GLENDALE, Ariz. — Three weeks ago, the Arizona Cardinals beat the Green Bay Packers by 30 points. No one should expect that kind of blowout when the teams meet again Saturday night, this time in the NFC divisional playoffs.
“I think these guys definitely come back here with a bad taste in their mouth,” said Patrick Peterson, the Arizona cornerback and ex-LSU star, “so I think it will definitely be a much better game.”
Oddsmakers are picking the Cardinals, the NFC’s No. 2 seed, by seven points, although Packers coach Mike McCarthy wouldn’t call his team the underdog.
“We’re no underdog going to Arizona,” McCarthy said after his team’s 35-18 wild-card victory over Washington. “I don’t care what people think or how we’re picked or things like that. We’re going out there to win, and expect to win.”
Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, on the other hand, acknowledged his team’s underdog status, but said “the pressure’s all going to be on” Arizona.
“They’re coming off a tough loss at home against Seattle. Before that, they blew us out,” Rodgers said. “They’re the Super Bowl favorites, and obviously the favorite team on Saturday night, so we’ve just got to go out, be loose, let it all hang out, because the pressure’s all on that side.”
Cardinals coach Bruce Arians discounted the whole concept of pressure.
“There is no pressure,” he said. “Pressure is something when you’re not prepared for something. We have high expectations.”
The team signed 12-year NFL veteran Jason Babin to help at the position.
The Packers’ offense started to click last weekend when it went up-tempo.
The Cardinals took appropriate notice.
“When I was watching the game Sunday, those guys were moving extremely fast,” Peterson said, “the fastest I’ve seen all year.”
The Cardinals are well aware of how Rodgers likes to catch opponents with too many men on the field. They had to call a timeout in one such instance in their first meeting.
Hot in Arizona
The Dec. 27 victory over the Packers capped a nine-game winning streak for Arizona (13-3). A week later, the Cardinals ended their regular season with a 36-6 drubbing at the hands of Seattle, a loss they dismiss as an aberration.
The Packers (11-6) still had a chance at the NFC North title, despite the loss in the desert, but they finished the regular season by losing at home to Minnesota, so Green Bay settled for a wild-card berth.
And last Sunday in Washington, Rodgers and the rest of the Packers played better than they had most of the season.
They’re getting healthy
The Cardinals sacked Rodgers eight times in their meeting three weeks ago, but Green Bay was without starting left tackle David Bakhtiari because of an ankle injury and lost starting right tackle Bryan Bulaga, also to an ankle problem, during the contest.
That shouldn’t be the case on Saturday night. Bulaga was back the next game and Bakhtiari practiced all week on a limited basis. The Packers also should have cornerback Sam Shields, who has been out while undergoing the concussion protocol.
But Green Bay wide receiver Davante Adams was ruled out for the game with a knee injury, as was tight end Andrew Quarless.
Arizona will be without one of its best pass rushers, outside linebacker Alex Okafor, and the exact reason is a mystery.
An obviously irritated Arians would say only that Okafor injured a toe during the team’s weekend off.
Because of the one-sided nature of their previous meeting, the Cardinals and the Packers didn’t get to a big portion of their game plans.
That gave them a head start getting ready for this one.
As for what players can carry over from that game, Packers linebacker Julius Peppers says not a whole lot.
“More scheme things, plays, the plays they like to run, the sets they like to run out of. That’s pretty much it,” he said. “You can’t really take too much else from it. It’s a different game, and all these games have different personalities.”
Rodgers has experienced playoff football in Arizona firsthand.
In 2009, he engaged in a spectacular passing duel with Kurt Warner in the wild-card round.
Rodgers threw for 422 yards and four touchdowns, but the Packers lost in overtime 51-45 when Karlos Dansby returned Rodgers’ fumble 17 yards for a score.
It remains the highest-scoring playoff game in NFL history.