Author: Anthony Winker
Much has changed since the last time the Green Bay Packers visited Arizona. For one, the stadium name changed. What was once the University of Phoenix Stadium is now State Farm Stadium. The head coaches have also changed for both squads. Kliff Kingsbury is in for the Arizona Cardinals, with then-head coach Bruce Arians now in Tampa Bay, and Matt LaFleur is in for the Packers, replacing Mike McCarthy, now in Dallas. The Cardinals entered and exited a rebuild. So did the Packers to some extent. However, the situation surrounding the game is eerily similar, for the Packers in particular.
The 2016 Season
The last time these two teams met in Glendale was on January 16, 2016. Some may remember that as the Jeff Janis game where Aaron Rodgers threw a 60-yard pass from his own end zone to Janis and then a hail mary to him as well to send the game into overtime. Others may remember it for Larry Fitzgerald running free in the secondary, a 75-yard romp that set up his winning touchdown just one play later. Regardless, that was a 26-20 overtime victory for Arizona that sent the Cardinals to the NFC Championship Game, where they would lose to MVP Cam Newton and the 15-1 Carolina Panthers.
As for Packers fans, they remember this entire season, for most of the wrong reasons. This was the season Jordy Nelson got injured in the preseason and missed the entire year with a torn ACL. As a result, the Packers entered that year with a top three of Davante Adams (in just his second season in the league), Randall Cobb, and former UW star Jared Abbredaris. It was the season they needed a hail mary in Detroit to sneak past the Lions on Thursday Night Football and essentially save their season. It was the season they lost their iron-clad grip on the NFC North to their neighbors to the west, but still snuck into the postseason (and then made it farther than them anyways).
In that postseason, the Packers beat the then-Washington Redskins 35-18 in the Wild Card round but paid a price for doing so. They lost Davante Adams in that game, who although struggling, was still the Packers’ best receiver. Then once the game began against Arizona the following week, Randall Cobb went down with an injury early on and wouldn’t return. So then, the Packers’ top three WR’s were Jeff Janis, Jared Abbredaris, and James Jones.
Hoping For The Best
Fast forward to this season, the Packers are slated to head to Arizona for a Thursday night game that was supposed to be a marquee matchup between top teams in the NFC. The records still say so, with the Cardinals entering an undefeated 7-0 and the Packers at 6-1, with the one blemish on their record coming in week one courtesy of the game we don’t ever talk about. However, recent developments have perhaps dampened the hype just a bit.
Davante Adams, well past his early career struggles and now arguably the best receiver in the entire NFL, has hit the COVID list and likely won’t play. Allen Lazard, the Packers’ current number two, has joined him as well. That is over 70% of the receptions by Packers wide receivers currently on the list. So, just like in 2016, the Packers enter this matchup without their top two wideouts. That’s not even to mention Marquez Valdes-Scantling, the Packers number three and resident deep threat, who is still on IR and not a surefire bet to play on Thursday either. He could satisfy the role of Randall Cobb in this situation and then the Packers would be without their top three wide receivers. Not including MVS, this leaves the Packers top three as Randall Cobb, who came and went since that game, Equanimeous St. Brown, who started this season on the practice squad, and Amari Rodgers, a rookie third-round pick from this season.
Even with all that going on, in that 2016 matchup, the Packers were able to be competitive in a game they were clearly outmatched in. Why? They possessed the great equalizer in the golden right arm of Aaron Rodgers. That enabled Jeff Janis to have the game of his career, to the tune of seven catches for 145 yards and the brilliant hail mary touchdown catch. The good news for the Packers is that they still have that equalizer, and he’s playing as well as ever this season.
In order to remain competitive in this season’s matchup, someone from that top three, perhaps adding in likely practice squad call-up and training camp standout Juwann Winfree, will have to step up and be the Jeff Janis of the game for the Packers. Who will it be? If the answer is no one, it might be a long game for the green and gold, reminiscent of the 38-8 shellacking the Packers received earlier in that 2015 season at the hands of the Cardinals. If the answer is one, or maybe even more than one, don’t be surprised if the Packers not only stay competitive but win this game as well.