Green Bay Packers (10-4) at Arizona Cardinals (12-2)
The Cardinals rank first in the NFL in rate of moving the chains differential, despite having a couple losses. In those 2 losses, they won the first down battle by a combined 20 first downs and only lost because they had a -3 turnover margin in both games. Turnover margins are incredibly inconsistent on a week-to-week basis. On average, teams that have a -3 turnover margin in a game have a +0.1 turnover margin the following game. That’s why I don’t really like to use turnover margin as evidence to support an evaluation of a team.
The Panthers obviously are the only undefeated team left in the NFL, but I think the Cardinals have played better. They’re 4-1 in games decided by a touchdown or less, while the Panthers are 6-0, accounting for nearly half of their wins, and the Cardinals have a better point differential (+176 vs. +171), despite a worse turnover margin (+10 vs. +19). Week 14’s Thursday Night game against the Vikings was actually the first of the season in which the Cardinals lost the rate of moving chains battle and they did so just barely (77.42% to 78.13%), in a field goal victory. They’ve won that battle in all 13 games they’ve played this season on more than 4 days rest.
The Packers, meanwhile, rank 7th in rate of moving the chains differential, a bigger difference than what’s suggested by this line. The Cardinals do have a big upcoming game, with the Seahawks coming to town next week, but so do the Packers, as they host the Vikings next week, a game that will decide the NFC North unless the Vikings lose at home to the Giants and the Packers win here (the Packers can clinch the North this weekend if that happens). This is also a big game for both of these teams as a Green Bay victory puts them in position to get the #2 seed and a first round bye if they beat the Vikings next week and the Cardinals lose to the Seahawks. From this angle, it’s a wash, as both teams should be equally focused for this one.
Ordinarily, I’d be all over the Cardinals as 4.5 point favorites here, as they’ve been one of the most underrated teams in the NFL this season, but they lost defensive back Tyrann Mathieu, a Defensive Player of the Year candidate, for the season last week, a potentially crippling blow to this defense. I’m still taking the Cardinals, especially since the Packers will be missing cornerback Sam Shields and left tackle David Bakhtiari, but I’m much more worried about the possibility of a backdoor cover now, especially since about 3 in 10 games are decided by fewer than 4 points.
Arizona Cardinals 27 Green Bay Packers 20
Pick against the spread: Arizona -4.5