Green Bay Packers at Arizona Cardinals (-4.5, 49.5 o/u)
A playoff spot is secure. The division is sewn up. Now, the Arizona Cardinals (12-2, 5-1 Home) just need one more win to clinch a postseason bye. Carson Palmer and company will hope to earn their week off this Sunday (Dec. 27) when the Green Bay Packers (10-4, 5-2 Away) come to University of Phoenix Stadium (4:25 PM Eastern).
Arizona heads into Sunday the winners of eight straight. Their 40-17 domination of Philly last Sunday came at a heavy price, though. The team lost star safety and Defensive Player of the Year candidate Tyrann Mathieu for the year to an ACL tear.
“We’re losing a brother and he’s more than just that to this team, and this organization,” fellow safety Rashad Johnson told the Cardinals official site. “When he’s on the field, you know there is a different level of energy because of what this guy brings to the table. We’re going to miss that. We all have to elevate our game.”
Last week’s win clinched the NFC West title for Arizona, but head coach Bruce Arians has his eyes on a much bigger prize.
“I’ve got a closet full of these,” said Arians of the division championship gear via the team’s official website. “This is nice. But I want one that says a whole lot more than this one. … Clinching the West isn’t the goal.”
In years past, facing Aaron Rodgers and the Packers without your top secondary player would have been a recipe for disaster. This year, though, the Packer passing game has been very pedestrian. Rodgers completed just 22 of 39 passes for 204 yards last weekend in a 30-20 win over Oakland. Rodgers threw one touchdown but also tossed one bad pick by throwing into double coverage. interception as his receivers had two mans in coverage.
Last week’s game continued a frustrating year for Rodgers, whose receiving corps has struggled without Jordy Nelson.
“We weren’t very effective. … We just don’t really have a clear-cut direction. … We were too inconsistent,” said the QB to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Green Bay currently has a one-game lead over the Vikings in the NFC North and hosts the Vikes in Week 17. Green Bay can clinch the division title ahead of time with a win over Arizona and a Minnesota loss to the Giants. But if Minnesota holds serve against New York this week, then the division crown will come down to the final game of the year (regardless of what happens in the Green Bay/Arizona game).
In the trends, the Packers are 9-5 ATS on the year and 5-2 away. The Cards are 8-6 against the number but just 2-4 at home. Those trends don’t tell the whole story, though; Green Bay is a concerning 1-4 ATS in their last five games as a road underdog of 0.5-4.5 points. The Cardinals, on the other hand, have proved a great bet in crunch time, going 10-3 ATS in their last 13 games in December.
Roll with the rolling Cardinals – who still have a solid secondary even without Mathieu – to win and cover this weekend.
Pick: Cardinals -4.5.
(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.)