The Packers and Cardinals approached the game so differently that it is hard to know what to make of it. By game time, the Cardinals knew that they could not get a bye week (because the Vikings had won), and so they evidently decided to treat this as an exhibition game. They started pulling starters in the second set of series of the game. The Packers, on the other hand, played almost all of their starters until well into the 3rd quarter. So I guess both teams have their own talking points about the results. The Packers know that they dominated the Cardinals, from the first possession of the game. When they add this to the fact that the Packers' starters dominated the Cardinals' starters in the preseason, and the fact that the Packers are one of the hottest teams in the league, having gone 7-1 in the second half of the season, the Packers have ample reason for confidence that they can beat the Cardinals again next week.
The Cardinals, on the other hand, can say "well, we weren't trying to win the game, we were just trying to get our people rested up and ready for next week." Fine. It is not a crazy strategy. But I have a hard time believing that the Cardinals are not doubting themselves a bit today. If we recognize that there is a strong mental element to the game of football, then these things matter, and I think the Packers had the far better strategy in Week 17.
Regardless of what happens in the playoffs, the turnaround the Packers had in the second half of the season was sensational. Lots of fans and writers (including me) were ready to ship out the whole coaching staff and some of the players after the Packers lost to the Buccaneers. But those same coaches and players deserve an enormous amount of credit for the improvements we have seen. It seems clear now that the Packers' defense was just not fully adjusted to the new 3-4 alignment, and that the more comfortable they have become, the better they are playing. And they are playing better despite the losses of Aaron Kampman and Al Harris for the season.
On offense, Ryan Grant has gotten stronger as the year progressed, and so has Jermichael Finley. Aaron Rodgers has been solid all year, except for his share of the blame for all of the sacks early in the year, and as the offensive line improved, and he started getting rid of the ball faster, he became one of the top quarterbacks in the league. Interestingly enough, though, as the Packergeeks note in their blog, as good as Rodgers is, it is not even clear that he is the team's MVP, given the play of Charles Woodson. The talking heads on the NFL Network after the game were agreed that Woodson probably secured the league's defensive MVP award with this game.
I have seen a few comments around the web today about how odd it is that the Cardinals had the roof closed on their stadium on such a beautiful day today. I even saw speculation somewhere (can't find it right now) that maybe the Cardinals are faking out the Packers by closing the dome today, thinking that they will leave it open next week. I can just about assure you that it will be closed next week, too.
My wife and I were in Phoenix a couple of weeks ago. Before arriving, somebody mentioned in passing that they slide the field out of the stadium on a tray between games. I had never heard of such a thing, and it sounded doubtful to me. So we looked it up online, and it is true. More on that in a minute.
We also learned that they have stadium tours, so we took the tour. Here are a couple of pictures showing the field resting outside the stadium (in the rain that day) and showing the inside of the stadium without the field in place (the field slides out in the gap under the words RED ZONE at the far end of the picture).
During the tour, the guide was asked when the stadium roof is open for games. We also had dinner with some cousins of mine, formerly from Milwaukee, who go to lots of Cardinals games. Both the tour guide and my cousins explained that the roof is always closed (or nearly always closed) during Cardinals games (as opposed to other events). Apparently Kurt Warner likes the roof closed, so that there is no wind. And so the Cardinals always have the roof closed. [Ed. Note: cousin Beth, while unfortunately outing herself as a Cardinals fan, reminds me that increasing the crowd noise is also a factor favoring the Cardinals keeping the dome closed next week and every week.]
Obviously, I would expect a much closer game next time. I assume that the Cardinals will be favored by a few points, unless the oddsmakers were so impressed with the Week 17 beat down that they make the Packers the favorites. (In fact, I would think that all four home teams will be favored.) But I think that the Packers are the more complete team of the two. The Packers have scored more points (461 vs. 375), have given up fewer points (297 vs. 325), they have a better overall record (11-5 vs. 10-6) and they had a better second half (7-1 vs. 5-3). I like the Packers' chances.