GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV) – Dream matchups don’t get much better than this: NFC Championship at Lambeau Field. Packers-Buccaneers. Rodgers-Brady.
At stake is berth in Super Bowl LV in sunny Tampa on February 7. Will Aaron Rodgers get a chance at his second ring or will Tom Brady vie for his seventh?
It’s the first time Rodgers and Brady meet in postseason play with everything on the line. Brady, appearing in a record 14th conference title game, is attempting to become only the fourth quarterback in league history to lead two franchises to a Super Bowl. The others are Peyton Manning, Kurt Warner, and Craig Morton.
The No. 6-seeeded Buccaneers are road warriors, winning a franchise-best seven consecutive road games, including postseason triumphs at Washington and New Orleans. With a victory at the NFL’s most hallowed stadium, Tampa Bay would become the first team in NFL history to advance to the Super Bowl played in their home stadium.
Head coach Bruce Arians is keeping his team focused on the task at hand in the Wisconsin cold.
“We don’t play that game this week,” Arians said. “That’s the message to everybody. We play the Packers in the NFC Championship. If you start thinking about the Super Bowl, you’ll get beat and (will) be packing your bags on Monday.”
After a disappointing loss to the 49ers in San Francisco in last year’s NFC Championship game, the Packers and Rodgers were driven this season to earn the top seed and host divisional and championship contests at frosty Lambeau in January.
“I remember when I heard the news about him (Brady) coming to the NFC, I thought this was a real possibility,” Rodgers said this week. “I’m excited about the opportunity to play against him one more time.” In three previous regular-season games with the Patriots, Brady holds a 2-1 edge over Rodgers in head-to-head meetings.
While the future hall of fame quarterbacks are garnering the bulk of headlines this week, success for Green Bay may matter most with another Aaron.
Running back Aaron Jones was held to just 15 yards in 10 carries in Week 6, when the Packers bolted out to a 10-0 first-quarter lead and then were blown out in the next 45 minutes as Tampa Bay reeled off 38 unanswered points—28 in the second quarter.
Rodgers threw two interceptions on back-to-back possessions in that decisive quarter—one a pick-6—as Brady picked apart the Packers defense and the Buccaneers defense blitzed and battered Rodgers in recording five sacks. A 14-10 game quickly turned into a rout as Green Bay never recovered.
Tampa Bay’s talented and fast linebacking corps, spearheaded by Devon White and Lavonte David, simply smothered Jones and made the Packers one-dimensional. Rodgers had his worst statistical game of the season, finishing with a 35.4 passer rating and just 16 completions in 35 attempts (45.7%) for 160 yards with no touchdowns.
That’s why establishing the run early in the game at Lambeau Field is so crucial with its deep backfield of Jones, Jamaal Williams, and rookie AJ Dillon, who is nursing a quad injury. Tampa Bay’s Ronald Jones rushed for 113 yards and two touchdowns against Green Bay and Mike Pettine’s defense will be tested down the middle with tight-end Rob Gronkowski and deep with the receiver trio of Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and Antonio Brown.
Tampa Bay has already proven that a team can rebound in the playoffs and defeat a team that owned them in regular-season play.
Spearheaded by a defense that forced four turnovers of a Drew Breese-led Saints offense, the Buccaneers were dominant in New Orleans last Sunday night after losing twice to them. Head coach Matt LaFleur and his staff and team were out-coached and out-played in October in Tampa. LaFleur was not happy with his team’s practices or prep coming off their bye week.
How Green Bay adjusts and game plans in the NFC Championship rematch will be interesting to see Sunday. The Packers led the NFL with just 11 turnovers this season and will have to continue that trend against the opportunistic Bucs and Brady. “Turnovers could decide the game,” former Chicago Bears head coach Mike Ditka said.
Ditka also said football fans should savor this one. The weather forecast is for temps in the 20s and some accumulating snow Sunday morning.
“I tell you what, that’s going to be a great game at Lambeau Field,” Ditka said. “Two of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game. The Packers at home will be hard to beat. The weather doesn’t mean much when you’re playing in a championship game, but it favors Green Bay a little. I think the Chiefs will win in the AFC. So it’s going to be a helluva Super Bowl.”
NFL Championship Predictions
Four keys to Packers success: establish the run with Jones and Williams. Pressure and disrupt Brady. Protect Rodgers and win battle in trenches. Create and capitalize on turnovers.
Packers 27, Buccaneers 24