After a couple of disappointing Thursday Night Football matchups in the early part of the season, it’s back to the top this week, as the Green Bay Packers head to Phoenix to take on the NFL leaders in the Arizona Cardinals.
The Packers have recovered from an opening day crushing from the New Orleans Saints to recover to 6-1 with an impressive run of victories that just last weekend resisted a brief first quarter challenge from the Washington Football Team to extend their lead in the NFC North.
Their hosts, the Cardinals, also managed to stroll to victory last Sunday with a 31-5 demolition of the Houston Texans that secured them their unbeaten record for another week. Zach Ertz also became the first player to catch a TD in consecutive weeks for different teams in the win which saw a plethora of players take center stage.
The results set up an enthralling tie for Thursday with two of the NFC’s arguably best teams, which come week 18 could decide the playoff order.
A matter of attendance
On Thursday, the winner of this one could come down to the fact that only one, star QB-WR combination will be in attendance.
Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins, whilst only in the second year of their relationship have developed some early telepathy or at least some extreme trust.
The pair have combined for 420 yards so far on the season, which while on the surface doesn’t sound nearly as impressive as what the eye test would have you believe, their seven touchdowns suggest a far deeper connection.
Just 107 yards after the catch also tells you exactly what sort of trust Kyler has in Hopkins, allowing him to go up and get the ball in big catch scenarios, relying on arguably the best high-point catcher in the league to dominate at the point of attack.
For the Packers, their combination of Devante Adams and Aaron Rodgers has become one of the best in NFL history, the two combining for 744 yards already this season and you only need to look at the cross-body touchdown Rodgers threw to Adams against Washington to understand the relationship they have.
Sadly, the news that Adams has been added to the COVID list and therefore will miss the game could be the nail in the coffin for the Packers, who were relying on being able to score points to match the Cardinals.
While the team does have more to offer than just a single pairing, the miss of Adams could be massive.
Two MVP candidates
It seems far too easy to talk about the two quarterbacks as the areas to focus on, but when the two in question are doing what they are, it would be rude not to.
Aaron Rodgers has been on fire ever since week two, and whilst he made headlines against the Chicago Bears by declaring to the fans that he “owned” them, Rodgers could have in fact said that to many of the teams he has played in the last six weeks.
With a 68.3% completion rate and 15:3 touchdown to interception ratio, Rodgers has recovered from a disturbed and disrupted off-season to start what may be his final season in Green Bay in stunning fashion.
The stats, while impressive, don’t scream MVP but the importance of the player and the way in which he plays tells the story of someone who could take this team all the way in the most fairy-tale of endings.
Kyler Murray has been even more incredible this season, with a performance that in many seasons would have had him odds on favorite for every award possible come Week 8.
As it is, Murray still leads the odds at the bookies, posting a 73.5% completion rate as his team averages an impressive 400 yards of offense a game, with Murray himself throwing for 2002 yards so far.
The Arizona receiving corps is as stacked as any in the league, and with input growing in the run game from James Conner and Chase Edmonds as well as Kyler Murray, the Packers will be struggling to imagine how to stop “K1” and all his various, incredible facets.
Going into this game had COVID not hit the Packers I would probably have gone for a tight game won eventually by the Cardinals, mainly because of the time zone difference and travvling as much as an assessment of quality.
Now, however, with that in mind, and Devante Adams as well as the Packers defensive co-ordinator missing out on the game, it seems almost impossible to predict anything other than a Cardinals win.
Expect Kyler Murray to continue his streak of performances with 300 yards passing and a touchdown to Christian Kirk, who is a massively underrated part of this soon to be 8-0 team.
Cardinals 27 – 20 Packers