TEMPE, Ariz. -- The last time the Arizona Cardinals and the Green Bay Packers played back in Week 16, the Cards beat down the Pack 38-8 in front of a lot of green inside University of Phoenix Stadium.
That was less than three weeks ago.
Will Saturday’s rematch in the NFC divisional playoff game be different?
A blowout isn’t expected, especially after the Packers' wild-card win against the Washington Redskins. But the Cardinals haven’t played since their Week 17 blowout loss to Seattle. How will both games affect each team?
ESPN Cardinals reporter Josh Weinfuss and Packers reporter Rob Demovsky discuss Saturday’s rematch of Week 16.
Weinfuss: Rob, after losing their last two regular-season games -- including one to the Cardinals -- how much momentum did the Packers pick up by beating the Redskins, and is one win enough to propel the Pack past the Cards?
Demovsky: Well, if you ask Aaron Rodgers, there is no such thing as momentum -- good or bad. Rodgers said heading into the playoffs that he didn’t think the back-to-back losses to Arizona and Minnesota to end the regular season would factor into how they played against the Redskins. And he was right. On the flip side, he said the same thing when asked if the Hail Mary win against the Lions back in December could provide momentum down the stretch. And he was right again. So at least he’s consistent. But you can’t deny there was a bit of a swagger back in the players’ steps after beating Washington.
Josh, speaking of one game, how can the Cardinals look so different in Week 17 than they did in Week 16? Bruce Arians told us on the conference call this week that it was because they didn’t have anything to play for against the Seahawks. Are you buying that?
Weinfuss: Yes and no. I think in some ways it was the easy out for Arians and the Cardinals -- get blown out and blame it on not having anything to play for. But here’s the thing: The Cardinals had something to play for against Seattle. Had they won and Carolina lost, Arizona would have earned the No. 1 seed. The vibe in the locker room all week was that some Cardinals really felt Carolina could lose, and I know a lot of players would prefer to host the NFC title game rather than take a cross-country trip for it. But I do believe the Cardinals were simply ready for the playoffs. Immediately after the game, a handful of players said they could see that type of performance coming during practice. Does it seem like an easy excuse? Yes. Is there some truth to it? Yes.
Rob, it’s no secret how badly the Cardinals' pass rush beat up on the Packers’ offensive line. How healthy is that same line this week, and do you think the Cardinals can be as effective?
Demovsky: Every offensive line starter has been a regular on the injury report for most of the second half of the season, and these aren’t just minor maladies. Look at right guard T.J. Lang. He’s going to need surgery on both of his shoulders as soon as the season is over. He’s gutting it out. So is left guard Josh Sitton with a bad back. But the biggest question remains left tackle David Bakhtiari. His first game out because of the ankle injury was that game in Arizona. They have tried three different replacements -- Don Barclay (fail), Sitton (fail) and finally JC Tretter, who looked like he might be a fail after giving up a sack for a safety against the Redskins, but instead settled in. They feel much better about Tretter if Bakhtiari can’t go.
Weinfuss: On the field, it starts and ends with Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson. He’s the cog that makes the Cardinals' secondary so good. By locking down and basically eliminating an offense’s No. 1 receiver, Peterson single-handedly allows the other defensive backs to have more freedom in their own roles. It’s funny, though, when you analyze Peterson's season. He has had such a great season that quarterbacks stay away from him, but because they stay away from him his numbers are low, and because his numbers are so low he is credited with having a great season. Beyond Peterson, however, a lot of credit must be given to safety Rashad Johnson. He’s one of the most underrated and undervalued defensive players in the league, and the smartest defensive back on the Cardinals. But the unit’s on-field chemistry is a product of its off-field relationships. They go to each other’s houses three times a week to hang out and talk, usually not about football, which has helped their bond strengthen, and it’s obvious on the field.
You’ve been around Rodgers for a while now. The Cardinals I talked to this week kept going back to him whenever they would discuss repeating their Week 16 performance. Is he the type of quarterback who is born for the playoffs? Is this the type of situation where he can flourish? Which Rodgers do you expect to see Saturday?
Demovsky: You could argue that three of Rodgers’ best games -- maybe his top three ever -- came in the postseason. I’m talking about the divisional playoff game at Atlanta (366 yards, three touchdowns) on the way to Super Bowl XLV, the Super Bowl itself (he was the MVP) and last year’s divisional playoff win against the Cowboys (316 yards, three touchdowns on a badly sprained calf). And really, you might even throw in that crazy playoff game at Arizona in the 2009 season on the list, even though the Packers lost. He’s also had a couple of playoff clunkers (the 2011 divisional game against the Giants and the 2013 wild-card game against the 49ers). Rodgers seemed to come out of his funk last weekend against the Redskins, so it wouldn’t be a shock if he has another strong playoff showing.
Carson Palmer's playoff experience, although minimal, isn’t good. How much pressure is there on him considering his postseason past?
Weinfuss: Arians tried to downplay this exact question this week by saying that "pressure is only something you feel if you’re not prepared. I’m betting [Palmer's] going to be really prepared, so I don’t think he’ll feel too much pressure." I think in some ways Arians is right. Pressure, in large part, is something people put on themselves. But, realistically, there is going to be a lot of pressure on Palmer. This is a milestone game for him. After having an MVP-caliber season, Palmer almost needs to win this playoff game to validate his season -- and maybe his career. At the same time, however, we’re not talking about someone who has been to the playoffs five or six times and lost all of them. He has been twice, but in his first appearance, in a 2006 wild-card game, he threw just one pass before his ACL was torn. Though there will be pressure on Palmer, it won’t be overwhelming.