Wales have lost their last seven Tests, including all four home internationals of a harrowing November. Kearney, who will be restored at full-back when coach Declan Kidney names his team at lunchtime on Tuesday after missing Ireland's autumn with a back injury, believes the results have cranked up the pressure on the Grand Slam champions.
"If it was our changing room when we were four defeats in a row, you'd start to panic a bit because you'd know you have to win," he said. "Wales are at home, it will be a full house and there will be a lot expected of them."
He added: "If they don't come out fighting with a big performance there will be questions asked of them too. I expect them to come out harder than usual."
Kearney has stressed the importance of making a strong start in Cardiff after last year's Six Nations campaign fell apart following a controversial defeat by the same opposition at Aviva Stadium.
"This is huge for us and we realise that. We know we've lost our last three against Wales, including some pretty big games," he said.
"Losing the first game of the tournament takes a lot of kick out of you and suddenly you come under more pressure.
"Last year we suffered a bit after that first game, maybe going into our shell a bit.
"The other side to that is if we beat Wales, then we have England at home and the outlook of the competition becomes really encouraging.
"Wales haven't been going particularly well of late, but they're one of those teams that can switch it on pretty early. Last year they hit the ground running."