Plenty on the line for Packers-Green Bay matchup
GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) Leave it to Arizona cornerback Jerraud Powers to succinctly explain the playoff significance of Sunday's Packers-Cardinals game.
''It's either do you want Green Bay to come back here and play (in the playoffs) or - I think today it was 17 degrees up there - do you want to go up there and play?'' he said. ''I'm from Alabama. If that's not enough motivation I don't know what is.''
A victory for the Cardinals (12-2) over the Packers (10-4) would clinch at least the No. 2 seed in the NFC and the first-round bye that comes with it. An Arizona loss and the Packers would be one game behind the Cardinals with one to play. If Arizona loses its regular-season finale at home to Seattle, then Green Bay beats Minnesota, suddenly the Packers would have that coveted bye.
A win over Green Bay and the Cardinals would play every possible NFC playoff game in Arizona, except if it's against Carolina. Even that could change in the improbable event Carolina (14-0) loses its final two regular-season games, at Atlanta and at home against Tampa Bay.
''Each game at this time of the year, the games mean a little bit more. They get a little bit bigger,'' Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer said. ''What we did last Sunday night, locking up the (NFC West) division, it's on to the next one and this game. There are even more implications on this one.''
The importance of the game goes beyond what tangibly is at stake.
''Not only does this have big playoff implications, but at the same time, you know, it kind of shows what you're made of this point in the season,'' Green Bay linebacker Clay Matthews said. ''Hopefully, it's a victory and some good (ball) we'll play. But this is a game that obviously we'll want to ... set the tone for hopefully this final part of the season and playoffs.
''Yeah, it's a big game.''
The Cardinals are on an eight-game winning streak and have won 12 games in a season for the first time in the franchise's long history.
The Packers have moved back into control of the NFC North and have won three straight. The string of wins began when Aaron Rodgers heaved a last-gasp touchdown pass to Richard Rodgers to pull out a win against the Lions.
''From a literal sense, it just won the game for us,'' Aaron Rodgers said of that day. ''From a big sense, it took out some of the desperation that would've crept in had we fallen to 7-5. I think the urgency picked up after that, knowing that everything is right in front of us and we need to go and really seize the opportunity.''
Here are some things to watch when the Packers face the Cardinals:
AFTER MATHIEU: For the first time this season, the Cardinals won't nave their diminutive, energetic leader safety Tyrann Mathieu, who tore an ACL in last Sunday night's win at Philadelphia.
The Cardinals have depth in the secondary, and they've added more by re-signing safety Chris Clemons. There will be bodies to fill the vacancy.
The intangibles will be a lot harder to replace.
''You miss the passion and the energy,'' Arizona coach Bruce Arians said, ''but football-wise, we've got enough capable hands of replacing him.''
TURNOVER DROUGHT: The Cardinals have gone four straight games without committing a turnover while forcing 10.
''Carson's been very, very good with it, and honestly, they've dropped a couple interceptions,'' Arians said. ''That's part of it. Our backs and receivers have had good ball security, and the balls haven't gotten tipped and went the wrong way.''
The Packers may fumble the ball away from time to time, but interceptions are rare. Rodgers has thrown six all season.
RUNNING IT: Cardinals rookie running back David Johnson is coming off a remarkable game. Against Philadelphia, he rushed for 187 yards and scored three touchdowns. Only one other player topped 180 yards on the ground and ran for three scores: Jim Brown.
The Packers' Eddie Lacy has had some big days this season, too, but he's been a bit inconsistent. In the last five weeks, he's topped 100 yards against Minnesota and Chicago, gained 2 yards against Detroit and, last week at Oakland, gained 23 yards in 11 carries.
SNAP JUDGMENT: Brett Goode has been the Packers' long snapper the last 137 games. He won't be doing that on Sunday, though.
Goode went down with a season-ending knee injury last Sunday and will be replaced by walk-on rookie Rick Lovato. Just a week ago, Lovato was making subs in his father's sandwich shop.
SEA OF GREEN & GOLD: It's an Arizona home game, but expect to see a sea of Green Bay colors at University of Phoenix Stadium.
Packers fans always travel well, and Cardinals fans often sell their tickets to help recoup their costs. It's so much of a concern that the Cardinals' offense practiced hand counts because the noise expected from the ''visitors' '' faithful.
AP Sports Writer Genaro Armas contributed to this report.
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