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Green Bay Packers vs Arizona Cardinals

In NFL on January 8, 2010 at 5:35 pm

The third Week 17 rematch of the wildcard round sees last year’s surprise Superbowlers the Cardinals welcoming the streaking Packers to the desert in what could turn out to be the tie of the weekend. Ignore Green Bay’s 33-7 win last week. Arizona had nothing to play for and hardly even unveiled their starters, so beyond the possible psychological edge, that game means very little.

Historically, the Cardinals have been about as threatening as a marshmallow Care Bear and have rarely made it into the post-season, but they have evolved in the last few years. Last year was their coming out party, as they exploded in the play-offs and came within a few seconds of Superbowl glory.

Kurt Warner put in one of the all-time great post-season performances last year. Can he do it again?

That was mainly down to the combination of experienced quarterback Kurt Warner and their supernaturally gifted receiver Larry Fitzgerald. When it comes to playoff play, these two were unparalleled last year, setting post-season records of 30 catches for 508 yards and seven TDs (Fitzgerald) and 1,147 yards passing (Warner).

In fact, Warner has plenty of previous for this kind of ridiculous behaviour when it comes to the business end of the season. He averages an insane 306.2 yards per game, has the second all time passer rating (behind Bart Starr) of 98.9, has a completion rate of 64.8% and also holds the second most yards in a campaign (1,063 with St Louis in ‘99) to go with last year’s effort. In short, he’s very, very good.

With the word from Arizona suggesting that Anquan Boldin will unsurprisingly shake off his injury and suit up on Sunday, he now has two beasts and a solid 3rd option in Steve Breaston with which to work his magic on the poor Packers.

With all of these weapons in the passing game, it might not even matter that their running game is almost non-existent. They are a passing team, and the pass will determine whether they stand or fall in these playoffs.

Bruising receiver Anquan Boldin should be fit for Sunday's clash

It has to be a worry though. Tim Hightower and Beanie Wells aren’t the worst tandem around, with Wells in particular showing flashes of brilliance, but the front five are primarily a pass-protecting unit. That means that if Warner and his receivers aren’t firing, the Cards could find themselves in serious bother.

Their other worry will be my vote for defensive MVP, the leader of the pack Charles Woodson. This guy has made the Rocketeer look like a slug this season, and he’s able to do it all. When he’s not scorching round the secondary hoovering up interceptions, he’s blitzing with the linebackers and flattening running backs. He’s been an absolute revelation, and if he can get on top of Fitzgerald it will make the rest of his defense’s job a hell of a lot easier.

Packers corner Charles Woodson has been a revelation this year

The Packers D has been excellent all year, and rookie linebackers Clay Matthews and Brad Jones will be key to their plans of upsetting Warner. These two have 14 sacks between them, and if Woodson and his buddies in the secondary can take the quick release away from the Arizona QB, they have every chance of adding to that total and preventing the offense from getting in rhythm.

On the other side of the ball, the home side have a pretty mean pass rush of their own. Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell have also combined for 14 sacks, and they’ll be rushing a man who’s been decked 50 times already this season.

Most of those hits came early in the season though, as the Packers have shuffled their personnel to give Rogers better protection. This has paid dividends with the youngster managing to stay out of trouble for the most part as the season wound down, opposing defenses only reaching him twice in the final three games.

He has put together an incredible season in his second run at the starting spot, racking up over 4,400 yards passing with 30 TDs and only seven interceptions. This is a huge improvement on last year, when he threw 13 picks, and it shows not just how much he’s maturing, but how good he can be.

If the defense can get to Rogers though, they have a great chance of throwing a spanner in the works. If not, expect Donald Driver, Greg Jennings and tight end Jermichael Finley to rack up the yards over the middle.

Green Bay have not been dominant running the ball this year, but they do have an edge over their hosts. Ryan Grant is a terror when he gets going, and he’s entering the post-season fresh, having only averaged about 17 carries a game in the regular season. The Cards aren’t watertight on the ground either. They give up over 110 yards a game on average, and Grant and co could do some serious damage here.

Running back Ryan Grant could give his side an edge on the ground

Arizona will be boosted by the likely recovery of corner Dominique Rogers-Cromartie, who looks to have recovered from his injury against the same opposition last week. He’s got the speed to stay with Jennings and Driver, but he will also need to keep his discipline. He is caught too often trying to make up yards on receivers, so confident is he in his ability to cover the ground. He and safety Adrian Wilson will need to put in big performances to keep Rogers from hitting his targets.

Despite the crazy post-season numbers Kurt Warner has racked up over the years, he hasn’t been his usual self this season. He’s had a few shockers which have cost his side, and the Cardinals themselves have been very inconsistent. They’ve been 2-2 since their statement win over the Vikings, and were even run close by the Detroit Lions.

The Packers, on the other hand, have been one of the steadiest teams around lately, racking up seven wins out of eight. This momentum could make the difference, along with star performers like Woodley being right on top of their game.

It will probably be a high-scoring affair as the home team will not go down without a fight, but I think this could be the only road win of the Wildcard round.

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