After a 30 point slaughter just a few weeks ago, the Green Bay Packers are, despite what Mike McCarthy tells his players, certainly big time underdogs heading back to Arizona for the divisional round of the 2016 playoffs. While analysts are picking the Cardinals nearly unanimously, the game must actually be played nonetheless. While a Packers win is still perhaps the more unlikely conclusion, here are 5 reasons why the Packers could pull off the upset on Saturday night.
1.) Getting Healthy
With encouraging signs that David Bakhtiari could be back at left tackle by Saturday, the Packers might have their entire starting offensive line intact. The Packers will need as much talent on the line as possible with the Cardinals having sacked Aaron Rodgers 9 times in their last meeting. Starting cornerback Sam Shields is also in line to possibly play for the first time in nearly a month. The Packers’ defense has been strong lately, but the young cornerback corps could certainly use the veteran leadership and speed of Shields against one of the fastest and most talented wide receiver groups in the league.
2.) Cardinals’ Defensive Injuries
The Cardinals will be without two of their starting defensive players on Saturday, defensive tackle Corey Redding and linebacker Alex Okafor. While neither player is a superstar, they’re pieces to the defensive puzzle in Arizona, and being down two starters is always a loss for a playoff unit. The Cardinals did sign 35 year old veteran Justin Babin this week, however, who could still certainly cause some problems for the Packers’ offense. The losses of Redding and Okafor (as well as other defensive standouts like Tyrann Mathieu) means that the Cardinals are playing with a defense at less than full strength.
3.) Rodgers Getting into Rhythm
When the coaching staff placed J.C. Tretter into the carousel that has been the left tackle position sans David Bakhtiari, things started falling into place. Sure, the offense has been misfiring based upon a number of factors, but the chief factor has been the discombobulation of the offense’s leader, Aaron Rodgers. More stability from the offensive front led to a more comfortable Rodgers. Is Rodgers back to normal? Not yet. Was he still a little jumpy in the pocket? Yes. But the improvement was noticeable. The single most important factor for the Packers on Saturday is Rodgers’ comfort in the pocket.
4.) Return to the No-Huddle
Another key feature of the resuscitation of the Packers’ offense last week in Washington was the return of the no-huddle offense. The Packers’ have had trouble beating man coverage all year. The no-huddle provides the Packers’ offense with the opportunity to exploit mismatches and create opportunities for their wide receivers in creative ways. The defense is forced to play with what they’re given, not having time to constantly adjust personnel to the Packers’ more exotic looks (like Cobb from the backfield). The result was clearly an edge for the offense against the Redskins. The Cardinals have a more talented defense, but the no-huddle should remain a part of the offensive gameplan all the same.
5. Mike McCarthy
Despite the rantings of some of the more paranoid fans out there, McCarthy is one of the best head coaches in the NFL and an offensive guru. That being said, his offense was absolutely destroyed by the Arizona defense in their last meeting, and that’s actually why I expect McCarthy’s unit to come out stronger this time. While the Packers will most definitely be fighting uphill for a win, I know that McCarthy is smart enough to dissect the debacle that was that last game in Arizona and to make the adjustments necessary for a much improved gameplan. An improved gameplan and limiting turnovers could provided a very different end result than last time around, when the Packers’ offense turned the ball over 4 times, two of those turnovers resulting in defensive touchdowns for the Cardinals. A more stable performance this week will greatly help the Packers’ defense to keep the Cardinals well below 38 points. Fewer turnovers will help the Packers actually execute their gameplan and put up more than 8 total points. Of course McCarthy’s gameplan alone will not prevent turnovers, but scheming away from the pass-rushing strengths of the Cardinals will help mitigate the chances of Rodgers turning the ball over 3 times again.——————
Taylor O\'Neill is a Packer fan born and raised in Oshkosh, WI. He currently lives in Florida and is pursuing his PhD. Taylor is a writer with PackersTalk.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @TaylorONeill87 for more Packer news.