Game Scout: Packers (10-5) @ Cardinals (10-5)

The Arizona Cardinals host the Green Bay Packers in both team's season finale. While both teams have their playoff spots in lock-down, the teams might face one another the very next week, which puts this game in the spotlight. Will the Cardinals show their full-hand? Who will start for Arizona?


KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:15 p.m. ET
GAMEDATE: 1/03/10
TV: FOX (Sam Rosen, Tim Ryan)

PREDICTION: Cardinals 24-17

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Cardinals' gameplan could be determined by the Vikings' result earlier in the day. If Arizona still has a chance to earn a first-round bye, QB Kurt Warner and his receivers will likely play deeper into the game. If not, both teams will have a vanilla approach with a potential rematch right back in Arizona next weekend. The Packers will be especially wary of pass protection for QB Aaron Rodgers, which should lead to a heavy workload for RBs Ryan Grant and Brandon Jackson.

FAST FACTS: Rodgers is the first quarterback in NFL history to pass for more than 4,000 yards in each of the first two years in which he started a game. ... Warner has joined Hall of Famer Fran Tarkenton as the only players in NFL history to throw at least 100 touchdown passes for two different teams.



--NT Ryan Pickett has yet to practice this week, and it's looking as if he'll be held out for the third time in the last four games because of a hamstring injury. Rookie B.J. Raji would remain the starter in Pickett's absence.

--ILB Nick Barnett went through the full practice Thursday after being sent home the previous day because of an illness. Barnett should be ready to make the start in Sunday's regular-season finale at Arizona.

Charles Woodson
(AP Photo)

--FB Korey Hall did next to nothing in practice for the second consecutive day and probably won't play Sunday. He suffered an elbow injury in the last game. The Packers are covered at the position with rookie Quinn Johnson and John Kuhn, who is expected to play after missing two games to rest a broken hand.

--S Derrick Martin is the only player on the team's injury report who has been ruled out for Sunday. The special-teams ace is on the mend with an ankle sprain he sustained in the last game, and the team wants to try to get him ready for the start of the playoffs next week.

--K Mason Crosby's two field goals in the Sunday rout of the Seattle Seahawks came in handy, not only for restoring the team's confidence in him after he had missed a field-goal try in each of the previous four games but also for etching his name in the league record book. Crosby has 390 career points, topping the 388 by the New England Patriots' Stephen Gostkowski from 2006 to '08 for most points scored by a player in his first three seasons.


--WR Larry Fitzgerald doesn't seem to be limited by a sore knee or a badly bruised elbow. Fitzgerald is playing through the pain and needs six receptions to get to 100 this season.

--WR Anquan Boldin needs 14 yards to reach 1,000 yards receiving for the fifth time in his seven NFL seasons.

--FS Antrel Rolle has a badly bruised right thigh and might miss his first game since his rookie season in 2005. Rookie Rashad Johnson could get the first start of his career.

--TE Ben Patrick has been cleared to play after missing a week because of a concussion.

--WR Sean Morey, a key special teams player, has been cleared to play after missing a game because of a concussion.



The Packers might have good reason to keep their offensive starters in as long as possible for their essentially meaningless game to end the regular season Sunday at Arizona.

The highly productive, rarely mistake-laden starting unit hasn't been bad enough to commit four turnovers in a game. As long as the Packers stick to the frugal script for a 16th time this season, they'll transition to the playoffs next week with a franchise record in hand.

Green Bay has only 15 giveaways, giving it some cushion to better the 1972 team's 19 turnovers for fewest in a season. "Our offense has done a very good job taking care of the football -- really our whole football team with the turnover ratio," head coach Mike McCarthy said.

Thanks in part to 37 takeaways by the defense, the Packers lead the league with a plus-22 TO ratio.

The utter lack of generosity by the offense to its opponents is impressive. Green Bay is No. 1 in the league with the 15 giveaways and is tied for the lead in interceptions thrown (seven) with the rival Minnesota Vikings.

McCarthy credits offensive coordinator Joe Philbin and his other assistants on that side of the football for staying on the players about the importance of hanging onto the football.

"Joe does not have a presentation in the offensive meeting that doesn't refer at some point to ball security, and our players have totally bought into it," McCarthy said.

The Packers have turned the ball over three times only twice this season and had two giveaways four times. They have been mistake-free in eight games, including the last two after an uncharacteristic run of committing seven turnovers in three games.

McCarthy said quarterback Aaron Rodgers' disciplined ability to keep miscues to a minimum -- he has only seven interceptions in 515 pass attempts with 29 touchdowns -- manifests itself throughout the offense.

"It starts with Aaron," McCarthy said. "He handles the ball every play. He is very, very decisive as far as his decision-making in the passing game, and I think that is a big part of the low interceptions. Our perimeter players do a good job of holding the thing high and tight and taking care of the ball.

Aaron Rodgers
(AP Photo)

"So that will be a key statistic in the playoffs because I think you establish your style of play, you establish who you are as a football team, and what we have established so far in the first 15 games is the ability to take care of the football and take the football away."

As a frame of reference, the team-record 19 giveaways by the 1972 squad came in a 14-game season. The fewest giveaways for a Packers team in a 16-game schedule are 21, in 1995 and 2008.


The Cardinals have a more diverse offense this season now that they are able to run the efficiently. What they haven't been able to do, however, is get the ball deep to Larry Fitzgerald or any other receiver.

Running backs Tim Hightower and Beanie Wells have found room to run in the second half of the season, partly because teams are choosing to keep safeties over the top to help on Fitzgerald.

That has opened things for the run game, but the Cardinals still need to get more explosive plays out of their passing attack.

Fitzgerald is averaging 11.4 yards a reception, about 4.5 yards less than last year. His longest reception this year is 34 yards. Last season, Fitzgerald had seven receptions in the regular season that were longer than that.

In the playoffs, he had five receptions of more than 40 yards, four of them for touchdowns.

The Cardinals have compensated for the lack of the long ball by being efficient in the red zone. They have scored touchdowns on a league-leading 69.8 percent of possessions inside the opponent's 20-yard line.

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