The game today will be decided in the first ten minutes. Here is what to look for:
People expect the Cardinals to come out passing, putting the ball in the hands of their savvy, veteran quarterback. They won’t. They will begin this game on offense running Beanie Wells at the number one defense against the run. If they win that battle, the Cardinals can win this game. That will open up the full passing game.
If the Packers stop the Cardinals running game on the first two drives, then Arizona will go the air and the Packers will beat them. Last year, Larry Fitzgerald beat Atlanta and Carolina, two deeps that are not in this year’s playoffs and were not prepared for him. This year, they face Charles Woodson, the NFL defensive player of the year. He will slow down Fitzgerald enough to stay the Cardinal offense – unless the Cardinals establish the run early.
When the Packers have the ball, the Cardinals will attack them with smash mouth football and try to rattle Aaron Rodgers, who is playing in his first playoff game. I expect him to shine, though they may break the Packers rhythm on the first couple drives. If they rattle him or even injure him, the Packers don’t have a chance.
Arizona’s defense is much better than their rank. But they are hurting. But they are well coached. But the Packers have one of the best offenses in the game. So, here’s my pick:
If the Packers can handle the first quarter onslaught by the Cardinals, they will win going away, somewhere in the range of 40-17.
If not, they will lose a tight battle, 20-17.
If there is one thing that could serve as a proxy for the first quarter it would be whether Rodgers throws an interception on one of the first two drives. In my mind, that would have tremendous signficance.
So having qualified all my predictions, what do I actually expect? Packers 40-17.