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Cardinals Can Say Hi To Bye Against Packers

Clinching a top-two seed would be big boost to team's postseason chances


Cardinals linebacker Markus Golden strip-sacks Eagles quarterback Sam Bradford in last week's win.

The Cardinals clinched the NFC West with a 40-17 win over the Eagles on Sunday night, and in the postgame locker room they were given hats and T-shirts to commemorate the accomplishment.

The attire is perfect for a lazy weekend around the house, but those are hard to find for NFL players during the season. Luckily for the Cardinals, they can carve out that opportunity – and set themselves up well in the postseason -- with a win over the Packers on Sunday.

The Cardinals (12-2) lead Green Bay by two games with two remaining and can do no worse than the No. 2 seed in the NFC with a victory. It would be the first playoff bye in the team's history and would result in a huge spike in their Super Bowl chances.

A loss would pull the Packers (10-4) to within a game heading into the final regular season week and give them the tiebreaker, which would make for plenty of hand-wringing heading into a potential Week 17 showdown with the Seahawks.

"It's a huge setup for a first-round bye," safety Rashad Johnson said. "Two wins to get into a Super Bowl than three, and I'd rather go two instead of three. For us, we want to get a home field game. We know how great our crowd is and how well we play at home. But at the end of the day, none of that matters if we don't take care of Sunday."

The Cardinals showed their dominance on both sides of the ball against the Eagles and would have been in a jovial mood on the plane ride back, if not for a disastrous injury late. Pro Bowl safety Tyrann Mathieu tore his ACL in the waning minutes while turning to run after picking off a pass and will miss the rest of the season.

Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers is having a down year by his lofty standards but is still among the most talented passers in the game. The absence of Mathieu will be one of the biggest storylines as this game plays out.

Safety Tony Jefferson will take his spot in the starting lineup in base formations, while cornerback Justin Bethel should see an increase in snaps as the fifth defensive back in sub-packages. While the Cardinals are deep in the secondary, replacing Mathieu's innate play-making ability will be impossible.

"In my opinion he was the defensive player of the year," cornerback Patrick Peterson said. "He was playing that type of football each and every week, especially on the biggest stages and when we needed him. Losing him is not going to be tough to replace, because we can't replace him. You can't replace Tyrann Mathieu."

The Cardinals received injury scares to quarterback Carson Palmer (finger) and running back David Johnson (knee) against Philadelphia, but both escaped any serious harm. If the offense has to take on more of the load in the wake of Mathieu's injury, it's well-equipped to do so.

The Cardinals are already first in the NFL in total offense (422.9 yards per game) and second in scoring (31.8 points per game) and have gone four straight games without a turnover. Additionally, the offense is as healthy as it's been this season as running back Andre Ellington (toe) is expected back in the fold against Green Bay.

Many teams would have been over-the-moon about a division title, but the Cardinals' celebration last week was muted. Some of that came from the uncertainty surrounding Mathieu's injury, although most came from the lead of coach Bruce Arians. He's won myriad division titles throughout his coaching career and considers it a nice accomplishment, but only because it sets a team up well for a postseason run.

The Cardinals can be in even better shape with another win on Sunday against the Packers.

"We have an opportunity to win 13 games in a season," wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. "That's unheard of. We have the ability to be able to do that this week at home, and we have a chance to be able to secure a first-round bye and a home game. What more motivation do you need?"

Images of key players from this week's opponent, the Green Bay Packers

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