Riding a three-game winning streak, the Packers travel to Arizona in Week 16 with the hopes of stealing the first-round bye that Bruce Arians’ Cardinals have all but secured. Green Bay’s wins of late have been less than impressive but, at the same time, establish momentum for a team that was trending in the wrong direction for most of November. A win in the desert would greatly amplify that momentum during a crucial stretch, as the team begins to prepare for the postseason.
The Cardinals present the same type of challenge that Green Bay encountered in early November against Carolina: a very strong pass defense coupled with a still very potent offensive attack. Led by veteran quarterback Carson Palmer, the Arizona offense does an excellent job at generating long, sustained drives while protecting the football. Having said this, it is unlikely that the Packers will be able to thrive off of turnovers the same way they did last week in Oakland.
In order to win, it is painfully clear that the Packers offense must generate a level of production that they have not delivered since before the bye week. Aaron Rodgers will be the first to admit that the offense left too many points on the field last week in Oakland – something that won’t get by versus a contender in the Cardinals.
Only a week after Eddie Lacy turned in a career day on the ground, the third-year pro failed to establish any sort of rhythm in Week 15, forcing Mike McCarthy to abandon the run game early. While Randall Cobb and James Starks present excellent change-of-pace options, McCarthy must commit to Lacy early so that the Packers can set up the passing game and keep the Arizona defense honest.
With the availability of two offensive linemen in question (Corey Linsley and David Bakhtiari), the ground game isn’t exactly set up for success – meaning that McCarthy will need to be creative with both his play calling and personnel packages. In particular, the Packers need to find better ways to pick up first downs in short-yardage situations, something that they have routinely struggled to master.
Should the Packers lose on Sunday – and win back-to-back games over the Vikings – they would be virtually guaranteed a return to Phoenix in the divisional round of the playoffs (assuming Minnesota retains the NFC’s six seed). But if beating the Vikings three times in one season doesn’t seem difficult enough, beating the Cardinals twice in one season on the road seems hardly plausible. The Packers can do their part in avoiding this scenario by winning their next two games, while requiring help from the Seahawks in Week 17 to achieve a first-round bye in the playoffs.