincinnati was still in the game until the final minutes, one could argue that the game, like the Dallas and Baltimore ones, was decided by halftime.
No losing team put up more points in the entire game than their opponents had within the first half. That is, aside from Green Bay. Arizona’s 24-10 halftime lead was eradicated when the Packers tied the game at 38 in the fourth quarter. The teams traded one more pair of touchdowns before heading into overtime where Green Bay’s coin-toss success could not translate into an improbable comeback victory.
After last year’s unexpected run to the Super Bowl, Arizona seems to be content picking up just where it left off in the playoffs. Not only is Arizona winning against perceived stronger teams once more, they are doing so while running contrary to all other playoff trends this year.
Will this equate to victory against a vulnerable-looking 13-3 Saints team? That remains to be seen, but one thing is certain: Regardless of the regular season, when the playoffs roll around, Arizona knows how to beat the odds.