As Bruce Preaches, "People Find Some Reason to Believe."Posted:Jan 15th, 2016 3:15 pm
Of course, the Boss has also been known to preach, 'I'm Goin' Down, Down, Down," so it all depends on what you want to grab on to. So let's consider how the Packers can turn the tables on a team that destroyed them just three weeks ago and move on to the NFC title game for a second straight season.
I'm going to begin with the premise that the Pack will get back both Sam Shields and David Bakhtiari. They've both been on the practice field all week in a limited capacity, but as I write this on Friday morning, we have no idea whether either will play. I'll update this paragraph once we get news. Ask me to pick one and I'd take Shields against this opponent. With their dangerous corps of receivers, and a gimpy Quentin Rollins, it would be great to have #37 on the field, even if he is a little rusty and not in ideal condition.
The revelatory play of JC Tretter at left tackle last weekend is what swings the decision for me. At least we know now that the Packers have a suitable backup, one who can keep the likes of Calais Campbell, Dwight Freeney and Markus Golden at bay. That said, it would be great to get Bakhtiari back for the divisional playoff matchup. The Pack will enter this meeting much healthier up front: both Bryan Bulaga and TJ Lang have dropped off the injury report and Sitton and Linsley appear to be on the mend as well. This alone should ensure the game is much tighter than the laugher in December.
Naturally, the Packers are even thinner at the skills positions this time around, though. As much as we've derided Davante Adams' sophomore slump all year, he was a difference maker in Washington, and his absence will make the Pack easier to defend. And with Andrew Quarless reportedly placed on IR, there will be no quick fixes at tight end either. Look for the team to elevate practice squad receiver Ed Williams, who can help on special teams. Back in August, Bob McGinn wrote an interesting profile on him (http://www.jsonline.com/sports/packers/packers-free-agent-receiver-shows-potential-b99560832z1-322477541.html).
With a lack of playmakers, the Packers will need to be creative offensively, pushing the tempo and doing what worked last weekend: moving Randall Cobb all over the field to keep the defense guessing. Jared Abbrederis will get an opportunity to make his NFL arrival to the masses. Rodgers seems to think he's up to the task. Of course, the running game needs to flourish. It's clear that Eddie Lacy's rib injury is limiting him, but he'll give all he has. We have to hope James Starks can continue to make plays and hang on to the football.
On the other side of the ball, the Packers' defense continues to impress. They were solid in the first meeting, but will need to do a better job of containing emerging star David Johnson (123 total yards, 1TD in first match up), who is dangerous as a runner and a receiver. The Packers are talented enough to do a decent job covering their fine receivers, but it will be all about the pass rush once again.
They did a great job on Kirk Cousins last weekend, with six sacks and 13 hurries. They will need to be similarly effective against Carson Palmer, who showed he can be shaken when the heat comes, as Seattle demonstrated in the season finale. When he has time, Palmer can kill you--he'll likely wind up the MVP runner-up to Cam Newton. Look for Dom Capers to throw the kitchen sink at him. The Pack will blitz early and often and try to knock him on the ground early and often.
That's how you shake the oft-injured 36 year old QB. As great as he's been in Arizona, the fact remains: the next playoff game Carson Palmer wins will be his first. And the Pack is healthier than they've been all season in the front seven. Last week, Neal, Perry, Peppers and Matthews were all difference makers. If the Packers are to move on, they will need to duplicate that effort.
Of course the usual suspects will likely determine the winner: turnovers and special teams. It was punt returner Tyler Lockett who singlehandedly torched them the last time they took the field. Which is another factor in the Pack's favor: Green Bay is coming off a strong double digit road win, after seeing their defense dominate for three quarters and their offense awaken from a deep slumber. Meanwhile, the Cardinals got punched in the gut in the first half of their last game and then laid down in the second half. Then they stewed about it d during the bye week. How often have we seen season-long dominant teams lose their mojo after sitting through wildcard weekend? A couple of recent Packer teams come to mind.
For sure, the Cardinals are the Super Bowl favorites for a good reason. They are the best team left in the field on both sides of the ball (some Seahawks supporters may disagree, of course), even without their emotional defensive leader Tyrann Mathieu (they're also without solid run defender Alex Okafor, who will miss the game with a toe injury).
Their coach is one of the best in the business and they have solid veteran leadership in guys like Palmer, Larry Fitzgerald, Campbell, Freeney and Rashad Johnson (the safety who missed the first meeting).
Going into the season, the notion that the Packers would be touchdown underdogs in the divisional round seemed preposterous, but here we are. The Cardinals have been the stronger team by far all season and they proved it emphatically when the teams faced off. But the NFL playoffs are a strange breed, and when a proven, MVP quarterback has a big game, he can get on a roll. He can carry the team on his back and bring a dominant defense to his knees.
There is every 'reason to believe' Rodgers and the Pack can spring the upset. I think they'll fall just short.
Cardinals 27 Packers 24