Kurt Warner (Getty)
Unlike 2008, the Arizona Cardinals are surging heading into the postseason. After losing four of their final six games a year ago the Cardinals have reversed those fortunes, prevailing in six of their previous eight contests. Entering the regular season finale against the Green Bay Packers, Arizona has plenty to play for as it still has an outside shot at the No. 2 playoff seed in the NFC.
Following the Minnesota Vikings’ second straight losing effort, the Arizona Cardinals playoff fate is still up in the air. If all the pieces fall their way, the Cardinals could jump all the way up to the No. 2 playoff seed in the NFC. Arizona would first need a win against Green Bay and root for Minnesota and the Philadelphia Eagles to stumble. The Eagles have a losable game against the Dallas Cowboys but the Vikings host a free-falling New York Giants squad.
The NFC wild card race is down to three teams and the Cardinals will face off against a somewhat familiar opponent if they fail to receive a first-round bye. Arizona is slated to play either the Packers, who travel to the desert this Sunday, or the loser of the matchup between the Eagles and Cowboys. The Cardinals defeated Dallas last season in a game that helped put Arizona on the map as a legitimate postseason contender and knocked off Philadelphia in the NFC Championship en route to a Super Bowl berth.
With so much on the line entering Week 17, the Cardinals and Green Bay are expected to play starters throughout the game. Both teams are amongst the hottest in the NFC as Arizona has a 6-2 record over its last eight outings while the Packers have proved victorious in six of their last seven games. The only known commodity thus far in the NFC is that the New Orleans Saints have clinched the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the postseason. Everything else is to be determined.
While Sunday’s game at University of Phoenix Stadium will be a preview of playoff football, Green Bay’s defense could be the difference. The Cardinals and Packers both feature dynamic offenses with Arizona averaging nearly 355 yards per game while Green Bay has racked up over 380 yards per contest. The Packers’ defense trails only Minnesota in the NFC allowing a mere 291 yards per game. On paper, Green Bay is one of the most balanced teams in the NFL, ranking third in total defense and fourth in offense.
One area where Green Bay could be exploited is in the secondary. Although, they’ve accumulated 23 interceptions, there have been holes in the Packers’ pass defense at times this season. RB Beanie Wells and the Cardinals’ running game has been improving all year long bur Arizona’s aerial assault is still the team’s most potent weapon. QB Kurt Warner remains one of the league’s top signal callers and wideouts Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald each look to surpass the 1,000-yard receiving mark for the fourth time in the past five seasons.
If the Cardinals manage to win this coming Sunday, they will have finished completely opposite of last season. After faltering down the stretch a year ago, many had written Arizona off heading into the playoffs. However, with a second straight postseason berth and a strong finish to the regular season, the Cardinals may still be flying under the radar but won’t be the underdog story they were last year.
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