The confident Arizona Cardinals are prepared to face a much tougher challenge this weekend than they did in last month's meeting with Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers.
Following the winningest regular season in franchise history, the Cardinals host the motivated Packers in Saturday night's NFC divisional matchup.
Arizona extended its winning streak to nine with a 38-8 home rout of Green Bay on Dec. 27. It recorded more sacks (nine) than points allowed and held the Packers to 178 yards - their second-lowest total of the season. The Cardinals also scored twice on defense in one of their most dominant efforts of 2015 and perhaps Green Bay's worst.
But after the Packers overcame an 11-0 deficit to win 35-18 at Washington in Sunday's wild-card round, the Cardinals' eyes were opened.
A franchise-record 13 wins gave Arizona the West Division title, the second seed in the conference and a first-round bye. With Carson Palmer injured and third-stringer Ryan Lindley under center, the Cardinals lost 27-16 on the road to Carolina in last season's wild-card round.
However, they're 4-0 at home in the postseason and beat Green Bay 51-45 in overtime in their most recent meeting in the desert during the 2009 season. Rodgers threw for 423 yards, four TDs and an INT in his first playoff start but was sacked and lost the ball, with Karlos Dansby picking it up and running 17 yards with for the winning score.
Rodgers has enjoyed much more postseason success since, and the Cardinals expect to get his best. They also expect to play better than they did in a 36-6 home defeat to Seattle in the regular-season finale.
After setting franchise records with 4,671 passing yards and 35 TDs, the 36-year old Palmer tries a third time for his first playoff win. He leads a team that ranked first in total offense at 408.3 yards per game and second in scoring at 30.6 points.
Palmer was 18 of 27 for 265 yards with two TDs and one INT against the Packers last month.
"(Green Bay) will be better (than last time)," linebacker Markus Golden said. "And we will be ready."
>>Bears Long Selected To Third Straight Pro Bowl
Chicago Bears right tackle Kyle Long has been selected to his third Pro Bowl in as many seasons.
Long was announced Thursday as a replacement for injured Philadelphia Eagles tackle Jason Peters. The game is scheduled for Jan. 31 in Honolulu.
The recognition comes after an up-and-down season that had the athletic Long struggle at times following a switch from right guard in the week leading up to the opener. Long is the first Bears offensive lineman and seventh Chicago player to make the Pro Bowl in his first three years as a pro. The most recent was linebacker Brian Urlacher (2000-02 seasons).
Long started all 16 games and helped quarterback Jay Cutler produce one of his steadiest seasons while creating room for running back Matt Forte. Cutler had a career-high 92.3 passer rating, and Forte averaged 99 yards from scrimmage - ninth in the NFL.
The Bears went 6-10 in their first season under coach John Fox and general manager Ryan Pace.
>>49ers Hire Chip Kelly as Coach
The 49ers made a splash on Thursday afternoon, hiring Chip Kelly as their next head coach.
Owner Jed York announced the move on Twitter, saying he and GM Trent Baalke are "thrilled" to hire Kelly as Jim Tomsula's replacement.
What makes the hire so intriguing is the potential for quarterback Colin Kaepernick in Kelly's system. Theoretically, he fits Kelly's style of play and offensive system as a dynamic athlete with great wheels.
But he also doesn't fit Kelly's system as a highly-cerebral quarterback capable of moving through his reads quickly.
It's not likely Kelly will have a lot of say in who ends up on the 49ers roster.