Green Bay Packers at Arizona Cardinals (-7, 50 o/u)
After storming back from an 11-0 deficit to beat Washington, 35-18, in Sunday’s Wild Card game, the Green Bay Packers (11-6, 6-3 road) travel west for the Divisional Playoffs. Waiting for Green Bay are the Arizona Cardinals (13-3, 6-2 home), the team that dominated the Packers, 38-8, in Week 15. In a sense, the Cardinals have been preparing for this game (Saturday, 8:15 p.m Eastern) since their team, which seemed destined for a Super Bowl run last season, fell victim to injuries at quarterback that torpedoed the campaign.
Against Washington, the Green Bay team from September/October resurfaced. The Packers, who started the year 6-0 and averaged 27.3 points per game, tallied 17 points in the second quarter on Sunday and had five scoring drives of at least eight plays. This is in sharp contrast to the team that closed the year with back-to-back losses against the Cardinals and Vikings by a combined score of 58-21.
Green Bay’s issues with Arizona in the first game were manifold. The offense couldn’t get anything going, which was a trend in the latter half of the season. (Green Bay finished 25th in the league in passing.) The Cards outgained the Packers, 381-178, and forced four turnovers, while Aaron Rodgers had arguably the worst game of his career.
The defense wasn’t much better, giving up 4.7 yards per carry and nearly ten yards per pass attempt.
Thanks to two defensive scores, the Arizona offense really didn’t have to do too much in the rout. Running back David Johnson did catch three passes for 88 yards, though, and the youngster is sure to be a big part of the game plan on Saturday.
Statistically, the Cardinals were rivaled only by the Panthers this year. They were number one in the NFL in total yards and second (to Carolina) in scoring at more than 30 points per game. Their +176 scoring differential was also second-best (again to Carolina).
Quarterback Carson Palmer put together the best season of his career, reaching career highs in yards, yards per attempt, touchdowns, and quarterback rating.
On defense, the Cards allowed the fifth-fewest yards in the league, were top-ten against the run and pass, and gave up under 20 points a game (19.6).
The teams come into this contest with similar records against the spread. The Cards went 9-7 ATS, overall, while the Packers are now 10-7 after Wild Card Weekend. However, the Pack are a solid 6-3 ATS on the road, while the Cards are only 3-5 at home.
It’s hard to envision a scenario where the Cardinals offense doesn’t produce points. If Green Bay is going to keep pace, they will need to win a high scoring affair. A total reversal of the last time these teams met doesn’t seem all that likely, but the trends give me pause on laying a touchdown with the Cards. Instead, the possibility of a shootout makes the over (50) the play.
Pick: Over 50.
(Photo credit: Mike Morbeck [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Photo has been cropped from its original.)