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Thursday Five: Packers At Cardinals

A look at the top storylines for Saturday's playoff game

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A glance at the top storylines for the Cardinals-Packers Divisional playoff game Saturday at University of Phoenix Stadium:

**Rodgers seeing shadows

No, the Cardinals probably won't get nine sacks again. But their defensive performance the first time these two teams played was as much about what Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was worried about as it was actual takedowns. Rodgers looked much more comfortable last week against Washington, and that will happen when the better offensive linemen get healthy. But if the Cards can get the kind of pressure that makes Rodgers think, that can change the dynamic of the game.

A half becomes a whole

Offensively, the Cardinals didn't have many gaudy individual stats the first time around. But a lot of that had to do how the game played out – two defensive touchdowns and a quick score early in the third quarter meant that guys like quarterback Carson Palmer and running back David Johnson didn't play a whole lot in the third quarter and not in the fourth. This time, the Cards will have their main cogs playing longer – and it should make an impact.

This isn't your Santa's Packers

Was it a Christmas hangover for the Packers the first time around? Was it just the tail end of their offensive hiccups? Or was the eventual smacking of Washington in the Wild Card round a mirage? It's hard to think the latter, especially with Rodgers behind center. The Cardinals have stressed this week how they don't believe these Packers are the Pack they played less than a month ago. It's the right attitude to have.

Next man up

A bye week should not suddenly force a team into the "next man up" mentality. The Cards were set up nicely health-wise – and then starting linebacker Alex Okafor returned from the bye weekend with a mysterious season-ending toe injury. Now the Cards must regroup. They know how to play without Okafor. They did it for three games earlier this season after Okafor hurt his calf, and that was when rookie Markus Golden was just finding his place. It's not ideal. But the Cardinals – who can also use DT Josh Mauro on the edge on run-down situations – should be able to make it work.

Realize the stakes

No longer do 13 wins matter for the Cardinals, or whatever issues the Packers had during the regular season. Injuries matter, but they don't -- every team is missing someone or has someone ailing or not 100 percent. If the Cardinals don't win, their season is over. If they do, they have a chance to play for the NFC Championship and a Super Bowl berth. Maybe that game would be in Arizona, maybe it wouldn't. But that opportunity, regardless where it is, is rare. That's all the motivation one should need. 

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