When the 10-4 Green Bay Packers take on the 12-2 Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium on Sunday afternoon, there will be huge playoff implications involved.
As I wrote in a recent article, the Packers still have a chance to take the No. 2 seed from the Cardinals. That is very important, as the No. 2 seed would get a bye the first week of the postseason.
And for a team that is as beat up as the Packers have been recently, that week off would be a tremendous help to the team to get their walking wounded better able to play.
Now the Packers have already assured themselves a spot in the postseason for the seventh consecutive year, which is a team record.
But they still have not clinched the NFC North title yet, which would happen if the Packers win this week and the Minnesota Vikings lose to the New York Giants on Sunday night.
Even if the Packers lose this week, they can still win the NFC North by beating the Vikings at Lambeau Field next Sunday.
But the Packers should have bigger aspirations. A win this week against the Cardinals and a win next week versus the Vikings would mean the Packers would finish with a 12-4 record.
If Arizona lost again next week to the red hot Seattle Seahawks at home, then they would also be 12-4.
Both the Packers and Cardinals would be 9-3 in the NFC, but the Packers would win the tiebreaker because of their victory against the Cardinals.
So, the game on Sunday is a big one for the Packers, to say the least.
Like many football games, the play of the quarterbacks on each team could play a big factor as to wins or losses the game.
Both teams have very good signal callers. Both Aaron Rodgers of the Packers and Carson Palmer of the Cardinals were both named to the Pro Bowl earlier this week.
In terms of how they compare to each other this season, Palmer has the edge on Rodgers in a number of stats.
Let’s take a look at the comparison:
Yards Per Completion
Pass Completions Over 20-Plus Yards
Pass Completions Over 40-Plus Yards
So as you can see, Palmer is having an NFL MVP type of season. In fact, I would rank Palmer right up there with Tom Brady of the New England Patriots and Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers as being one of the three favorites to win the NFL MVP award in 2015.
An award Rodgers won in 2011 and 2014.
Now there are reasons why both Palmer and Rodgers have put up the stat lines they have accumulated thus far.
Palmer has received better pass protection, as he’s been sacked just 23 times thus far in 2015. Rodgers has been sacked 33 times in comparison and hit a lot more often than that.
Palmer is also part of the No. 1 offense in the NFL, as they are ranked third in passing and sixth in rushing.
Meanwhile, Rodgers has been leading an offense which has struggled to find it’s identity so far this season.
The Packers are ranked 21st in the NFL in total offense. The Packers are ninth in the league in running the ball and just 26th in passing the ball.
It got to the point where head coach Mike McCarthy took over play calling duties again from Tom Clements prior to the game against the Dallas Cowboys a couple of weeks ago.
Up until this season, McCarthy had always called the plays since he became head coach of the Packers in 2006. The Packers were in the top 10 in offense every one of those nine years except one.
Another reason that Palmer has put up such fantastic numbers in 2015 is the set of wide receivers he gets to throw to.
For instance, look at Larry Fitzgerald. The 32 year-old veteran has put together one of his finest seasons in 2015, as he was also named to play in the Pro Bowl.
Fitzgerald has 99 receptions for 1,131 yards and seven touchdowns. No. 11 is joined by John Brown (58-933-6) and Michael Floyd (45-722-6) to give the Cardinals a great trio of receiving weapons for Palmer to throw to.
The Packers have struggled putting up big numbers at the wide out position. A big reason why was the season-ending knee injury suffered by Jordy Nelson in the preseason.
The receivers for the Packers have often times had issues getting off the line of scrimmage, plus have had problems getting open and also running precise pass patterns.
That has caused timing issues between Rodgers and the receivers. Between that and the pass protection problems that Rodgers has had at times, one can see why his completion percentage is down five points in 2015 compared to his career average.
Randall Cobb is the leading receiver for the Packers currently with 70 catches for 777 yards and six touchdowns.
Davante Adams has struggled so far in 2015, due to ankle issues, untimely drops and overall very inconsistent play. Currently, Adams has 43 receptions for 387 yards and just one touchdown.
James Jones helped to fill the void of losing Nelson somewhat when he re-signed with the Packers just prior to the regular season opener. Jones has 41 catches for 742 yards and eight touchdowns. No. 89 also has a sparkling 18.1 yards-per-reception average.
The Packers do have a receiver who knows how to get open and also runs impeccable pass patterns. That would be Jared Abbrederis, the former Wisconsin Badger. No. 84 is starting to get some opportunities now as well.
The second-year receiver has just eight catches for 106 yards, but expect to see those numbers get a lot bigger over the next two games.
Both the Packers and the Cardinals can run the ball effectively at times, so both defenses have to be on their toes at all times.
The Cardinals come into the game with the No. 7 defense in the NFL, while the Packers are ranked 17th.
The Packers and Rodgers caught a huge break when defensive back Tyrann Mathieu suffered a season-ending knee injury last week against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Mathieu was named to the Pro Bowl this year as well, and he had played exceptionally well both as a safety and as a slot-corner. Before he hurt his knee, the “Honey Badger” had 89 tackles, one sack, 17 passes defended, five interceptions (one for a TD) and one forced fumble.
The loss of Mathieu is a huge one for the Cardinals. The secondary is still talented, especially with Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson usually lining up against the best receiver on the opposing team, but Mathieu did it all for the Cards in the secondary.
We shall see if Rodgers and the Packers can exploit that loss.
The Packers could also have a huge hole in the secondary if cornerback Sam Shields can’t play due to a concussion. Shields missed the game last week against the Oakland Raiders due to the concussion and is yet to practice this week.
The Packers will practice one more time this week on Saturday before their game on Sunday, as the players are off on Friday because of Christmas.
Most experts are giving the edge to the Cardinals in this game. In his scouting report story in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Bob McGinn talked to three NFL personnel men and all expected the Cardinals to win.
Bottom line, the Packers have a very difficult task on Sunday in trying to beat the Cardinals. Not many people are giving Green Bay a chance to win.
The stats so far in 2015 certainly say the Packers should lose.
That being said, this game could end up being a statement game for the Packers. A game that will show the rest of the NFL world what to expect in the postseason.
The Packers have not fared well in big games so far this year.
But that could all change on Sunday afternoon in Arizona, where a sizable throng of Packer fans will be in attendance.