Buzz factor (on a scale of 1-10): Eight. Maybe I am a tad high on this, but it’s a fun matchup and it closes out a solid first weekend of action. The Cardinals were last year’s darlings (and might be a better overall team this season), and the Packers have the potential to be that team this year. The QB matchup promises to be great, and you can bet it’ll be closer than last week’s game. If it’s half as entertaining as the last game played there, the Fiesta Bowl, we’re in for a good one.
Most underrated story line: Arizona is banged up. Calais Campbell, the team’s most underrated defender, has torn ligaments in his thumb and surely will be affected. Word is that Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie should be good by game time, although he also said he needs to practice this week to play. And Anquan Boldin has an MCL sprain and a gimpy left ankle; he might not play. The Packers come in very healthy now that Charles Woodson’s shoulder has checked out.
Tasty matchup: How do you not go with Woodson against WR Larry Fitzgerald? I could be cute and pick Packers ORG Josh Sitton against Cardinals DT Darnell Dockett, which is an important matcup, but the potential defensive MVP against last year’s almost Super Bowl MVP is too good to pass up. I give slight edge to Woodson because the Packers won’t have to be as concerned about other beating them if Boldin is out or trying to gut through a couple of bad injuries. But Fitzgerald won’t go quietly. He’ll make at least one big play.
Home-field advantage: Hard to say there is a significant one after the Packers silenced the Arizonians pretty quickly last week with their early sortie on the Cardinals. But they’ll be a little more raucous this week, you’d have to think.
Unlikely star: Packers DE Johnny Jolly doesn’t get a lot of ink, but he’s a strong run defender and adept at batting passes down. On a defensive front that has been strong nearly all season, Jolly has been an underappreciated force. He could have a nice game against a mediocre Cardinals offensive line.
Prediction: Pain. (That was for my old roommate, Jason.) Packers 33, Cardinals 24. I like the Cardinals’ resiliency and think they will put in a good showing at home. I just don’t think they’ll have enough defensively to stop Aaron Rodgers, who is having an MVP-type campaign and (I think) will exit the playoffs as one of the more talked-about NFL players this offseason.