1. What happened with Aaron Rodgers last week, and why did he end my fantasy team's championship hopes?
Look, when the mob says you take a dive, you take a dive. 10 figures are better than nine, or worse...
Oh sorry. I just finished watching a 30 for 30 documentary.
There really isn't a good explanation for why Aaron Rodgers played so poorly last week because there isn't a historical comparison we can point to. Never in his seven years as a starter has Rodgers' accuracy been so off (though the numbers are skewed somewhat by the nine drops from receivers), nor has he thrown that many interceptions without at least one touchdown. Obviously, Buffalo's defense is one of the league's best, but that alone does not account for Rodgers' awful day. At least until further notice, it's best to view it as an anomaly and throw it out.
2. While the Green Bay offense is always good as long as Aaron Rodgers is playing, the defense has been a fairly consistent concern over the years. Is that still the case? Is the offense compensating for the defense, or is the defense more than capable on its own?
If you weight every game equally, this hasn't been a fantastic year for the Packers' defense. It ranks 17th in DVOA, 18th in points allowed, and 23rd in total yards.
However, if you focus on how the unit has performed since its Week 9 bye, the narrative changes quite a bit. Over the last six games, the Packers have yielded 21 or fewer points five times. Even the one outlier is somewhat misleading as the defense gave up just 7 points during the first half before hitting cruise control and letting the Atlanta Falcons back into the game. This past week against the Buffalo, nine of the Bills' 21 points came from special teams and defense. In other words, the defense is playing a lot better than it's overall numbers suggest.
Still, it's hardly an elite unit. Teams with strong ground attacks can steamroll Green Bay's defense. Had the Patriots given LeGarrette Blount more than 10 carries, perhaps that game doesn't end with a Packers victory. The same could be said about their most recent tilt with the Vikings. If an opponent can run the ball effectively, it's in their best interests to commit to it.
This is where I suppose the offense has bailed the defense out. Planning to run the ball 25+ times is all well and good until a team finds itself down by double digits. If the Packers get up early on an opponent, it usually signals the end of their commitment to the run.
3. The Packers signed Julius Peppers, which means he'll get to play his former head coach this week. How has he looked this year?
Other than Mike Daniels, no Green Bay defender has enjoyed a better season than Julius Peppers. The transition to linebacker has gone far smoother than many, myself included, expected coming into the year. He's very comfortable working in space and still can get after the quarterback. He leads the defense in takeaways, touchdowns and WTF OMG HOW plays.
Perhaps just as significantly, Peppers has found a niche as the quiet leader of the defense. Just this week, the Packers voted him one of the six playoff captains. For the new guy in town, that's a hell of an accomplishment.
4. Can the Bucs stop the Green Bay offense? And what approach would they need to stop them, or at least slow them down?
The only proven way to stop Aaron Rodgers (or any other elite quarterback for that matter) is by creating pressure without blitzing. Rodgers diagnoses coverages as fast as any player in the league, and when defenses rushes an extra member of their back seven, he usually exploits the resulting void. However, when just the front line can get to him on a regular basis, there's at least some hope that it can slow him down. The Detroit Lions managed this in their 19-7 victory back in Week 3 as did the Buffalo Bills last Sunday.
But creating pressure without blitzing isn't a game plan, it's a privilege. Teams that can do so successfully will generally take that approach regardless of opponent. As for the Buccaneers, it's difficult to envision them getting to Rodgers with their Gerald McCoy-less front four.
5. Care to predict the game?
Not that motivation dictates everything, but the Packers can clinch a playoff bye if they win their last two games. That, along with their talent advantage, makes them the heavy favorites. That said, Lovie Smith has played Green Bay better over the past decade than any other head coach. If there's a way for the Buccaneers to keep it competitive, he'll find it. Still, I think the Packers ultimately emerge victorious.
Editor's Note: FanDuel is hosting our weekly fantasy game. It's $5 to join the Bucs Nation league and payouts total $200. League starts Sunday 1 PM ET and ends on Monday. Here's the link.