The NFC has provided us with some great quarterback matchups this season. We saw Drew Brees and Tom Brady face off three times this season, and now we get to see Brady go up against Aaron Rodgers for a second time. Both quarterbacks have a lot at stake in this matchup. Brady is looking to prove that he can win without Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots, while Rodgers is looking to make it back to the Super Bowl for the first time since 2011. The implications of this matchup are huge, so let’s take an in-depth look at the key points before we come up with a prediction.
How the Packers will win: Win the Turnover Battle
The Packers have done a very good job at limiting their turnovers this season, as they only gave away the ball 11 times throughout the season. In each of the Packers three losses this season, they lost the turnover battle, including their previous matchup against the Buccaneers. This team thrives when they are able to establish the run game to balance out their dangerous passing attack. If the Packers start giving the ball away, it will allow a dangerous Bucs defense to start preying on their passing game, with last week’s win over the New Orleans Saints a good example. If the Packers can control the turnover battle, they will have a good shot at winning this game.
How the Buccaneers will win: Establish the Run Game
In games that the Buccaneers lost this season, they failed to eclipse 100 total rushing yards in all but one of those games. Simply put, if the Buccaneers can get their rushing attack going against the Packers, it will be tough to slow down this offense. The Packers rush defense is susceptible, but because they were leading in most of their games, wasn’t truly exploited. If Ronald Jones II can return and team up with Leonard Fournette, they could cause some real problems for the Packers front seven. It will also open up lanes for the passing game, making the play action especially dangerous. The Bucs rushed for 166 total yards in their win over the Packers, and they may need to get close to that total in this one if they want to come away with a win.
Packers Key Matchup: Aaron Rodgers vs Lavonte David & Devin White
David and White have developed into one of the most dangerous linebacker duos in the league. White returned from injury after missing the Bucs Wild-Card game and wreaked havoc on the Saints offense. These two also gave Rodgers fits in their first matchup, as they combined for 18 tackles and 2.5 sacks. They can effectively blitz the QB and play good coverage when called upon. The Bucs ran zone defense most of the time in their first matchup, and David and White play a big part in it’s success, taking away the crossing routes in the middle of the field that can kill zone coverages. Rodgers is going to have to find ways to not let David and White get overly involved in the game, because when they do, it’s a problem. Davante Adams will receive a lot of attention from the Tampa secondary, so Rodgers is going to need some of the Packers secondary receivers to step up and help him out in this one.
Buccaneers Key Matchup: Tom Brady vs The Packers Pass Rush
Simply put, when defenses can get pressure on Brady, he struggles. The pressure rate against Brady in the team’s losses was 27%, compared to just 14% in their wins. In their previous two meetings, the Saints managed to sack Brady three times, which helped slow him down, but this past weekend they only got to him once, which Brady took full advantage of. Za’Darius Smith led the way for the Packers this season with 12.5 sacks, but no one else on the team had more than 5. Smith will look for help from his brother, Preston Smith, in applying pressure on Brady in this one. Part of the reason it’s so tough to pressure Brady is because he gets rid of the ball so quickly, but if the Packers can close the pocket on Brady, they will be able to slow him down, and increase their odds of winning this one.
Packers Key Player: Robert Tonyan
Tonyan could end up being the deciding factor in whether the Packers offense succeeds against the Packers defense. He will probably see David and White in coverage at different times throughout the game, and it he can get open when covered by them it will do wonders for the Packers offense. Tonyan has developed into a legitimate red zone threat this season, but he will need to be effective all over the field. If he can get open on underneath routes, that will open up the deep throws for Rodgers, as we saw last weekend when Rodgers found Allen Lazard for a huge 56 yard touchdown. If Tonyan can break the zone coverage Tampa Bay used in their previous meeting, it may force Tampa Bay to go into man coverage, which is an instant mismatch when you are lining up across from Davante Adams. Tonyan is the key that could open the Packers passing offense up.
Buccaneers Key Player: Carlton Davis
Davis will likely draw the daunting matchup against Davante Adams, and it could prove to be vital for the Buccaneers success. While the Bucs tortured Rodgers and the Packers passing attack in their previous matchup, Adams was held to only six catches for 61 yards, and Davis was the primary man used in coverage. Davis, along with the rest of the Bucs secondary, is going to need to have a big day to slow down the Rodgers/Adams combination. If Davis struggles in coverage, the Bucs may be forced to slide over safety help on his side of the field, which in turn opens up other options that Rodgers will surely take advantage of. If Davis can hold his own against Adams, it makes Rodgers and the Packers task much more difficult.
With a trip to the Super Bowl on the line, neither team will go down without a fight. The Packers have a nice home field advantage, especially with temperature looking to be in the 20’s on Sunday. While Brady is used to playing in the freezing cold, his teammates are not. The Bucs have come to life over the backend of the season, but they have only beaten two teams with winning records this season, one of them being the Packers. It’s very tough to beat the same team twice in one season, and ultimately the Bucs will not be able to pull off such a feat. Rodgers throws for over 300 yards and 3 scores, Adams goes for over 100 yards and a touchdown, and Jaire Alexander will have the game clinching interception on a Brady desperation heave to Mike Evans. Packers 34 Buccaneers 31.
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