CARDINALS // PACKERS OVERVIEW
Incredibly, the Packers — with one of the better on-paper teams in the NFL — have only two more wins right now than the absolutely hapless Arizona Cardinals, who are averaging only 232.5 yards per game and only 14.1 points per game, each of which (unsurprisingly) ranks at the bottom of the league. While the Packers are only 4-6-1, their average scoring margin is -0.3 points. The average scoring margin for the 2-9 Cardinals is an incredible -12.5. To put that number in perspective: the Raiders, Titans, and Bills all have average scoring differentials in the negative double digits…while the next worst team is the Bengals, at -6.5. Arizona ranks bottom of the league in time of possession and plays per game, and only three teams are allowing more opponent plays per game. With the Cardinals failing to sustain drives (31st in drive success rate) and constantly playing from behind, they have faced the most rush attempts in the NFL, while facing the fifth fewest pass attempts.
Everything in this game favors the home team — whose remaining schedule includes three games against doormats, a game against a disappointing Falcons team, and an important tilt against the Bears. It is not crazy for the Packers to think they still have something to play for here, and Vegas has taken notice, installing Green Bay as monster 14.5 point favorites.
CARDINALS PASS OFFENSE
Between the Packers inviting teams to run on them and limiting opponent catch rate, they have allowed the seventh fewest completions in the NFL this year — a poor setup for offensive production from a Cardinals team that has the second fewest completions in the NFL. Josh Rosen has the third lowest completion percentage and the lowest expected completion percentage in the league, with almost nothing going right for him in his rookie year. This Cardinals team is, incredibly, averaging only 155 passing yards per game.
Larry Fitzgerald has topped 50 receiving yards only once with Rosen at the helm. The biggest issue for Fitz this year has been the Cardinals’ inability to hold onto the ball for sustained periods (31st in drive success rate // 32nd in time of possession // 32nd in plays per game). Fitz has also been hurt by the Cardinals’ recent insistence on avoiding the pass even when trailing. Last week in a 45-10 blowout loss, Rosen threw the ball only 19 times in 47 plays. Fitz has five touchdowns across his last five games, but he has six total targets across the last two weeks, and “the Packers taking a big lead” would not guarantee a pass-heavy game from the Cardinals, as they are more worried about developing Rosen than in winning games. A bet on Fitz is a bet on the Cardinals opening the offense back up this week against a defense that can be beat over the middle, where Fitz works most of his routes.
Green Bay has been tougher on the perimeter, where Christian Kirk typically works, though it is worth noting that Kirk — another piece of this “develop for the future” equation — has seen exactly six or seven targets in five of his last six games, topping 40 yards five times in this stretch and scoring a couple touchdowns. He and Rosen have connected on only 15 of 29 targets (51.7%) across their last five games, but the work has been consistent.
This passing attack rounds out with Ricky Seals-Jones, who has connected on only 50% of his targets on the season, with only one game this year north of 52 receiving yards. RSJ has gone for 12 or fewer yards in four of his last five games. Green Bay ranks top 10 in fewest receptions allowed to tight ends, and they have allowed only one tight end touchdown on the year.
CARDINALS RUN OFFENSE
The Packers have defined the league-average in yards allowed per carry, but with their pass-leaning focus in defensive scheme/personnel, they have faced the seventh most carries in the NFL this year, and they have faced the eighth highest opponent rush play rate. Unfortunately, the “multiple” skill set that makes David Johnson so tremendously valuable is also being dented by the low passing volume on this offense, with four or fewer targets in four of his last five games. When DJ is confined to the 2-20 // 3-30 range through the air, it is difficult for him to post elite stat lines, as he is running behind an offensive line that ranks 24th in adjusted line yards, and he is averaging only 3.7 yards per carry. He has topped 63 rushing yards only two times this season. The best bet on DJ is on his red zone role, where he has 12 carries inside the 10 (13th most in the league) and seven carries inside the five (also 13th most in the league).
PACKERS PASS OFFENSE
The Cardinals’ pass defense is attackable in the same way that the Colts’ pass defense is attackable, as this unit is tied with the Colts for the lowest opponent aDOT in the NFL (this team has shaved an incredible 21% off the league-average aDOT), but they allow a 5.3% boost on the league-average catch rate, and they have been below-average after the catch, leading to them ranking middle of the pack in yards allowed per pass attempt. This is a perfectly fine setup for a Packers passing attack that primarily focuses on attacking the short areas of the field.
With superstar corner Patrick Peterson almost never trailing number one receivers this season, look for the Packers to move around Davante Adams to take advantage of what is ultimately an above-average matchup against any other corner. Since the Packers got healthier at wide receiver, Adams has seen target counts of 7 // 9 // 7 // 12 // 8, and he has topped 70 receiving yards only two times in this stretch. His biggest boost in value comes from his monstrous red zone role (first in the NFL in red zone targets with 23; first in the NFL in red zone touchdowns with nine), but he does have the ability in this offense to pop for a big yardage game as well. Bet on the touchdowns from Adams and view a big yardage game as a bonus — in a matchup the Packers should largely control.
Behind Adams, the Packers’ passing attack has been a bit of an unpredictable mess, with Aaron Rodgers failing to top even 200 passing yards in two of his last three games (and failing to crack 300 yards in four of his last five), and with only two games all season of more than two touchdown passes. The Packers have lost four of their last five, and Rodgers has somehow managed to top 30 pass attempts only once in this stretch. The likeliest scenario here has Green Bay controlling this game, with Rodgers pushing for only 32 to 35 pass attempts as a result; but another way to approach this would be to assume the Packers control this game and decide to get Rodgers and this passing attack heated up by throwing the ball deep into the game — which would likely lead to double-digit targets for Adams, and to a rise in reliable work for all other pass catchers on this team. Considering that McCarthy is the coach of this team, this should not be considered a safe bet, but it’s an interesting bet to consider in tourneys. One data point in favor of this approach: the Packers have topped 57 plays only once in their last five games (which, of course, became the only game in which Rodgers’ volume rose). The Cardinals are allowing 67.5 plays per game — the fourth most in the league. All bets are off in usage behind Adams after the Packers moved Equanimeous St. Brown into the slot on 24 of his 36 snaps last week, allowing him to see the targets that had previously been going to Marquez Valdes-Scantling (17 slot snaps last week; 27 outside).
If Randall Cobb returns this week, he will soak up his typical “handful of low-upside targets from the slot,” requiring a broken play in order to provide strong value. In that instance, MVS would likely play the most snaps, and would bump to the outside where he would see plenty of Peterson — becoming a “bet on splash play” option. If Cobb sits again, it will be MVS and St. Brown on the field together, though it’s anyone’s guess as to how these two will be deployed.
Jimmy Graham played with support on his broken thumb last week and turned four targets into two catches for 34 scoreless yards. Only six teams have given up fewer receptions to the tight end position than Arizona, giving him a difficult path to upside.
PACKERS RUN OFFENSE
The Cardinals’ run defense has defined the league average this year, ranking 20th in yards allowed per carry and allowing an increase on the league-average YPC of only 1.7%; but with this team unable to hold onto the ball and unable to play with a lead, they have faced the most rush attempts in the NFL, which has led to them allowing the third most yards on the ground, while giving up 16 total touchdowns to running backs — the third most in the league.
This is an interesting setup for Aaron Jones, to whom the Packers have awarded more than 17 carries only once in his 21-game career (while never once giving him 20 carries). Similar to what we had when other “coach-limited volume” backs faced this team (Kareem Hunt // Melvin Gordon), this should be viewed as only a slightly above-average matchup from a yardage perspective, and the Mike McCarthy dunderhead experience will likely prevent Jones from taking advantage of the big bonus this matchup provides: a big spike in volume. We should go in expecting around 17 to 18 carries and another five or six targets. The elevated touchdown upside is a nice bonus for a player who has converted five of his 16 red zone carries into touchdowns already.
When the Cardinals have the ball in this game, there is risk that they will lean on the run even when trailing after so vehemently taking this approach in Week 12 — putting all of the upside pieces on this offense at low-volume risk. Even with a higher-volume passing attack, DJ would be off the board for me at his price (the only week we really had much interest in DJ in this space since Week 1 was the game against the Chiefs that just set up so well for him), though one thing I would not mind in large-field tourneys is a bet on Fitz in the hopes that the Cardinals do dial up 30+ pass attempts (which would likely pull Fitz up to the six to eight target range — giving him a couple opportunities for a big play or a touchdown). Outside of this large-field dart throw, I would not be drawn toward anything on this offense, which continues to rank among the bottom three in the NFL in nearly every category.
On the Packers’ side of the ball, I like both Jones and Adams as “bet on touchdowns and hope for a spike in volume” plays. It’s not crazy to think that the Packers run more plays this week than they have over the last month-plus; and if they do, it’s not crazy to think that either A) Rodgers throws more, giving Adams a chance to rise back to double-digit looks, or B) McCarthy finally unleashes Jones and allows him to go for 22+ carries. The latter is the less likely scenario, but both guys are respectable plays for the price, and there is potential for game flow to provide an upside boost.