Sunday, January 10, 2010

Playoff Preview: Packers vs. Cardinals

This game hasn't even been played yet -- starts about 5 hours from now -- and already it's been beaten to death. Surprisingly, or not, most of the national prognosticators have been picking the Packers to win all week long. You can expect that out of the local "homers", but Tony Dungy? Mike Ditka? Regis Philbin? (Wait, how'd he get in there?)

Given that level of talking head support, it was also somewhat surprising, then, that the Cardinals were still as much as 3-1/2 point favorites through the week. That started to turn on Saturday when the Packers became slotted as 1-point faves. The latest line, depending upon who you look at (and purely for educational, informational and entertainment purposes only, of course) has the Packers as 2-1/2 point favorites.

The catch to all this is, no one knows for sure which Cardinals team will show up. We have to honestly admit that we can't put much stock in the two wins the Packers have against the Cards this season. I mean, c'mon, it was an exhibition game and then a rest-up game for the Cards. This is still the NFC defending champion. This is still the team which beat the ViQueens handily about a month ago. This is still the team that has one of the top veteran QBs -- especially in the playoffs -- at the helm.

But this is also the team that, despite trying to rest key players last week, emerged from the game with Green Bay a bit beat up. ESPN, for example, is just now reporting that WR Anquan Boldin is unlikely to play today. He's listed as a gametime decision. Boldin has both an ankle and knee injury, although apparently it is the knee injury that is presenting the greatest problem. Cardinals CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie left last week's game with a knee bruise but is expected to play today. But a few key injuries can make a difference in a game like this.

The Packers have the confidence that they are a more physical team than the Cardinals. If defensive coordinator Dom Capers can scheme the game today to get pressure on QB Kurt Warner early and often, it could be a good day for the Pack. Warner can pick apart a blitz. But he's also a statue back there. If the Packers' "D" can continue to perform at the level in this game that it has over the last half of the season, it means good things. If the offense continues to put up points -- and the Packers "O" is averaging 33 points a game over the last 8 games! -- and not turn the ball over, and the Packers special teams don't allow a big return, the Pack should emerge from this game as the victor.

And that might have another consequence, as ESPN is also reporting that it's likely Kurt Warner will retire after this season. Which means, this game might be his last. He's been one of the great stories in the NFL over the last decade or so. And he should go into the Hall of Fame. But, today, let's let him have one of those 5 interception kind of days. A small payback for the team that gave him a shot once upon a time.

The Packers are comfortable playing in Arizona. And if last week is any indication -- and the live radio and TV broadcasts from the vicinity have been any indicator -- there are going to be a lot of Packer fans in that stadium today. The game wasn't even a sell-out until Friday. Can you imagine that in Green Bay? So can you imagine, given the apparent lack of interest by the Cardinals' own fans, who probably grabbed most of those remaining tickets? Packers players know they will have support there today.

There is no reason to suspect the Packers will have a letdown today. It will certainly be tighter than last weekend. But the Packers are more physical, more confident, and in better overall team health than are the Cardinals. The Cards have Warner and Larry Fitzgerald on offense, true. But that won't be enough.

We're calling this one in favor of the Packers, 31-24.

If you want to see what some Wisconsin "experts" are predicting, check this out. And if you want to see what ESPN's pundits are saying, go here.

Go Pack Go!!!