4:40 PM ET, January 10, 2010: U of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, AZ on FOX
In the third rematch from a week ago, 11-5 Green Bay returns to the desert to take on 10-6 Arizona in a 4:40 P.M. start. The Packers come into this game as the #5 seed, clinching a spot two weeks ago with a win over Seattle, while the Cardinals are the #4 seed after clinching their second straight NFC West title with a win over Detroit in week 15.
In last week’s game both teams realized there was a very good chance that they would be facing each other in the first round, so you had no idea what to expect. Arizona pretty much folded up the tent early as QB Kurt Warner only saw limited action as did many of the other starters.Green Bay on the other hand decided to go full tilt for almost three quarters and the result was a 33-7 throttling of the Cardinals.
It is hard to say which team’s approach will pay off in this game, but one thing is certain; the Packers are playing at a high level and last week’s display at the very least has to put a bit of fear into their opponent’s hearts. Statistically, little can be taken from last week, but Packer QB Aaron Rodger’s performance was nothing short of perfect. He completed 21 of 26 attempts for 235 yards and one TD for a passer rating of 117.1
Green Bay heads into the playoffs as one of the hottest teams in the league. After an embarrassing 38-28 loss to Tampa Bay in week nine, they went on to win seven of their final eight games, with their only loss coming against Pittsburgh on a last second TD. While their offense has averaged almost 31 points a game in this span, their defense has only given up an average of 14. Overall they are ranked sixth in total offense and Second in total defense.
The real heart and soul of this team has been Rodgers. Despite the fact he has been sacked a league high 50 times, he has shown the ability to take a hit in order to make the play. While he has thrown for over 4,400 yards he has also run for over 300, making him a legitimate threat with both his arm and his feet.
Arizona biggest concern heading into the playoffs is trying to figure out which team is going to show up on Sunday. They hope it is the one that completely dominated Minnesota in a 30-17 win back in week 13 and not the team that lost to San Francisco 24-9 the very next week. In last year’s dramatic playoff run that took them all the way to the Super Bowl their defense had as much to do with their success as their offense.If they are to have any chance to repeat this performance they are going to have to play much better than they have so far as they are giving up far too many yards on the ground and through the air.
Offensively they have QB Kurt Warner and WR’s Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin which is still enough to beat almost anyone. Rookie RB Beanie Wells provides some run support, but they are still going to try and beat you throwing the ball.
For Green Bay, it comes down to sticking to their game plan on both sides of the ball. They have an offense that can go point for point with Arizona if they have to and a defense that can easily prevent that from being the case. They need to continue to protect Rodgers as he has only been dropped two times in the last three games. If he has time in the pocket he should be able to pick Arizona’s 23rd ranked pass defense apart.
For Arizona, this game rests squarely on the shoulders of Warner. When he is in the zone there are few defenses that can stop him as he has the ability to get rid of the ball quickly and find the open man. Another key will be the health of Boldin, who is suffering from a sprained left ankle. They need him at full speed to keep Fitzgerald from getting double teamed. Defensively they need DT Darnell Dockett and the rest of the defensive line to put some kind of pressure on Rodgers to keep him from getting into any kind of rhythm.
Arizona had a magical run in last year’s playoffs, but that was a much more balanced team than this year’s version. Green Bay is playing as good as anyone and has a defense that matches up very well against the Cardinal’s strengths. I’m taking the Packers and the OVER .