Cardinals-Packers matchup could be playoff preview
The Arizona Cardinals won’t know until kickoff just how much
their regular-season finale with the Green Bay Packers might
Most likely, it’s just a tuneup for a much more meaningful
rematch with the Packers on the same field in the first round of
the playoffs. Then again, there’s a chance a first-round bye could
be at stake for the NFC West champions.
“You have to prepare and do everything like this one means a
first-round bye,” Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner said. “Then,
if at any point in time, that changes, it’s a weird situation. You
don’t know how you’re going to handle it until you get in
For the Packers (10-5), winners of six of their last seven, the
game means nothing more than whether they get the No. 5 or 6 seed
as a wild card. But they are insisting they won’t ease up on the
pedal as they approach the postseason.
“We’re not going to be sitting players or anything like that,”
coach Mike McCarthy said. “We’re going to walk into this game on
Sunday with the approach to win the game.”
For Arizona (10-5) to sneak into the No. 2 seed and a
first-round bye, the Minnesota Vikings would have to lose at home
to the New York Giants. That’s an early game, so the Cardinals will
know whether that’s still a possibility before Sunday’s
But the scenario also would require the Cowboys to beat
Philadelphia in Dallas, a game that starts at the same time as
“It’s crazy, isn’t it?” Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt said.
“We were looking at the scenarios for the NFC and I think there is
eight possible scenarios for us, six of which we play the Packers,
one which we get the bye, and one which we play the Cowboys.”
Green Bay’s dominating cornerback Charles Woodson said neither
team should be concerned about holding back any secret tactics that
might be used in the playoffs.
“We are who we are. At this point in the season, they are who
they are,” Woodson said. “There’s no `showing them too much.’
They can go look at the film, they can see everything that we’ve
done over the course of the season and vice versa.”
Whisenhunt said that while there might be a few things in his
game plan he wouldn’t use if the game didn’t mean anything, “we
haven’t prepared that way.” Still, there is a possibility he might
remove some key players early.
“We are preparing like a normal week,” Whisenhunt said. “We
are going in with our guys intending to play. Then I think you
assess it at that time. I think it’s kind of like (New England
coach) Bill Belichick said, `If they play, they play. If they don’t
play, then they won’t play.”’
The Packers want to keep everything humming as well as it has
been in recent games.
“It’s important to continue this momentum we’ve been building
up these last seven weeks,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said.
“We’re 6-1 and we’re playing pretty good football. We want to keep
this going and hit our stride entering the postseason.”
Since a Nov. 8 loss at Tampa Bay left them 4-4, the Packers have
just one loss, a 37-36 heartbeaker at Pittsburgh on Dec. 20. Last
Sunday, Green Bay routed Seattle 48-10, a team the Cardinals have
Arizona is 9-3 after a 1-2 start and has won three in a row at
home after starting the season 1-3 there. Overall, the Cardinals
have won three of four and are coming off a 31-10 home romp over
lowly St. Louis.
The Packers’ defense enters the game ranked second to the New
York Jets in yards allowed per game and first against the run,
giving up just 85.7 yards per contest. In their storied history,
the Packers have never finished the season No. 1 against the
“To be honest, we talk about it a lot,” defensive lineman B.J.
Raji said. “… It is motivation for this week because it’s
prideful thing. We want to finish the season as the No. 1 rush
defense in the league, and this team can run the ball pretty
Although they remain a pass-oriented offense, the Cardinals’ run
game has improved markedly. With the 1-2 punch of Tim Hightower and
explosive rookie Beanie Wells, Arizona has gained more than 100
yards in six of its last eight games after doing it only once in
the first seven.
“That“s just a huge benefit for a quarterback,” Warner said.
“… Anytime you can get a defense to hesitate, to wait even a
split second, it gives you an advantage in the passing game. That’s
what the running game does. Anytime they have the thought in their
mind you might run the ball, everything is a little bit slower and
it makes it easier to throw.”
The Cardinals’ defense, which had three players selected to the
Pro Bowl, will face a Packers offense that can move on the ground –
Ryan Grant has rushed for 1,202 yards – as well as through the air.
Rodgers has thrown for 4,199 yards.
“This is one of the top offenses in the NFL,” said Arizona
defensive coordinator Bill Davis, a good friend of McCarthy’s.
“Aaron Rodgers is playing at a high, high level right now. Mike
and those guys are doing a great job. That’s why they’re as hot as
they are right now.”
All that talk about a first-round bye will mean nothing if
Arizona can’t beat this multitalented team.
“The only thing we can control is how we go out there and
play,” said Arizona wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, chosen to his
fourth Pro Bowl this week. “If we don’t play well, whatever
happens on the other side doesn’t matter.”