The NFC playoff field is all but set heading into Week 16, though the No. 2 seed remains up for grabs. The Arizona Cardinals can secure that spot, as well as a first-round bye, by defeating the Green Bay Packers at home on Sunday.
While the Carolina Panthers have run away with the conference, the Cardinals have arguably outplayed them over the course of the year. Quarterback Carson Palmer has delivered one of the best seasons of his career and has Arizona leading the entire league in scoring at 32.1 points per game. Veteran wideout Larry Fitzgerald has also enjoyed a bounce-back campaign, eclipsing 1,000 receiving yards for the first time since 2011. Fitzgerald also appears likely to set a new career-high in receptions. He has 99 entering Sunday's game and needs just five more catches to top his career-best of 103 in 2005.
On the other side of the ball, the Cardinals' defense has also played a significant role in the team's strong season. The unit ranks sixth in points allowed (19.2 per game) thanks in large part to the tremendous play of its secondary. Cornerback Patrick Peterson has returned to form in 2015. Quarterbacks mostly avoid throwing in his direction, and the ones who have tried haven't enjoyed much success. Peterson has two interceptions and a defensive passer rating of 55.2 through 15 weeks, the latter among the better marks in football.
Unfortunately, Arizona lost talented defensive back Tyrann Mathieu earlier this week to a knee injury. Mathieu played both cornerback and safety for the Cardinals defense and proved capable in both roles. The secondary remains a strong unit, but it lost some of its playmaking ability.
Meanwhile in Green Bay, the Packers still haven't found rhythm on offense. Aaron Rodgers' uncharacteristic accuracy issues have persisted into December, hindering the unit's ability to put points on the board. Last week, Green Bay produced 23 points on offense, but missed multiple opportunities for big plays. If the Packers don't resolve those issues in short order, they stand little chance of challenging the Cardinals this week.
At the same time, the team's defense has continued to perform well throughout the season. The unit ranks fifth in points allowed (18.9) and among the league leaders in sacks (38). The consistent pressure generated by the defensive front has allowed the secondary to take more chances. The cornerbacks alone have produced three interceptions over the past two weeks, including a pick-six last Sunday. The secondary could get a boost against the Cardinals if top corner Sam Shields returns from a concussion.
This is a pivotal game for Green Bay in other ways. While the team has banked wins over likely playoff teams -- Seattle Seahawks, Kansas City Chiefs and Minnesota Vikings -- most of those victories came when those clubs were struggling. The Cardinals, conversely, are playing perhaps their best football. A win for Green Bay could rebuild the team's confidence, not to mention keep them alive for a first-round bye.
How to watch
When: 4:25 p.m. ET
Where: University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale
Commentators: Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Erin Andrews
Online: Verizon NFL Mobile