If you believe the Green Bay Packers visiting the Arizona Cardinals Thursday night is mostly about the teams and perhaps a preview of the NFC playoffs, then Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers completely understands.
“Well, we’re playing a great football team,” Rodgers said Tuesday. “They’re 7-0, they’ve got a lot of confidence. This is a playoff-type implication game, even though it’s just Week 8. We’re aware of that. A lot of times when you’re not playing a division opponent, it comes down to tiebreakers like this.
“There’s still a lot of football and a lot that can happen throughout the season with momentum and the way teams play, but this is an important one.”
So there you have it.
Cardinals with a 7-0 record against the Packers at 6-1. (Arizona is minus 6.5 points on FanDuel.)
It’s going to be big.
But let’s dig a little deeper. Because this one is not just going to be a measure of one team against another, but also of one quarterback compared to the other.
And of one generation of quarterbacks versus another.
Aaron Rodgers versus Kyler Murray.
Let’s stipulate Rodgers is great, shall we? At 37 years old, he’s spent much of the past 17 years collecting accomplishments — a Super Bowl win and three Most Valuable Player Awards, including the one last season.
He and Tom Brady are the last two standing from a generation that included Drew Brees and Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers.
Murray is 24 years old. The third-year pro is new school. He came in with Lamar Jackson and Joe Burrow and maybe even Justin Herbert. He’s part of the young guns who are eventually going to inherit the NFL’s mantle of star quarterbacking.
So this game will also be about old versus new.
And if you don’t see that, consider that Murray grew up watching Rodgers, wanting to be a bit like Rodgers.
“He’s probably my favorite quarterback to watch – his swag, the way he plays the game, what he’s done in his career,” Murray told reporters in Arizona. “I admire his game a lot. First time playing against him, first time being able to meet him. It’s pretty cool. I’m looking forward to it.”
Everyone looks forward to seeing great quarterbacks battle. And this game offers such a compelling match because Murray brings some impressive credentials to the game.
Murray owns the NFL’s highest completion percentage at 73.5.
He has completed over 70 percent of his passes in five of his seven games. He’s completed higher than 80 percent of his passes in two games — that coming in consecutive weeks against Minnesota and Jacksonville.
Dating back to 1950, he is only the fourth quarterback to complete 70 percent of his passes in a team’s first seven games and come out undefeated in those seven games.
Murray also boasts the highest rating of any quarterback currently playing — Russell Wilson and Tyrod Taylor are injured — and is tied for fourth with 17 touchdown passes.
It’s so impressive that Rodgers, who spends a lot of time preparing for an opposing defense, allows himself time to watch Murray tape as well.
“I’ve watched some of the runs,” Rodgers said. “He had a run against L.A. where somehow he gets the corner. It’s like third-and-16. And not just gets the corner but gets like 18 yards and gets out of bounds. He’s real slippery. He can really throw it, he’s got a great arm. We’re going to face a couple of these guys this year who are super athletic and can get out of the pocket.”
There’s a lot of mutual admiration going on between these two. But not so much that we forget other factors will help determine the outcome.
One such factor is injuries. The Packers, you see, could be without:
Left tackle David Baktiari (again).
Cornerback Jaire Alexander (again).
Outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith (again).
Cornerback Kevin King (agan).
Center Josh Myers.
Wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling.
And wide receiver Davante Adams.
Adams is on the reserve/COVID-19 list. He is clearly the one that carries the most impact for Rodgers.
“We’re not a better team without him, that’s for sure,” Rodgers said.
The fact the game is on a Thursday night limits both teams. But if the Cardinals have a little bit more preparation time because they’re home, the Packers tried last week to bridge the deficit.
“They got to get ready for our bag of tricks too,” Rodgers said. “We got plenty of things in the offense. We worked through a heavier plan last week, knowing that we’re playing two games in five days. So we’re loaded for bear.”
Rodgers said there was stuff the Packers practiced last week that they held and didn’t use in the game that can be used as carryover this week.
The Cardinals are an interesting team. They’ve beaten legitimate opponents such as the Rams, Browns and Titans. But there’s more to them than just good results so far.
So what separates them from Arizona teams of the last couple of years? It starts with maturity and then expands from there.
“The little things, the mindset, not being complacent, not being too happy with a win over so-and-so,” Murray said. “Just staying even-keel and understanding it’s a long season. Never get too high, never get too low, and understand the task at hand.
“I think the past couple years that’s something we may have lacked. We have young guys that have stepped up to the plate. We have middle-aged guys that have been here and understand what’s going on, and the older guys that have added the leadership and the attitude.”
And, yes, there’s Murray’s vast improvement.
I’ve got to go out and do what I got to do. I’ve got to execute,” he said. “If I don’t, you know the end result.”
Follow on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero