What a way to kick off Week 8: The two hottest teams in the NFL take a prime-time stage. The Packers (6-1) haven’t lost since Week 1, the Cardinals (7-0) haven’t lost at all, and a quarterback matchup between Aaron Rodgers and Kyler Murray is all but sure to thrill. That doesn’t necessarily mean a shootout is coming, however; both teams will bring defenses ranked in the NFL’s top 10 in a number of categories, including yardage per game and points per game. Potentially, it’s a preview of the Jan. 30 NFC Championship Game, but for now, it merely advances a jumbled picture of top NFC contenders that includes three other one-loss teams: the Cowboys, Rams and Buccaneers.
Here are four things to watch Thursday night when the Cardinals play host to the Packers:
- Cardinals receivers deep and dangerous. It’s borderline unfair that the Packers will catch the Cardinals’ talented receiving corps with their best cover man, Jaire Alexander, shelved on injured reserve. DeAndre Hopkins, A.J. Green and Christian Kirk are all north of 400 yards for the season, and exciting rookie Rondale Moore has added 303. Throw in newly acquired tight end Zach Ertz, who delivered 66 yards and a TD in his Cardinals debut last week, and the Packers secondary will absolutely have its hands full. It will take pressure up front on Murray to limit big-chunk pass plays by Arizona.
- QB runs troubling Packers defense. Over the last two weeks, opposing quarterbacks have run for season-high rushing totals against the Packers defense (Justin Fields: six for 43, Taylor Heinicke: 10 for 95). Heck, even Jared Goff ran four times for 46 yards, also a season-high, against Green Bay back in Week 2. This isn’t the week to leave the quarterback unattended. Murray has put his electric feet to far less use this season, and that’s been by design, but at some point an explosive rushing performance from Murray is bound to come. This could be the week.
- Jones on the rebound. Since a performance that dreams are made of in Week 1, Cardinals pass rusher Chandler Jones’ season has been in a tailspin. He opened with a franchise-record-tying five sacks of Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Seven weeks later, he’s still stuck on five sacks for the year, but that’s not the worst of it. Since the Titans opener, he’s played 229 defensive snaps and made just three tackles, being held without a tackle in Weeks 2, 4 and 5. He has missed the last two games on the reserve/COVID-19 list, but returns Thursday. The Cardinals could use a bounce-back from Jones in the form of heavy pressure on Rodgers.
- Adams, Barry sidelined. The reserve/COVID-19 list has bitten the Packers on a short week, shelving not only star receiver Davante Adams, but secondary option Allen Lazard and defensive coordinator Joe Barry. As one of the most prolific receivers in the NFL, Adams’ absence is a major blow to the Packers offense, but there is potentially good news that would somewhat offset the loss: Marquez Valdes-Scantling might return from a hamstring injury. He’s a speedy vertical threat who can stretch the field like no Packers receiver other than Adams; if neither plays, the deep passing game will be far less of a threat to the Cardinals secondary.