NFC Divisional Playoffs: Green Bay Packers at Arizona Cardinals Preview, Picks, Predictions

Carson PalmerWeek 16’s blowout in favor of the Arizona Cardinals (38-8) against the Green Bay Packers is old news now and can firmly be put in the rearview mirror when these two teams meet again in the divisional round of the NFL playoffs (8.15pm ET Saturday live on NBC).

Both the Cardinals, who are rested from a bye, and the Packers, who are coming off of a dominant win against the Washington Redskins in the wildcard round, are different teams. The faces are the same, but the Packers that showed up last week, the Packers that tend to always show up in big playoff games, are not the same team the Cardinals thrashed in the midst of Green Bay’s 4-6 record over their last 10 regular season games.

What follows is our game preview with predictions and ultimately our advised betting picks.

Stop the Run. Stop the Cardinals.

Very rare is it in football for something to be so black and white but when it comes to Arizona, which is one of the most complete teams in the NFL, stopping the run is critical to an opposing team’s success.

The Cardinals lost just three games this year and in each of those games, their leading rusher totaled under 90 rushing yards and combined for just 158. Considering the Cardinals finished the season with over 1,900 yards, good enough for seventh best in the NFL, being able to stop this aspect of the game has been crucial.

When these two teams first met back in week 16, Green Bay did not stop the run, allowing a combined total of 121 yards to Arizona’s triple-threat of Kerwynn Williams, Andre Ellington and David Johnson. They didn’t really stop the pass either but that is a whole different story.

If the Packers want their best chance to win, it is in the run where Arizona is the most vulnerable. Unfortunately this isn’t great news for the Packers as Green Bay’s run defense is, let’s just say, not in the top 20. However, where Green Bay did excel in run defense, third best in the league, is with their front four, stuffing the run at the line of scrimmage.

Ellington and company are best in open space and when a play breaks down at the line, it can pretty much be assured that the backs will not have a chance to break off the big, down-the-field runs they have been known for this season. On the year, the Cardinals offensive line ranked 16th in the league in runs failing to record a gain (no gain or loss of yards). Worse than that though, on tight coverage plays, with less than two yards to go on a third or fourth down, the NFL’s seventh best rushing squad in terms of yards, ranked just 29th, in converting these plays into first downs or touchdowns.

If the Packers can’t stop the run, it’s not make or break, however that just puts more pressure on the team to stop the Cardinals’ real threat and that’s Carson Palmer (pictured) and the passing game.

A Career Year for Carson Palmer, Larry Fitzgerald Could Spell Trouble for Packers

Twelve years after being selected first in the NFL draft and countless injuries later, Carson Palmer is having the finest season of his career, doing so at the ripe old age of 36. In fact, it’s not just his career numbers which are, in almost all offensive categories – passing yards, touchdowns, interceptions in a 16-game season, completion percentage, the best they have ever been, but his rank among NFL QB’s which rates tops as well.

Palmer finished the season a bona fide MVP candidate in a year where the award is all but sewn up to go to Carolina Panthers’ signal caller Cam Newton. Palmer’s stats though were comparable, finishing second in the NFL in touchdowns with 35, 3rd in rating with 104.6 and fourth in passing yards with 4,671.

The Cardinals were an excellent team this year in large part because of Palmer’s renaissance. But he wasn’t the only one as Palmer’s 32-year-old wide receiver had a bit of a career resurgence himself.

Fitzgerald, who finished 5th in the NFL in receptions with 109, set a career record in that mark and caught passes for a total of over 1,200 yards for the first time since 2011 and just the fifth time in his 12-year career, all of which have been with Arizona. Fitzgerald also accrued nine of those 35 touchdown passes Palmer threw, his highest mark since 2013 and the sixth best of his career.

These two were a force in the regular season and there seems no reason to believe they will slow down. That is of course to say that anyone can slow them down. Green Bay’s passing defense actually ranked worse than their rushing, finishing 25th in the league in that category. The team allowed over 3,500 yards and 31 touchdowns to opposing QBs, an average of just under three per game.

It is numbers like these that give the Cardinals a very favorable match-up. However, that is not to say Green Bay doesn’t stand a chance. I opened this preview by saying this Packers team is not the same one that lost that humiliating loss earlier in the season. It’s a playoff Packers’ team and as history has shown, those can be the most dangerous.

Aaron Rodgers in the Playoffs is a Better Aaron Rodgers

By his standards and frankly by league standards, this has not been a good year for Rodgers. I have mentioned the career years being had by Fitzgerald and Palmer, well Rodgers has been having one too, except it is in career lows. The defending MVP failed to capture last season’s greatness and in large part it had to do with a receiving corps that was less than great and much worse than last year’s squad. Rodgers himself though holds some of the blame, missing open receivers and just not completing as many throws as everyone is accustomed to.

However, before I previewed the Packers to beat the Redskins last week, I named Rodgers my X-Factor, citing that he has the talent to really go off at will almost and that in the playoffs, Rodgers has always played to the highest caliber. Well, last week was no exception. Rodgers threw for 210 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions. He completed passes to seven different receivers and was in a much better rhythm with those receivers than he has been all season. In short, Rodgers was back to being Rodgers and it couldn’t have come at a better time.

All that said though, the Redskins cover corners are not at the same level of those of Arizona, specifically Patrick Peterson, who basically shut Randall Cobb out of the game the last time these two teams met. If the same happens again, Rodgers’ options could be limited.

Our Preview’s Green Bay Packers vs Arizona Cardinals Predictions & Betting Picks

  • Arizona are seven point home favorites, which given Green Bay’s recent performance seems too high. I predict the score will be closer than that and while I do think Arizona’s balance is going to be too much for the Packers to contend with, my preview’s betting pick is Green Bay to top the spread. So bet on Green Bay Packers +7pts @ best odds of -105 with Bovada Sportsbook.
  • As for the total points in the game, pick the over 49pts @ -110 best betting odds with BetOnline Sportsbook.
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