In six of the eight possible outcomes involving the key games on Sunday, the Packers would face a return date at Arizona. The other possibilities are at Dallas and at Minnesota.
But what is the Packers' best playoff scenario?
Tale of the tape: Cardinals
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Signature win: On "Monday Night Football" last month, the Cardinals blitzed and badgered Brett Favre for three sacks and two interceptions in a 30-17 win over Minnesota.
Head-scratching loss: Losses, actually, as the Cardinals were swept by the 49ers.
By the numbers: The Cardinals are only 4-3 at home.
The Packers advance because: They can get after Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner, which will help combat some of the problems outlined below. He's been sacked 24 times — less than half of Aaron Rodgers' 50 — so he's not easy to get to. But he's not as big and athletic as Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger, so if they can get to him, he'll go down. The sack total isn't all that many, but he has been sacked eight times in the last three games and they've got a journeyman filling in at left tackle. With 14 interceptions, Warner ranks 19th in interception percentage (2.8), so the Packers' ballhawking secondary will have chances to make plays.
The Packers are eliminated because: A defense that couldn't handle Pittsburgh's Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes and Mike Wallace has no chance against Larry Fitzgerald (94 catches), Anquan Boldin (81), Steve Breaston (52) — and Tim Hightower (61) and Early Doucet and Jerheme Urban. Just too, too many weapons for one of the game's smartest quarterbacks. The Packers' No. 1-ranked run defense won't matter because the Cardinals won't bother running it.
Tale of the tape: Cowboys
Tony Romo and Co.
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Signature win: With the vultures circling and a history of December failure, the Cowboys saved their season by winning at New Orleans 24-17.
Head-scratching loss: The Cowboys were swept by the division rival Giants. They allowed 33 and 31 points in those games. The Giants (8-7), however, were the "worst" team to beat Dallas. The others: San Diego (12-3), Denver (8-7 but red-hot start) and Green Bay.
By the numbers: Tony Romo keeps getting better. He threw 19 interceptions in 2007, 14 in 2008 and has only eight this season.
The Packers advance because: Their defensive game plan left the Cowboys befuddled during their midseason matchup. Green Bay's superb run defense took away Marion Barber, and Romo was unable to find tight end Jason Witten and big-play receiver Miles Austin. Plus, for as troubled as the Packers' kicking game is, the Cowboys just replaced their kicker with Shaun Suisham, who blew a 23-yarder while with Washington that would have beaten the Saints.
The Packers are eliminated because: That victory was accomplished at home and with Al Harris. Maybe Charles Woodson can duplicate his performance against Witten, whose 88 receptions ranks second among tight ends, but can Tramon Williams and Jarrett Bush hold up against Austin (1,230 yards rank fifth, 11 touchdowns rank fourth and league-high 14 receptions of 25-plus yards) and disappointing Roy Williams?
Tale of the tape: Vikings
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Signature win: Wins, actually, with a season sweep against the rival Packers in which they scored 68 points. Brett Favre threw for 515 yards with seven touchdowns and no interceptions in those games. He has owned Dom Capers in his career.
Head-scratching loss: Twice, the Vikings had chances to possibly claim homefield advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. Instead, they enter this weekend coming off back-to-back losses to Carolina and Chicago in which the Vikings allowed 62 points to a couple of ho-hum attacks.
By the numbers: Much has been written about Favre's late-season swoon over the past six years. How about this year? Through 11 games, he had 24 touchdowns and three interceptions. In his last four games, he has five touchdowns and six interceptions.
The Packers advance because: These teams are heading in opposite directions. The Packers are 6-1 in their last seven games while the Vikings have lost three of their last four. The offense has solved its pass protection problems and left tackle Chad Clifton, who missed both of the regular-season games, is healthy to combat Jared Allen. Of Allen's 13.5 sacks, 7.5 came against Green Bay. The Vikings have allowed 102 points in their last four games while the Packers' offense is humming.
The Packers are eliminated because: Whatever internal problems the Vikings are battling very well could be solved by getting a crack at their bitter rivals. The Packers didn't have any answers against Favre in the first two games, so what makes anyone think they'd solve the ol' gunslinger in Round 3?
Let's start with turnovers. The Packers are a league-best plus-22 in turnover margin and have a league-low 15 giveaways. Minnesota is plus-4 (22 takeaways, 18 giveaways), Dallas is plus-2 (20 takeaways, 18 giveaways) and Arizona is minus-5 (28 takeaways, 33 giveaways). Next, let's go to third downs. The Cardinals rank 22nd in turning third downs into first downs, compared to fifth for Minnesota and 14th for Dallas. Arizona's third-down defense is great (fourth), but so are the others (Minnesota is sixth, Green Bay is seventh, Dallas is eighth).
Green Bay is averaging 28.2 points per game against 3-4 defenses (Arizona and Dallas). While the Cardinals are a matchup nightmare with Fitzgerald, Boldin, et al, their 33 giveaways is exactly one more per game than Dallas and Minnesota, and only Chicago and Detroit have more in the NFL.
A rematch against Brett Favre would be entertaining. Another shot against a Minnesota pass defense that has allowed 26 touchdowns, intercepted 10 passes and yielded a passer rating of 93.7 is intriguing, but the NFL still boils down to turnovers. The Packers have 37 takeaways. The Cardinals have 33 giveaways. That's the best route to the divisional round of the playoffs.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.