Amberly: Ken Whisenhunt faces the decision whether to rest his veteran quarterback and other star players or to fight for a higher seed, which is a decision that directly impacts Green Bay. What's the best case-scenario for the Packers? Who would be their ideal matchup in the wild card round: Arizona, Minnesota or Dallas?
Bill: I've thought long and hard about this one over the last couple of days. The Vikings are struggling and filled with drama but beat the Packers twice, and maybe Round 3 would be just what it would take to get the Vikings refocused. The Packers beat Dallas at midseason, but the Cowboys are playing better now. The Cardinals have some vulnerabilities that I think the Packers can exploit, but those three receivers seem like a bad matchup for a defense that allowed 503 passing yards at Pittsburgh a couple weeks ago.
I guess I'd have to say the best matchup is a rematch against Arizona. The Cardinals run a 3-4 defense, and the Packers have torn apart that scheme this season. And because the Cardinals don't run the ball very effectively, that makes it likely that the Packers can make the Cardinals' attack one-dimensional. That one dimension is terrific, but if you know they're going to throw it, at least you've got a chance to make a play. Plus, Kurt Warner is a brilliant passer but at least is easier to take down than Brett Favre or Tony Romo if you can get to him.
Amberly: With the possibility of backups seeing more playing time on Sunday, who are a few players that could be difference makers on Green Bay's roster? As for starters, who are some relatively unknown Packers players who have made a big-time impact this year?
Bill: If anyone gets a break, it would be the veterans and some of the guys with some aches and pains: nose tackle Ryan Pickett, cornerback Charles Woodson, left tackle Chad Clifton and right tackle Mark Tauscher come to mind.
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I'd guess Aaron Rodgers would be replaced at some point. Backup Matt Flynn made a few plays when Rodgers was given the fourth quarter off against Seattle. He doesn't have a big arm and he's not a big guy, but the second-year pro has got some mobility and plenty of savvy.
As for the "unknown" players, seventh-round pick Brad Jones has been terrific in replacing the injured Aaron Kampman at left outside linebacker. Safety Atari Bigby is becoming a hard-hitting, playmaking force like he was late in 2007. Ryan Grant is the NFL's most unappreciated 1,200-yard rusher, and his backup, Brandon Jackson, scored three touchdowns last week. And I don't know if Jermichael Finley is an "unknown" anymore, but if there are five better tight ends in the NFL, someone needs to tell me about them.
Amberly: If there's a Cardinals-Packers rematch in the playoffs, it will be difficult for either team to beat the other twice. What's the biggest area of concern for the Packers heading into a possible back-to-back matchup with the reigning NFC champs? What won't they be worried about?
Bill: You know, I think too much is made of this in some regards. There's likely very, very little that the Cardinals can't figure out about the Packers from watching the previous 15 games, and vice-versa. Plus, both coaches have said they have enough of a game plan that they could play two games without showing the same stuff.
Maybe Green Bay is in better position here. Depending on how things shake out with the early games, the Cardinals could be in position to play for the No. 2 seed and might have to play to win. The Packers, whether they're the fifth seed or the sixth seed, are going to be playing on the road next week. So, I'd say this is potentially more of an issue for the Cardinals.
The one thing to watch is what the Packers try to do with the Cardinals' three receivers. In light of that Pittsburgh game from two weeks ago, how on earth can the Packers stop Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston? Veteran Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers has been around the block, so to speak. Will he play it vanilla on Sunday or will he experiment with some things to possibly use in a rematch?
Amberly: One obvious issue that the Packers have faced this season is their ability to protect Aaron Rodgers. Green Bay leads the league in sacks allowed (50). What are the reasons behind such a high count? And will we see a change heading into Sunday's game and the playoffs?
Aaron Rodgers runs out of the pocket.
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With Clifton healthy, Tauscher re-signed (he tore his ACL in December 2008) and playing relatively well in place of Barbre and the offense using a few more quick-hit passes, Rodgers has been sacked nine times in the last six games. In games against Pittsburgh and Baltimore — both of which blitz frequently out of their 3-4 schemes — he was sacked once in each game. While pass protection still isn't a strong suit, at least Rodgers' head isn't spinning in circles to see where he's about to get crunched.
Amberly: The Packers enter Sunday's game as the top-rated run defense in the NFL. On the flip side, Arizona carried the dead-last rushing offense title for quite sometime but are making baby steps up the chart. What has made this Packers carry such weight against the run? And what should Beanie Wells and Tim Hightower expect on Sunday?
Bill: I did my main piece on this on Tuesday. Really, run defense is about attitude. Everybody likes to rush the passer, but playing the run is about toughness and desire. And the defensive line of Pickett at nose tackle, Cullen Jenkins and Johnny Jolly at ends and Raji as the backup have plenty of desire. After Sunday's game, I asked Raji about his individual performance, and all he wanted to talk about was the defense moving up to No. 1 against the run. What's impressive about that is somebody had to take the time to check the rankings to see how Pittsburgh (which was ranked No. 1) had done against Baltimore. That shows that this group cares.
What's also impressive is that the Packers are starting two rookies at outside linebacker with Jones and the superb Clay Matthews III. They just haven't made the type of mental errors that result in the running back getting around them and breaking off a long run down the sideline.
The Packers ranked 26th against the run last year. When Capers was hired as coordinator, the priority was put on stopping the run. After all, you can't blitz the quarterback if you're facing second-and-5 or third-and-2 the whole game. Mission accomplished.