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PLAYOFF PREDICTION: Will Cards beat Packers?

Posted at 10:56 AM, Jan 15, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-16 18:08:13-05

The Arizona Cardinals are looking for a repeat performance. The Green Bay Packers are out to make sure history doesn't repeat itself.

On Saturday, the Packers (11-6) will make their second trip to the Valley in three weeks to take on the Cardinals (13-3) in the divisional playoff round. The winner goes to the NFC Championship Game.

Arizona blew out Green Bay 38-8 in their Week 16 matchup. Can the Cards get it done against the Pack again? Here are three questions and a prediction for that game, which begins Saturday at 6:15 p.m. at Glendale's University of Phoenix Stadium.

1. Will this be anything like last time?

It was just two days after Christmas that Green Bay last visited Arizona – and the Cardinals handed the Pack a belated lump of coal.

The Cards’ 30-point victory wasn’t just a first-round bye-clincher; it was a statement to the rest of the NFL. In particular, Arizona’s defense had its best outing of the season, just six days after star safety Tyrann Mathieu was diagnosed with a season-ending ACL tear. 

Not much has changed since then, except the Packers are perhaps even less healthy than they were in Week 16, and the Cards will be missing a couple guys on defense. But there are reasons that few people are predicting another blowout: Namely, the Packers are coming off a convincing road win in the Wild Card round, and they still have reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers under center.

Coach Mike McCarthy said his Packers aren’t an underdog in this game (even though Vegas says they are). Will Rodgers' experience (seven playoff victories) prove the difference in the postseason rematch?

2. Will Carson Palmer get his first playoff win?

There has been some disagreement in the ABC15 sports office as to whether Cards quarterback Carson Palmer’s lack of playoff success will factor into Saturday’s game. Palmer is enjoying the best season of his 13-year NFL career, but at present, he has as many postseason victories as I do.

Palmer might approach this game the same way he came into his matchup with the team that drafted him, the Cincinnati Bengals, in Week 11. In that game, Palmer was a bit too amped up out of the gate and threw a couple interceptions, but he was superb once he got his emotions under check, throwing for over 300 yards with four touchdowns in a 34-31 win.

Saturday's game may play out the same way. Palmer has the most talented group of receivers in the NFL at his disposal (including running back David Johnson), but it may take some time for him to settle in. The question is: If Palmer throws an early pick or two, will the Cards be able to overcome those mistakes?

3. Will Aaron Rodgers have time to throw?

The Packers lost star wide receiver Jordy Nelson to injury before the season began, and it looks like they’ll be missing another top wideout in Glendale, as Davante Adams is reportedly likely to miss Saturday’s game with a knee injury he sustained in Green Bay’s win at Washington last weekend.

But even if Green Bay’s receivers manage to get open, will Rodgers’ protection be better than it was in Week 16 when he was sacked eight times and turned the ball over three times? The Packers’ offensive line is the healthiest it has been in two months, but the Cards have a number of large men like Calais Campbell, Frostee Rucker and Dwight Freeney who are anxious to face that depleted unit again.

Prediction:

Keep an eye on Green Bay’s No. 82. That would be tight end Richard Rodgers (no relation to Aaron), who is questionable to play Saturday with a hip injury. Rodgers had his worst game of the season Week 16 vs. the Cards (one catch for two yards), but that’s not likely to happen again.

Arizona is notoriously bad at covering tight ends, and without Mathieu, that will become a more daunting task than usual. If Rodgers suits up, look for him to make life difficult for the Cards' secondary.

The consensus for this game seems to be Cards win, but in a closer game than last time. Going with the consensus always makes me a little nervous, as the consensus is usually wrong – but in this case, I’m gonna climb on that bandwagon.

Let’s say the Cards advance to their second-ever NFC Championship game via a last-second Chandler Catanzaro field goal. (But for the sake of our health, let’s really, really hope it doesn’t come to that.)

Cardinals 26, Packers 24