Cardinals clinch playoff bye with rout of Packers


The Arizona Cardinals have played like the best team in the NFL all season long. On Sunday, the Green Bay Packers learned it the hard way in a 38-8 loss. The Cardinals clinched a playoff bye with the win. Here's what we learned: 

1. How bad was this game for Green Bay? Aaron Rodgers left the game with 9:56 remaining and it felt like Packers coach Mike McCarthy left him in for too long. Arizona's pass rush was savage all game, hitting Rodgers 14 times, knocking him down another eight and sacking him eight times. All that came despite only 28 pass attempts. Arizona has dialed up blitzes well all year, but now Dwight Freeney (3 sacks), Calais Campbell (2.5 sacks) and Markus Golden are getting pressure more often lately without any help.

2. The Cardinals clinched a playoff bye with the victory, but they could have plenty to play for in Week 17. The No. 1 overall seed in the NFC remains up for grabs following Carolina's loss to Atlanta. The NFL moved Panthers-Bucs next week to 4:25 p.m. ET so that both Carolina and Arizona "play to win." The Cardinals have a tough finale at home against the Seahawks.

3. The Packers haven't been a particularly good team for nine games running. That's a concern to put it mildly. If the Packers wanted to take any solace in this loss, look to the 2008 Cardinals. They lost 47-7 in Week 16 to the Matt Cassel-led Patriots, and then wound up winning the NFC anyway, and nearly the Super Bowl. With Aaron Rodgers and some defensive talent, anything is possible. But Green Bay does not have an effective passing game and they can't stop the run. That's a rough combination to overcome, and they now need to beat Minnesota next week to win the NFC North.

4. David Johnson has been a clear upgrade as the starting running back for the Cardinals. He topped 100 yards from scrimmage for the fourth straight game, the first Cardinals player since Anquan Boldin in 2005 to do so. Johnson's receiving ability (88 yards) and goal-line skills make him a unique NFL starter. He has all the tools and has the complete skill set to be a top-10 running back for a long time.

5. As if the Cardinals didn't have enough weapons, the healthy return of Andre Ellington added some juice to the backfield. He looked quick with seven carries for 40 yards.

6. The Packers lost defensive lineman B.J. Raji (concussion) and right tackle Bryan Bulaga (ankle) to injury. This is a team you can push around up front too often, especially if those two guys can't get back on the field.

7. Michael Floyd topped 100 yards for the fifth time in the last seven games. He might be Carson Palmer's favorite target now, and Floyd has responded by making tough grabs deep. He's better than you think after the catch.

8. Another insane Cardinals stat: They have more touchdowns this season than punts.

Need more proof the Cardinals are the best team in the league? The Cardinals have outscored opponents by 206 points this season. Only 10 teams have finished the season with a better point differential. Seven of those 10 have made the Super Bowl, and four have won it.