NFL Nation: final word packers-cardinals

AFC: Ravens-Patriots: Graham | Walker Jets-Bengals: Graham | Walker
NFC: Cowboys-Eagles: Mosley Packers-Cardinals: Sando | Seifert

Three nuggets of knowledge about Saturday's Packers-Cardinals wild-card game:

[+] EnlargeLarry Fitzgerald
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty ImagesCan Larry Fitzgerald carry the Cardinals' offense with Anquan Boldin hobbled?
Making the Packers see red. We've hit several times upon the Cardinals' diminishing returns in the deep passing game. For whatever reason, Arizona simply isn't making as many big plays through the air. That isn't good for the Cardinals, but it doesn't have to be the end of their playoff world. Arizona has become highly efficient at turning red zone opportunities into touchdowns. The Cardinals led the NFL in that category this season with a 70.4 touchdown percentage. Only three other teams -- Indianapolis, Minnesota and Miami -- converted even 60 percent of the time. Arizona scored nine touchdowns in its final 10 red zone possessions of the season. The Packers, despite fielding a strong overall defense this season, ranked 28th in stopping teams from scoring touchdowns in the red zone. Only the Rams, Texans, Bears and Giants posted worse percentages than the Packers' 60.9 this season. Arizona must maximize its opportunities Sunday.

Warner time. Quarterback Kurt Warner gives the Cardinals a proven playoff performer. He posted a 112.2 rating in the playoffs last season, boosting his career postseason rating to 98.9 in 11 games. Only Packers legend Bart Starr has a higher postseason passer rating among quarterbacks with at least 150 playoff pass attempts. Last season, Warner broke his own NFL record for passing yards in a single postseason. He has passed for at least 365 yards in five postseason games, a record, and he owns the three highest totals for passing yards in Super Bowls. For years, NFL teams pointed to 100-yard rushing performances as potential indicators for team success. Here is what you need to know about Warner: His teams are 44-3 when he finishes a game with a passer rating in triple digits.

Injury situations appear key. The Cardinals have somehow posted a 5-1 record since last season without receiver Anquan Boldin. Larry Fitzgerald has 37 catches for 651 yards and nine touchdowns in those games, topping 100 yards in the past four games without Boldin, including in Week 9 at Chicago. The Cardinals might have Boldin for this game, but it's unlikely he'll be near full strength after suffering ankle and knee injuries in Week 17. I'm skeptical about whether Fitzgerald can carry the offense against this Packers defense. Fitzgerald had only three 100-yard games this season, including one over the final eight games and zero in the past four. He caught 14 passes for 123 yards over the final four games. Beyond Boldin, the Cardinals could be vulnerable in the secondary and at defensive end while Antrel Rolle, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Calais Campbell deal with injuries.
AFC: Ravens-Patriots: Graham | Walker Jets-Bengals: Graham | Walker
NFC: Cowboys-Eagles: Mosley Packers-Cardinals: Sando | Seifert

Three nuggets of knowledge about Saturday’s Packers-Cardinals wild-card game:

[+] EnlargeCharles Woodson
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesCharles Woodson draws a tough assignment this week: covering Larry Fitzgerald.
We’ve spent time discussing the matchup between Green Bay’s nickel defenders and Arizona’s receivers without mentioning the marquee matchup: Packers cornerback Charles Woodson and Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald. The Packers have moved Woodson around their defense a fair amount this season, allowing him to develop from pure cover corner to a top candidate for the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year award. But speaking to reporters in Green Bay this week, Woodson left little doubt about the Packers’ intentions. “We’ll mix it up,” Woodson said. “We’ll try to throw them off balance a little bit and put me in some different positions. It ain’t going to be a secret: Most of the day I’ll probably be on Fitzgerald.” Football fans of all allegiances should take a minute to enjoy that matchup.

Sunday’s game could be a milestone affair for the Packers’ quarterback position. The last time someone other than Brett Favre started a playoff victory was before current starter Aaron Rodgers was born. That’s right. Green Bay’s last postseason victory without Favre occurred on Jan. 8, 1983. On that day, Lynn Dickey led the Packers to a 41-16 victory against St. Louis at Lambeau Field. Rodgers was born Dec. 2, 1983. The last time the Packers won a road playoff game with a quarterback other than Favre? You have to go back to Jan. 14, 1968. On that day, the Packers and Bart Starr defeated Oakland 33-14 in Super Bowl II at the Orange Bowl in Miami. Wow.

This game will feature two of the NFL’s top four quarterbacks against the blitz this season. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Rodgers finished No. 2 on that list with a 117.4 passer rating against the blitz. Arizona’s Kurt Warner was No. 4 at 111.8. (Elias defined a blitz as five or more pass-rushers.) Sacks don’t count against passer rating, however, and so we should point out that Rodgers was sacked 9.4 percent of the time against blitzes. Warner took a sack on 5.8 percent of those instances. As the season progressed, both teams moved to shorter drops and quicker releases. That shift, along with each quarterback’s success when he got the ball off during the regular season, could make blitzing a risky proposition in this game.

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