The Green Bay Packers are one of the most consistent franchises in the entire NFL. With four Super Bowl titles and a countless number of playoff appearances, it’s weird not to have the Packers in the Super Bowl conversation in any given season. However, after a sluggish finish to the 2015 season that saw them finish 10-6 and limp into the playoffs with back-to-back defeats, many dismissed Green Bay as a legitimate contender in the NFC. That was until their impressive road win in the wild-card round against a hot team in the Washington Redskins.
Beating Washington, who certainly wasn’t the most formidable opponent in the league, seems to have put the Packers back on the map. Aaron Rodgers — who, by many measures, had his worst season since taking over for Brett Favre — showed why he is the reigning league MVP in that game against the Redskins, throwing for two touchdowns and overcoming a poor start to score 32 points over the course of five consecutive drives.
The Packers’ defense was able to handle a confident player in Redskins’ QB Kirk Cousins and his offense, holding them to just 18 points in the victory and proving that they may be putting things together at the right time. With that victory under their belt, Green Bay earned a road date with the Arizona Cardinals, a team that went 13-3 in the regular season and crushed the Packers only a few short weeks ago. Owning a re-found confidence, how much of a threat is Green Bay to the heavily favored Cardinals? Let’s break down what they did against the Redskins to find out.
Aaron Rodgers is the first guy you think of when you talk about the Packers, which is fair, but what Green Bay’s defense did against Washington can’t go unnoticed. The unit collected six sacks and forced three fumbles in the victory, while holding Washington to just 84 yards on the ground. That effort disrupted the Redskins’ rhythm and created chances for Rodgers and the offense to generate plenty of points.
In their previous matchup against Arizona, the Packers’ defense wasn’t the main reason the Cardinals rolled, but it was one of the reasons. The Cardinals generated more than 120 yard on the ground and compiled nearly 400 yards of total offense in that game, leading to 24 points produced by the unit. They did force an interception off of the arm of Carson Palmer, but they also allowed Palmer and receiver Michael Floyd to make several big plays. That’s all going to have to change if Green Bay has a chance this time around.
On the ground this season, the Packers have been average at best. Eddie Lacy has had a down year, and the running attack’s lack of consistent production has hurt the team throughout the season. Against the Redskins, though, Green Bay was able to have some success running the ball. A combination of Lacy, James Starks, and Randall Cobb produced 141 yards last weekend with two touchdowns. The group of runners made several big plays to keep drives alive and allowed Rodgers to have a good amount of success through the air. With a group of receivers who have been unreliable for much of the season, a productive running game against Arizona is critical.
Another key for the offense will be protecting Rodgers. The Cardinals sacked the Packers’ signal caller a total of eight times in their last meeting, which was a big reason why Arizona was able to score two defensive touchdowns off of fumble recoveries in the game. The lack of protection also led to a horrific quarterback rating of 66.2 for Rodgers. In the game against Washington, Rodgers was only sacked once, indicating that the line could be playing better. However, the Redskins don’t have pass rushers like Calais Campbell and Dwight Freeney.
Ultimately, it’s tough to assess how much of a threat the Packers are to the high-flying Cardinals. Obviously, the team has plenty of playoff experience and knows how to win at this time of year. They have Aaron Rodgers, they have playmakers on defense, and they seemed to work out some serious kinks against Washington. However, Arizona is so good that all of that may not matter, especially with home-field advantage.
The divisional-round matchup between the Packers and Cardinals will almost certainly be closer than the first meeting between the two teams, but the result should be the same. It wouldn’t be shocking to see the Packers come out on top, but there’s a reason why Green Bay has the lowest odds of winning the Super Bowl of the eight teams remaining. Arizona can’t overlook them, but expect a victory for the Red Birds.