Another week, another round of Tampa Bay playoff football.
Sounds weird, right? It sure does if you’ve been a Bucs fan —or even a player— over the last 13 years.
One player that’s used to this, however, is Tom Brady. For him, the postseason is a yearly tradition and now he’s bestowing his good fortunes upon the Bucs franchise.
Tampa Bay beat the Saints in the Divisional Round of the playoffs and now they get to travel to Lambeau Field to take on the Green Bay Packers, who are waiting for them with open arms - but not in the traditional way.
The Packers are looking for revenge after a 38-10 beatdown in Week 6 that saw Aaron Rodgers play one of the worst games of his career. And the Packers look up to the challenge more than ever after last week’s 32-18 dismantling of the Rams.
But the Bucs know what’s at stake and they know the Packers are out for blood. They also know they are just four quarters away from being the first team in NFL history to host a Super Bowl.
Strap in folks, this is going to be a fun one.
- All-time series: The Packers lead the all-time series, 33-22-1. Green Bay also beat Tampa Bay 21-7 back in ‘98, which is the only playoff meeting between the two teams.
- Longest win streak: Green Bay won six in a row from 1992-1995 and then six more in a row from 1996-1998. A 13-10 Bucs win in December of 1995 kept Green Bay from rattling off 13 straight wins.
- Largest margin of victory: The Packers dismantled the Bucs, 55-14, back in 1983.
- 2020 offensive and defensive rankings: Tampa Bay finished the 2020 season with the seventh-best offense (2nd passing, 28th rushing) and the sixth-best defense (21st passing, 1st rushing). The Packers finished with the fifth-best offense (9th passing, 8th rushing) and the ninth-best defense (7th passing, 13th rushing).
What to watch for
- How the Bucs handle the emotions from last week’s win over the Saints: I usually don’t buy into this type of storyline, but last week’s win over the Saints was huge from an emotional standpoint. We saw the Bucs come out flat in Week 6 against Green Bay and it resulted in an early 10-0 lead for the Packers. That cannot happen this week. The Packers are going to be looking to beat the brakes off the Bucs and will capitalize on any situation they can in order to make that happen. Tom Brady, Devin White, and others have said the right things all week, but how will they play when the game kicks off at 3:05PM EST?
- The return of Vita Vea: I can’t believe we are talking about this. Vea was placed on IR after a Week 5 injury derailed his regular season, yet here he is, active for this game. This is a big deal. Not only does Vea strengthen an already-elite run defense, but he also makes a tremendous difference for Tampa Bay’s pass rush. Per Scott Smith of buccaneers.com, the Bucs average a 33.9% pressure rate when Vea is in the lineup compared to a 26.6% rate without. The big questions that remain are: How much will he play and how effective will he be? Well, we’ll get our answer later today.
- The trenches: Green Bay has the best offensive line in the league. Tampa Bay has one of the best offensive lines in the league. The Bucs have an elite front seven. The Packers have a very good front seven. Which until will get the best of the other? There are matchups everywhere within five yards of the line of scrimmage and these battles will go far in determining who wins this game.
- Tampa Bay’s blitz packages and coverage in the secondary: Speaking of pass pro and pass rush, the Packers offensive line had no clue what hit it back in Week 6. How much progress have they made since? Well, Aaron Rodgers has not been sacked due to the blitz since that game. Will the Bucs still have that edge on Sunday? We also saw Tampa Bay finally man up (coverage-wise) on New Orleans and it was very effective. Can they keep down the likes of Davante Adams and Allen Lazard?
- Tampa Bay’s offensive red zone struggles: The Bucs were one of the league’s best teams in the red zone during the regular season, but they have been anything but that through two playoff games. The Bucs are currently turning red zone trips in touchdowns at a 36% clip, which would’ve been good for dead last in the NFL during the regular season. The Packers were the league’s best red zone team during the regular season and converted 3-of-4 trips into touchdowns last week (not counting the final trip because it was at the end of the game and the Packers were kneeling out the clock). The Bucs will not win by kicking field goals in the red zone. They have to score touchdowns this week.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- QB Tom Brady: There aren’t many quarterbacks you’d rather have in this game. Brady has been everything the Bucs thought he would be and then some.
- RBs Ronald Jones II/Leonard Fournette: Call them “RoFo”, “Playoff Lenny”, or whatever you want. The bottom line is that Tampa Bay’s ground game has come alive in the playoffs. It will be needed this week, as well.
- WR Chris Godwin: It’s time for Godwin to show why many in the Bay area think of him as a top-10 receiver in the league. He should see plenty of action this week.
- DL William Gholston: He was able to get the better of Green Bay’s pass pro in Week 6 and recorded a season-high three quarterback hits. It won’t surprise me if Gholston finds a way to bring Rodgers down this week.
- LBs Lavonte David/Devin White: This combination throttled the Packers earlier in the year to the tune of 18 combined tackles, 2.5 sacks, 5.0 tackles for loss, and four quarterback hits. Will the Pack have an answer this time around?
- CB Carlton Davis III: He locked down Michael Thomas for the third time in a season last week and he’ll look to lock down Adams for the second time in a season this week. If anyone can do it, CDIII can.
Green Bay Packers
- QB Aaron Rodgers: Remember when I said there aren’t many quarterbacks you’d rather have in this game than Brady? Well, Rodgers is one of those quarterbacks. He’ll be on a mission Sunday, which is always fun to watch no matter who you’re rooting for.
- RB Aaron Jones: Much like the Bucs, the Packers have been using multiple running backs on the ground. Green Bay’s backs ran for 185 yards on 32 carries against the Rams last week, which doesn’t happen against the Rams. Jones is the main guy, however, and can beat you in different ways, so Tampa Bay needs to be ready for him.
- WR Davante Adams: I really wanted to put Robert Tonyan in here, just because Tampa Bay has issues with pass-catching tight ends, but this is the NFC Championship. Your best players are the ones who need to step up and make plays. Therefore, Adams gets the nod.
- DL Kenny Clark: He’s one of the best interior defenders in the league. Tampa Bay’s backup guard, Aaron Stinnie, played really well last week, but Clark is a different player. The Bucs have to keep him out of Brady’s face.
- OLB Z’Darius Smith: “Z” is one of the best-pass rushers in the league. Tampa Bay needs to be on full alert when Smith is lined up in Green Bay’s NASCAR package.
- CB Jaire Alexander: Alexander has grown into one of the league’s top corners and is not just a good cover guy, but he’s a good, physical tackler, as well. Will he be able to shutdown Mike Evans and Chris Godwin?
Cool Postseason Stats
- The Bucs have five total team takeaways in the postseason, which is the second-highest mark in the league. They have 27 points off said turnovers, which stands as the most points off turnovers in the postseason.
- Tom Brady is just one rushing touchdown away from tying Steve Young for the most rushing touchdowns in NFL postseason history.
- Tampa Bay have won seven straight games on the road, which is the longest streak in franchise history.
- Devin White’s 11 combined tackles against the Saints in the Divisional Round tied a franchise-record for the most tackles in a playoff game. White is now up there with the likes of Derrick Brooks, Jermaine Phillips, Shelton Quarles, and Jamie Duncan.
- Rob Gronkowski needs just one 100-yard game and he’ll own the most 100-yard receiving games by a tight end in NFL postseason history.
*Stats provided by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Communications Department
This is one of those games where you really can’t go wrong picking either team.
Until the clock reads 00:00.
But in all seriousness, this one should be a battle for the ages. We have two of the 10-best quarterbacks of all-time playing for the right to go to the Super Bowl. And it’s being played at Lambeau Field, arguably the most famous NFL venue in the league history.
Aaron Rodgers and the Packers are pissed from the Week 6 beatdown. Tom Brady and the Bucs are set out to show the world that they are in fact the NFC’s best team. Both offenses and both defenses are playing at a high level and both teams are coming off huge statement wins.
This game feels like it will be one of those “whomever has the ball last wins” and frankly, it should. Neither Rodgers nor Brady are going to go down easy. Both quarterbacks know how much this game not only means to their teammates, fans, and respective franchises, but they also know how much it means to their legacies.
OK, let’s put all the drama aside and talk ball. The Bucs should be able to move the ball against the Packers defense and I’m not expecting another four-turnover day from the Bucs defense. Therefore, there will be a lot of points. This game will be determined by how well the Bucs perform in the red zone. If they execute and score touchdowns, then Tampa Bay will be in Super Bowl LV. If they don’t, well, then they’ll have to watch someone else play for the Lombardi in their backyard.
At the end of the day, the Bucs get the red zone issues worked out and they’ll make just enough plays to beat the Packers. Next up: A date with the eventual AFC champion for a shot to win it all.