By Paul Imig Special to Published Dec 28, 2015 at 1:26 PM

Well, that performance isn’t likely to inspire confidence in the 2015 Green Bay Packers. A trip to Arizona brought about almost no positives, and it’s left many wondering if a road to the Super Bowl is anything more than a pipe dream.

Here are the five biggest takeaways from the Packers’ 38-8 loss to the Cardinals:

1. It wasn’t even that close

One minute into the third quarter, Arizona was leading, 24-0. For all intents and purposes, the game was over already at that point. The outcome was most certainly decided less than five minutes later after a sack led to an Aaron Rodgers fumble that was returned 36 yards for a Cardinals touchdown.

In every way possible, Green Bay was manhandled by a superior opponent Sunday. That’s where the Packers find themselves as the 2015 NFL calendar year concludes: a team good enough to be tied for the sixth-best record in the league, but not good enough to beat (or even be competitive with, in some cases) the five teams with better records. Green Bay couldn’t hang with Denver in Week 8, was trailing 37-14 in Carolina a week later and was defeated by 30 points in Arizona.

The Cardinals averaged 6.8 yards per play in this game. The Packers averaged 2.8 yards per play.

Arizona gained 381 total yards of offense. Green Bay finished with 178 yards.

The Cardinals converted first downs on 50 percent of their third-down plays. The Packers converted 29 percent of third-down opportunities.

The better team won – and won handily.

2. Allowing nine sacks

It turns out that Green Bay’s backup offensive linemen weren’t ready to play. All things considered, a couple of the regular starters, Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang, played OK – they were graded out positively by the ProFootballFocus analysis – but David Bakhtiari’s absence was very noticeable. So was Bryan Bulaga’s once he suffered an injury during the game.

Starting in place of Bakhtiari, Don Barclay was destroyed at left tackle. Bulaga’s injury led to Josh Walker getting some snaps at right tackle, and the undrafted second-year player performed so poorly that Mike McCarthy replaced him with JC Tretter (who had just started at center the past two weeks).

Rodgers didn’t play well (more on that momentarily), but it’s difficult for any quarterback to have a lot of success when he’s sacked nine times. It was 35-year-old Dwight Freeney who led Arizona with three sacks. That’s more than what the Packers had as an entire defense.

The Cardinals have a great defense, but backups need to be prepared to come in and hold their own. Barclay and Walker didn’t even come close to achieving that standard Sunday.

3. Another forgettable game for Rodgers

There’s a two-time NFL Most Valuable Player who plays the quarterback position in Green Bay. Perhaps you’ve heard that. But these statistics aren’t representative of an MVP player: Rodgers was 15 of 28 passing for 151 yards with one touchdown, one interception, two fumbles lost (both returned for touchdowns) and a 66.2 passer rating.

Actually, though, this has consistently been Rodgers’ production recently. He’s now gone six consecutive games without surpassing 275 passing yards. He hasn’t had a passer rating over 100.0 since before the Week 7 bye. For comparison purposes, Rodgers had averaged a passer rating of better than 100.0 in each of the previous six seasons. That’s how different his production has been the past two months compared to the recent past.

Rodgers’ numbers would obviously be better if his receivers hadn’t dropped so many passes. But it’s not just on the receivers. Rodgers has missed throws that he rarely used to miss, and he’s not been able to lead Green Bay to success like he so often used to get credit for doing.

4. Starks’ fumble problems

That’s four fumbles in four games for Starks. That’s ... not good. And it’s not going to give McCarthy much confidence in his veteran running back as the playoffs approach.

Yet again Sunday, Starks coughed up the ball and turned it over. It’s not like Starks is touching the ball 25-plus times per game, thus making his ratio of carries-to-fumbles a somewhat reasonable percentage. In total over the past four games, Starks has touched the ball 42 times. Of those 42 plays, Starks has fumbled on four of them.

Essentially, that indicates if Starks gets the ball 10 times in a game, one of those is going to result in a fumble. How do you put a running back in the game who’s doing that?

McCarthy ended up only giving Starks three carries in Arizona, and that might have to be a trend that continues entering the playoffs – even for as much as the Packers want to believe in him as the No. 2 guy in a one-two punch at running back alongside Eddie Lacy.

5. Playoff implications

Now that Week 16 is in the books, Green Bay has to spin everything forward and prepare for the Minnesota Vikings. Because, believe it or not, despite how poor this season has been for the Packers, they can still win the NFC North title yet again with a win Sunday at Lambeau Field.

Winning the division would be great for players’ and coaches’ list of accomplishments, and it’d surely be good for morale in the locker room to end the regular season with a win. However, it could be argued that a win doesn’t necessarily create the best playoff situation for Green Bay.

Here’s how it breaks down:

  • If the Packers win, they’re the No. 3 seed and will host a game on wild-card weekend. If the Seahawks lose to Arizona in Week 17, it’ll be Green Bay hosting Seattle. But if the Seahawks beat the Cardinals next weekend, it’ll be Packers-Vikings all over again a week later.
  • If the Packers lose in Week 17, they are the No. 5 seed and will play at Washington in the wild-card round no matter what the result of the Seahawks-Cardinals game is.
Paul Imig Special to
Paul Imig spent the past five years working for FOX Sports WI. He began by covering the Milwaukee Bucks and Milwaukee Brewers before taking over the Green Bay Packers beat in 2011. In addition to his writing, Paul also made television appearances nationwide on FOX Sports 1. He can be heard on the radio statewide on The Bill Michaels Show and can be seen on Time Warner Cable's Roundtable show with Dennis Krause. Paul is the 2015 recipient of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee's award for Graduate Of the Last Decade (GOLD).