The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a rare opportunity to play and win the Super Bowl in their home stadium next month, but before they get that chance they must get past the Green Bay Packers in Sunday’s NFC Championship Game at Lambeau Field. The Buccaneers’ impressive 30-20 victory over the New Orleans Saints in the divisional round is their first win over the Saints in three games. Tampa Bay, on the other hand, was no stranger to victory over the Packers as Tom Brady’s team defeated Green Bay 38-10 in week six.
However, Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians knows they have a different and better Packers team, led by Aaron Rodgers, the likely MVP winner who led a very effective Packers offense and the best defense in the league in a 32-18 win over the Los Angeles Rams. Tampa Bay, on the other hand, were represented against the Saints by Tom Brady, making his first NFC appearance with the Buccaneers after dominating the AFC for years while playing for the New England Patriots.
After playing well against Saints quarterback Drew Brees and receiver Michael Thomas last week, the Tampa Bay defense will face another challenge to slow down Rodgers and his potent offense. Here are four bold predictions about when the Pirates will visit Flap Field.
1. Tom Brady passes for two touchdowns
If the AFC championship game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Buffalo Bills is a battle between two of the league’s best young quarterbacks, Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen, then the game between the Buccaneers and Packers will be a battle between two of the greatest players in the history of the position, Brady and Rodgers.
Against the Saints, Brady completed 18 of 33 passes for 199 yards and two passing touchdowns and added a rushing touchdown and no interceptions while outperforming Brees, who had three throws in what was likely his final game.
The Buccaneers defeated Green Bay by the same number of points in Week 6, completing 17 of 27 assists for two touchdowns and no interceptions in a 38-10 win. It’s important that the six-time Super Bowl champion continues to take care of the ball against the Packers.
Brady was sacked just once against New Orleans, giving him plenty of time to find his receivers, which the Buccaneers need to do to have a chance against the Packers. After a few early season games, Brady has the Tampa Bay offense in full swing, and it’s hard to bet against someone who has so many playoff battles behind him, especially when he has a chance to add to his legacy against Rodgers and the Packers.
2. Mike Evans leaves game.
Even when he was able to find the end zone against the Saints, Evans was limited to three receiving yards on one catch and remained largely inactive after a big game against Washington in the Wild Card round. The Buccaneers’ all-time leading scorer will likely face another talented defender, cornerback Jaire Alexander, on Sunday, but Brady will have other targets to worry about, including Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown, Rob Gronkowski and Leonard Fournette, who all led the way against New Orleans.
It’s not impossible that the Triple Pro Bowler can play a second straight game like he did earlier this season, but it’s more likely that he’ll come back and connect with Brady again and make big hits like he usually does.
3. Gingerbread bag Aaron Rodgers three times
The Tampa Bay defense did a commendable job against the Saints in the divisional round, as Thomas had no choice of four targets, while Brees had three interceptions against a passing touchdown. Unlike Brees, however, Rodgers is at the top of his game and put in an outstanding performance against the Rams in the divisional round.
In Tampa Bay’s sixth week winning the Packers, Rodgers made four tackles while defenders Devin White and Lavonte David combined for 18 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks in the game. While the Tampa Bay defense pursued him throughout the game, the 37-year-old had his worst performance of the season with just 16 of 35 passes for 160 yards and two interceptions.
While the defense should also focus on the backs of Aaron Jones and Jamal Williams, both of whom wreaked havoc against the Rams, it should help put pressure on Rodgers, as it did in the win over Green Bay. If White, David, et al. can be as disruptive on defense as they have been, the team should have a much better chance of leaving Lambeau Field with a resounding victory.
4. Spinners push Packers to advance to Super Bowl
After a 13-year drought, the Buccaneers have the opportunity to reach the Super Bowl for the first time since their 2002 victory. But to play at Raymond James Stadium next month, they will have to shut down a Green Bay attack that has shown no signs of slowing down in recent weeks.
Tampa Bay enters the game as an outsider, as they did against the Saints, but if there’s one team that can keep up with the Packers’ offense, it’s them, as Brady always plays well and can afford the luxury of multiple targets. He’s already the best quarterback in the league, and his extensive playoff experience will come in handy for a team whose players aren’t used to playing in the postseason.
The defense, on the other hand, is one of the best in the NFL and has excelled in the past at stopping the race and giving Rodgers trouble. As Arians and some of his players have said, the Buccaneers can’t expect the NFC Championship Game to end like their dominant win in Week Six against the Packers. But with an offense that plays well at the right time and a defense that is still one of the best in the NFL, they have what it takes to win another great victory and book a Super Bowl ticket in their stadium.
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