ESNY’s NFL Divisional Round Preview

Green Bay Packers at Arizona Cardinals

The last time we saw Rodgers play the Cardinals in the playoffs he was strip-sacked in overtime by Michael Adams and watched from the ground as Karlos Dansby returned it for a game-ending touchdown. Arizona lost to New Orleans in the Divisional Round the following week and Rodgers won a super bowl the following year, but when he returns to the site of that infamous interception tomorrow night, Rodgers has to have a bit of revenge on his mind.

Right?

What’s different about this game and that game back in 2009 (aside from the fact it was a Wild Card game and this is a Divisional Round game) is that this time Rodgers and the Packers are heavy underdogs.

Green Bay heads into this game riding a one-game winning streak after they lost their final two games of the season (Week 17 loss to Minnesota and Week 16 loss to Arizona…). They finished the year with the 23rd ranked offense (25th pass, 12th rush) and the 15th ranked defense (6th pass, 21st rush). They didn’t have one player exceed 1,000 yards rushing or passing.

Arizona meanwhile, finished the regular season with the first ranked offense (2nd pass, 8th rush) and the fifth ranked defense (8th pass, 6th rush). Bruce Arians is up for Coach of the Year and Carson Palmer is an MVP candidate after throwing for over 4,500 yards and 35 touchdowns this season. Larry Fitzgerald enjoyed one of his best seasons in his long career with over 100 catches, 1,200 yards and nine touchdowns. Sophomore wideout John Brown also exceeded 1,000 yards receiving on the year.

On the other side of the ball Arizona’s defense hasn’t lost a beat since star safety Tyrann Mathieu went down with a torn ACL. Patrick Peterson remains one of the league’s top shutdown corners, Deone Bucannon had a career year at his hybrid safety/linebacker position with over 100 tackles, three sacks and three forced fumbles, and Dwight Freeney has enjoyed a resurgence in his 14th season with eight sacks and three forced fumbles out on the edge.

So yeah, Rodgers and the Pack are as big of underdogs as they can be heading into this game. But like the Patriots with Brady, the Packers will always have a chance as long as Aaron Rodgers lines up under center.

Rodgers has plenty of weapons to work with, the problem is the play calling. Head coach Mike McCarthy has failed to get this offense going after he took over the play calling duties from Tom Clements early this December, though the offense did play well last week against Washington.

If McCarthy hands the keys over to Rodgers and lets him air it out, rather than handing the ball off to Eddie “The Bowling Ball” Lacy every other play, this team will have a chance to win. Rodgers is one of the best quarterbacks in the league at recognizing opposing blitzes and defensive formations, so if he can do that and get the ball out quickly Green Bay will have a chance to pull off the upset.

But Carson Palmer is capable of making these adjustments too, and he has a better offensive line, better weapons, a better running back (right now), a better head coach AND a better defense backing him up…

Prediction: Green Bay 28, Arizona 34

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