The marquee matchup on Sunday in the NFL is the 4-0 Green Bay Packers taking on the 3-2 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It’s the third, and possibly final, meeting between Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady as future Hall of Fame quarterbacks.
Green Bay Packers vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Sunday, October 18, 2020 – 04:25 PM EDT at Raymond James Stadium
The Packers are a 2.5-point road favorite at most of the best betting sites, which is a big compliment for a road team facing Brady. Since 2003, Brady has only been a road underdog three times, and they were all games against a Peyton Manning-led team (2005 Colts and 2013-14 Broncos). In his career, Brady is 6-2 SU and 7-1 ATS when the NFL odds designate him as a home underdog.
Rodgers has had the hot hand so far in 2020, and the Packers are coming off a bye week. However, the Buccaneers also got some extra rest after playing a disappointing loss last Thursday night in Chicago. This is a critical game in the NFC race so let's preview the matchup.
Will the Red-Hot Packers Melt in Florida?
Green Bay has played exceptional football to start 2020, winning all four games, leading the league in scoring, and Aaron Rodgers leads all quarterbacks in ESPN's QBR (92.5). This has happened despite the lack of any real additions to the skill players in the offseason, and No. 1 receiver Davante Adams has missed most of the snaps this year. Allen Lazard leads the Packers in receiving yards, and he will be out for a while after having surgery.
Without his starting wideouts, Rodgers attacked Atlanta much differently in Week 4. He used his running backs and tight ends while only completing 7 passes for 86 yards to wide receivers that night. It worked against Atlanta, a bottom-tier defense, but he should find things much more difficult against Tampa Bay's aggressive defense, which ranks No. 4 in DVOA against the pass and No. 3 against the run this season.
Don't get caught up with Green Bay having a bye week. While it should help Adams' hamstring, last year, Matt LaFleur's Packers came off the bye and were destroyed 37-8 in San Francisco. Road games are less daunting in 2020 because of the pandemic, but this is the kind of spot where the Packers have folded many times over the years.
Since 2012, the Packers are 2-16 in road games against NFC teams outside their division that made the playoffs that year. That record does not include Green Bay's win in New Orleans this season – thanks to a Taysom Hill fumble – and maybe the Saints will still be a playoff team unless this is Tampa Bay's year.
Either way, this is the kind of game where the Packers historically get pushed around by the opponent. Rodgers has the lowest sack rate and Green Bay's line has allowed the fewest QB hits (9) in 2020, but Tampa Bay's front seven led by Ndamukong Suh and Lavonte David should provide a better challenge this week.
Another thing to watch: Green Bay has zero turnovers this season. No team in NFL history has started a season with five straight games without a giveaway. Green Bay also has only three takeaways, so this team could set a record for fewest combined turnovers through five games if they don't have more than three on Sunday.
Someone Sign Tom Brady an IcyHot Endorsement
While Rodgers and the Packers are streaking, Tom Brady's first year in Tampa Bay has been very streaky. Each week there's a stretch where he looks good, and then there's a stretch where he can't move the offense. After trailing by 17 points to the Chargers in Week 4, Brady led a comeback win. But after building a 13-0 lead in Chicago in Week 5, Brady was successful on just 5 of his final 28 dropbacks in a 20-19 loss.
Like Green Bay, the Buccaneers have had problems keeping their skill players healthy. Chris Godwin is the best wideout on the team and he has missed two games with a hamstring injury. Mike Evans has also been playing hurt, and his vertical style is not a great mesh with Brady's skillset. Evans has caught a touchdown every week, but he is averaging career-lows in yards per catch (12.3) and yards per game (54.2). Tight end Rob Gronkowski so far looks like he would have been better served to stay retired.
If there's some good news for Brady, it's that Green Bay's defense has been mediocre so far in 2020, overshadowed by the great offensive numbers. Quarterbacks are completing 72.2% of their passes with 8.1 yards per attempt and a 107.2 passer rating against the Packers, who have faced Kirk Cousins, Matthew Stafford, Drew Brees, and Matt Ryan. Those are all veterans not on top of their game in 2020, but the same can be said about Brady. He currently ranks 21st in QBR (59.9) and 24th in yards per attempt (7.0).
If Rodgers stays hot, then Brady can't afford to go cold for a long period of time again in this one.
This one really could come down to the hamstring health for the best receiver on each team. If we assume Davante Adams and Chris Godwin will both be a go on Sunday, then this should be an entertaining, high-scoring game. Even if Rodgers has to throw to his backs more, there were touch passes that Nick Foles beat the Buccaneers with during Week 5, those could be really successful for Green Bay too.
I lean towards the Packers in this one, because when Rodgers goes on one of these hot streaks, he tends to sustain it for half a season or longer. As he did in 2011, 2014, and 2016. When a 43-year-old Brady goes on a hot streak, it lasts for about two quarters.
The Packers have been the safest NFL pick this season. Not only are they undefeated, but they're the only team in 2020 with a perfect record against the spread (4-0). The Buccaneers remain a work in progress, and until we see a more consistent play, they should be underdogs in matchups like this one.