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Packers vs Cardinals Preview: Proceed With Caution

Jclombardi reviews major previews & predictions

PREVIEWS:

ESPN: Yes, Packers are riding a wave of momentum, but matchup issues could hinder Green Bay against the Cards. On positive side, if you believe in momentum, the Packers have more than any team in the NFC after winning seven of their final eight games….A team well-equipped to win a playoff game on the road.  On negative side, the Packers tripped up on two counts in Pittsburgh. They didn’t force a turnover and their pass defense had no answers to the Steelers’ multi-receiver sets.  The Cardinals use three or four receiver sets on more than half of their plays

Scout: On Sunday, the Cardinals were not ready to play in their blowout loss to Green Bay at home, but what kind of carryover effect will that have this week? Arizona played a vanilla defensive game plan on Sunday. On offense, the Cardinals stayed basic and played with backups. They rely on a creative game plan and excellent schemes and preparation. This rematch will be totally different in their eyes.  Scout gave edge to the Packers in all phases except offensive line, special teams, and coaching predicting the Packers to win by 9.

Clayton: The Packers might be the most intriguing wild card. Rodgers is emerging as a star quarterback who can now win close games. Grant added important consistency to the running game. DC Capers switched to a 3-4 defense that has big defensive linemen to stop the run and that can drive opposing quarterbacks crazy with blitzes. CB Woodson heads a secondary that gets turnovers. With emergence of Rodgers and improvement of their defense, the Packers look like a team that could beat the Vikings. Standing in their way, though, are the Cardinals

NBC: The Packers win if they render Arizona’s running game a non-factor. The Cardinals are a pass-first team, but rangy FS Collins and CB Woodson will get good jumps on Warner’s throws if they don’t have to cheat up to stop Wells and Hightower. Packers lead NFL in interceptions. The Cardinals lose if they don’t hold Grant in check. The Cards are highly inconsistent against the run. Grant is running possessed and could single-handedly win the time-of-possession battle if he stays hot.

CBS: (1) The Packers can score and they can also play good defense. They finished sixth in total offense and second in total defense. They have a quarterback in Rodgers who can light up a defense and they can run it with Grant. The defense features a physical front seven with a back four that can cover. Corner Woodson is outstanding in man coverage, but he’s also a willing blitzer. DC Capers is one of the best in football. This is a good football team. (2) The Packers are hot. They can run. They can pass. They can play defense. And they don’t turn the ball over. You can look it up: The Packers led the league in the takeaway/turnover department with a plus-24. What I like most about these guys is that they’re peaking at the right time. They won seven of their last eight. They seem to have gotten Ryan Grant untracked the second half of the season. The last time he looked this good the Packers wound up in the NFC Championship Game. I say beware of these guys. They’re a club nobody wants to face.

Players To Watch: Accurate and aggressive with underrated athleticism, Rodgers is the league’s No. 4 passer. The playmaking quarterback has racked up 15 all-purpose touchdowns in his last seven games. He’s surrounded by dynamic pass catchers in vertical TE Finley, deep-ball wideout Jennings, and ageless No. 1 receiver Driver. RB Grant is always better in the second half of the year. He’s averaging 4.7 yards per carry with eight scores since the halfway point. LB Matthews leads the team with 10 sacks, while DL Raji’s stretch-run emergence at nose tackle has keyed the Packers’ NFL-best run defense. All four defensive backs boast terrific ball skills and headlined by shutdown CB Woodson.

Sporting News: Packers Keys For Success–1. Get in Warner’s face. The key to pressuring him is inside blitzes, make him aware that it’s coming at him. Because Warner doesn’t have much mobility, he can’t buy much extra time. The Packers have to get a lot of hits on him and disrupt his timing with receivers. 2. Replace Woodson as rover. He must devote his time to covering Arizona wide receiver Fitzgerald. The best candidate to replace Woodson as the rover is linebacker Chillar. He can cover tight ends and backs, is a good blitzer and is big enough to have some impact in the running game. 3. Continue to feature TE Finley. The key is splitting Finley out wide or in the slot in three-wide formations. He seems to get more man-to-man opportunities when Jennings and Driver are both on the field.

PREDICTIONS:

NBC—Winners in seven of their last eight, the Packers are the NFC’s hottest team. Green Bay has been held under 27 points just once in its last six games.  Arizona is 3-3 since Week 11 and will likely be made one-dimensional by Green Bay’s NFL-best run defense. Playing at home won’t be enough for the Cardinals to get past the wild-card round against such a complete team.  Packers 31, Cardinals 23.

CBS—The Packers offense has been on a roll and the Green Bay defense is among the league’s best. The hottest NFC team in playoffs. The Packers could be this year’s NFC darkhorse. Not many people have an idea of how impressive the Packers are. They don’t carry a single weakness right now, and they have enough firepower to take down the Cardinals in consecutive weeks. It’s time for Aaron Rodgers to make Packers fans forget about No. 4.

ESPN: The Packers will be this year’s surprise team. They might not make it all the way to Super Bowl, but plenty to like about the Packers. They have a Pro Bowl quarterback surrounded by an assortment of playmakers and an offensive line that has improved immensely after struggling in the season’s first half. Their defense also has forced 40 turnovers and played at an elite level for most of the past two months. The only loss that Packers have sustained in their past eight games was at Pittsburgh on last-second touchdown pass. This young team is gaining more confidence with each passing week. It will be dangerous.  Unanimous ESPN pick.

WHAT IF: Packers throttled Cardinals just past week only to set up a rematch in exact same venue. Rodgers quietly put together an impressive season despite early season sack woes. He finished with a passer rating over 100 and averaged 8.2 yards per attempt. RB Grant rebounded with a decent season, though Green Bay averaged just 4.3 yards per carry. The Cardinals threw three more interceptions last week, finishing with a -7 turnover margin that looks daunting compared to Green Bay’s league-best +24 margin. RBs Wells and Hightower complement each other well, but neither averaged more than 4.5 yards per carry and QB Warner averaged just 7.3 yards per pass attempt. These numbers should spell trouble (for Cardinals) against one of the league’s top overall defenses. Behind a big day from Grant, Packers (should) top Cardinals for second straight week.

King: The Cardinals seem to rise in January, especially on defense, and I don’t doubt Dansby and Wilson can rally the troops for another inspired effort this weekend. But Rodgers is farther in his development than Ryan was a year ago, and the Driver/Jennings/Finley combo-platter of receivers is tough to stop. The Packers are averaging 32.7 points per game in their last seven and I think they’ll get enough pass-rush on Warner to force a couple of turnovers. This will be the most interesting, back-and-forth game of the weekend.  Green Bay 30, Arizona 24.

SI: The Packers might be the hottest team in the league save for the Chargers. The defensive turnaround has been particularly impressive even with veteran stalwarts Harris and Kampman sustaining season-ending injuries. The improvement can be traced in part to greater accountability by the players and more trust from coordinator Capers. Meanwhile the offense has come together thanks to some stability and consistency on the line. The return of big tight end Finley from a left knee injury allows them to run the four-receiver sets that make the offense so lethal. Bottom line:  Stop Fitz, make Kurt scramble and make them kick field goals in the red zone and you’ll win. They’re going to move the ball, but make them kick field goals. To beat the surging Packers, an opponent will have to be at full strength. Arizona’s Boldin and Campbell sustained injuries last week and could be hampered, therefore I’m going with Green Bay in a close one. Packers 27, Cardinals 24.

BEST BET: This game opened with the Cardinals as 2.5 point favorites and moved 1.5 points towards Green Bay within a day, meaning the sharp money is on the Packers.

Tags: Aaron Rodgers Arizona Cardinals Green Bay Packers Mike McCarthy Ryan Grant