For the Green Bay Packers (14-3) to get back to the Super Bowl, they must avenge their worst loss of the season: 38-10 to Tampa Bay. The bad news is the Buccaneers (13-5) just held the Saints to their worst marks in points (20) and turnovers (four) in the type of performance it could take to beat the Packers again.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Green Bay Packers
Sunday, January 24, 2021 – 03:05 PM EDT at Lambeau Field
The Packers are still a 3.5-point home favorite at most betting sites in what will be the first NFC Championship Game at home for Aaron Rodgers. Tom Brady is 2-3 in Conference Championship Games he started and finished on the road, losing all three times to Peyton Manning-led teams. This will be the first time he meets Rodgers in the playoffs, and Rodgers is the likely MVP winner this season. No MVP winner has won the Super Bowl in the same season since Kurt Warner with the 1999 Rams.
Can the Packers flip the script from Week 6? In Conference Championship Games that are rematches, the team that lost on the road in the regular season is only 8-6 SU at home with the Super Bowl on the line. However, the Chiefs were able to pull off the win last year against the Titans after losing to them earlier in the season. Tampa Bay is also a perfect example of how to flip around a terrible result, going from a 38-3 loss to New Orleans to Sunday’s 30-20 win.
Packers: Revisiting 38-10
You never want to focus too much on a game from Week 6, but Green Bay’s 38-10 loss in Tampa Bay feels more significant than usual since it is such a departure from their other performances this year.
There is also the fact that Rodgers is 3-6 in the playoffs against teams he lost to in the last regular-season meeting. The Packers have been swept out of the playoffs in their last six appearances by the 2012 49ers, 2013 49ers, 2014 Seahawks, 2015 Cardinals, 2016 Falcons, and 2019 49ers. Last year’s 37-20 loss in San Francisco was the only season with Matt LaFleur as the head coach.
So, what went wrong in Tampa? People tend to forget the Packers led that game 10-0 and had the ball in the second quarter as the Buccaneers had another of their slow starts. Rodgers then threw an interception for a touchdown for only the third time in his career. Three plays later, he had another pass into traffic get picked off and returned to the Green Bay 2, practically another pick-six as the Buccaneers punched it in one play later to take a 14-10 lead. Rodgers finished with four sacks and multiple interceptions for only the fourth time in his career.
In the simplest of terms, Rodgers did something very uncharacteristic with back-to-back picks, and it seemed to mentally break him, making him useless for the rest of the game. After those picks, he missed a wide-open Marcedes Lewis down the middle of the field.
Then the Buccaneers started to dial up the pressure and get home on Rodgers, who has been enjoying the best pass protection in the league this year. Once the deficit started growing, and the defense was getting pressure, Rodgers was unable to move the ball and nearly threw two more interceptions that were dropped.
It was one of his worst games ever, which is what Drew Brees just experienced against this Tampa Bay defense on Sunday too. Can Rodgers and LaFleur come up with a better plan this time, or is it just a matter of avoiding the turnovers and not melting down again? Green Bay had a league-low 11 giveaways this season.
Rodgers has a weapon back he did not have in Week 6 in Allen Lazard, who caught a 58-yard touchdown against the Rams on Saturday. He can stretch the field, but this offense is still built around Davante Adams, who had 61 yards in Week 6. The Packers have other weapons too and can make things work without Adams going nuts, but he definitely can’t finish with zero catches like Michael Thomas had for the Saints on Sunday.
Not all news is good on the injury front. The Packers have to make do without left tackle David Bakhtiari, but so far things have gone well against the Bears and Rams. Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles is going to blitz frequently no matter what, and the Packers will have to show they can handle it better this time. Rodgers faced season-highs in hits (seven), pressures (12), and his highest pressure rate (29.3%) in a game according to Pro Football Reference. It is one of two games all season where Rodgers took more than two sacks.
The Packers have been very productive at running the football during this seven-game winning streak, including 189.6 yards per game at home (5-0). While Tampa Bay has been close to lights out all year against the run, the Saints were able to become the fifth team to crack 100 yards on Sunday, and that was with no threat of the deep passing game and without Latavius Murray and Taysom Hill.
While Brees is a legend in his own right, he did not have his best stuff anymore on Sunday. The Buccaneers are getting Rodgers in one of his finest seasons ever, and he finally gets to start one of these title games at home where he almost never throws interceptions, the catalyst to the Week 6 meltdown.
Buccaneers: Which Offense Shows Up?
The Buccaneers have so many offensive weapons that they basically called in the B-team to get past the Saints on Sunday. You can break this offense into two tiers. The superstars' tier consists of Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown, and Rob Gronkowski. Those four players only combined for 61 yards and a short touchdown by Evans on Sunday. The Tampa Bay offense was not able to score a touchdown on a drive that did not start in New Orleans territory. However, the B-team of Cameron Brate, Leonard Fournette, Scotty Miller, and Tyler Johnson had the biggest catches of the day and added 138 receiving yards.
Fournette, who missed the Green Bay game in Week 6, is not usually a weapon in the passing game, but he was on Sunday. Fournette and Ronald Jones both rushed for over 60 yards too, which could be big against the Packers. In Week 6, Jones rushed for 113 yards and two touchdowns. The Buccaneers rushed for 158 yards in that game, making it one of their best all season and one of the worst for Green Bay. All three teams to beat the Packers rushed for at least 140 yards this year.
The Packers did not see Antonio Brown in Week 6, as he was not on the team yet. However, he left Sunday’s game injured. Still, this team clearly has enough weapons, and it is just a matter of figuring out which ones to use this week. The Packers have a standout corner in Jaire Alexander, who shut down Evans (10 yards) in Week 6. That feels like the right matchup for Green Bay to use in this one, as Evans is still the most dangerous receiver in the group. But the last time it was Rob Gronkowski who had nearly half of Brady’s 166 yards. He has just one catch for 14 yards this postseason, but he is looking for another playoff touchdown so that he and Brady can tie Joe Montana and Jerry Rice for the record.
The Packers’ mediocre defense is unlikely to cover the Tampa Bay receivers, as well as New Orleans’ secondary, did, especially with the familiarity the Saints have as a division rival. However, it was not a terrible defensive job in Week 6 that cost the Packers the game. Again, Brady only threw for 166 yards in that game, taking advantage of the two quick Rodgers interceptions to go up 14-10 and never look back.
That is a similar script to how the Buccaneers just got past the Saints. Green Bay will have to cover well and stop the run much better, but this does not feel like a game where they are going to get destroyed defensively as they did by Kyle Shanahan’s 49ers a year ago with the Super Bowl in sight.
If Taylor Heinicke can run and throw for 352 yards against Tampa Bay in the playoffs, then Aaron Rodgers has no excuse not to perform well in this game. Will his defense flounder again and give up another huge point total in a playoff loss? That remains to be seen, but Rodgers has scored at least 20 points in all eight of his playoff losses. One problem is that Green Bay has allowed at least 44 points in three of Rodgers’ playoff losses. Compare that to Brady, who has never played for a team that allowed more than 42 points in his 342 starts.
Then again, this could be a snow game. While that might seem to favor Tampa Bay, the Packers smashed the Titans and Derrick Henry 40-14 in a snow game this season by rushing for 234 yards. Green Bay is better built for bad weather this year than in recent seasons.
Both teams can run and pass, but the Buccaneers have the better defense. The bulk of NFL history tells us that these big-time quarterback matchups rarely ever turn into shootouts or games where both perform at a high level.
Rodgers has been better than Brady all season, but it just feels like ever since 38-10 that we would get to this point where the Packers have to prove whether or not that game was the anomaly in their great season, or if it’s just the best matchup possible for the Buccaneers to make it to the Super Bowl.
Styles make fights, and I am still afraid of the Packers in a playoff rematch against a team that will be physical with them and already has the confidence to beat them. I am taking the Buccaneers in my NFL picks this week, and they are a great teaser pick to not lose by double digits.
*The pick reflects the line at the moment the writer made the play, the odds at the beginning of this article show the live line movement. Since the lines might vary, don’t forget to refer back to our live odds.