The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a chance to make NFL history, but first they'll have to revisit some of their own past, both recent and distant.
For the Buccaneers, the path to Super Bowl LV goes through Lambeau Field, where the 14-3 Green Bay Packers await. The Buccaneers used to be quite familiar with the charms of Lambeau Field, having spent 25 years (1977-2001) in the NFC Central along with the Packers. During that stretch, both the Buccaneers and Packers rose to prominence in the 1990s, culminating in a 1997 Divisional Playoff Game in Green Bay. The Packers won that game, 21-7, in an unforgettable battle of future Hall of Famers Brett Favre and Warren Sapp and eventually made their way to Super Bowl XXXII.
Green Bay didn't win the championship that season but they had raised the Lombardi Trophy the year before; meanwhile the Buccaneers would become annual postseason contenders, eventually capturing their first Super Bowl title after the 2002 season. That '02 campaign was also the first year of the newly-aligned NFL, with eight four-team divisions and the Bucs relocated to the new NFC South. That made matchups with the Packers less frequent, and trips to Lambeau even less so.
But now the rivalry is renewed in the 2020 NFC Championship, with Aaron Rodgers – another sure-best Hall of Famer – replacing Favre and the Buccaneers countering with their own Canton-bound quarterback in Tom Brady. After Brady and Tampa Bay dispatched of Drew Brees and the Saints in the Divisional Round, the Buccaneers move on to a quarterback pairing that could be even more historic. If Rodgers wins the NFL MVP award this year, as is widely anticipated, he and Brady will have accounted for six of the last 14 such trophies, with three each. Much more on that below.
The more recent history between the Buccaneers and Packers came three months ago, when Green Bay came to Florida and went home with a 38-10 defeat. It was easily the worst game of the year for the Packers, which only lost two other games and neither by more than six points. At the same time, it was probably Tampa Bay's 'signature win' of 2020, perhaps only topped by last Sunday's win in New Orleans.
The Buccaneers won that game primarily because they were able to pressure Rodgers into some very rare mistakes, including two of the five interceptions he threw all season. Obviously, the Bucs know that their chances of a second win over Green Bay this year go up greatly if they can duplicate that kind of pressure on Sunday, but they also know the result in Week Six has nothing to do with the upcoming game.
"It's the same thing as the Saints last week, having beaten us twice [in the regular season], pretty badly once," said Buccaneers Head Coach Bruce Arians. "And we won that ballgame. You can't fall into that trap of what happened last time. They're a much, much better football team, we're a much better football team. They're different right now. So you'd better take care of today's work each and every day."
The Buccaneers are trying to do something only four other teams have ever accomplished: win three straight road games to advance to the Super Bowl. The most recent team to do it was this week's opponent, as the 2010 Packers beat the Buccaneers and the Giants in a third-level tiebreaker to grab the sixth and final seed in the NFC and start an historic run. The 1985 Patriots, 2005 Steelers and 2007 Giants all followed the same unlikely path and all but the Patriots went on to win the Super Bowl.
If the Bucs can join those four teams in that exclusive club, they will also stand alone in league history. Super Bowl LV, the prize at stake on Sunday in Green Bay, will be played at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday, February 7. There have been 54 previous Super Bowls but never has a team played in one in their own stadium.
Of course, the Buccaneers will worry about that sort of history if and when it becomes a reality. For now, they are focused on a Green Bay team that has had nearly unbroken success in Rodgers' 13 years as a starter but for the first time in that span will be playing a conference championship game at home. The Packers finished the regular season with a 13-3 record for the second time Head Coach Matt LaFleur's two years at the helm, but last year their title chase ended in an NFC Championship Game loss at San Francisco.
That home field advantage was significant to Green Bay, which has lost three of its four conference title games in the Rodgers era. Rodgers has a career 108.5 passer rating at Lambeau Field and Green Bay is 8-1 at home this season, including last week's Divisional win over the Los Angeles Rams. The Buccaneers could earn the most significant home field advantage in league history on Sunday, but they'll have to overcome a Packers team that has positioned itself exactly where it wanted to be in late January.
Given their own recent history, the Buccaneers are pretty pleased with where they are right now, too.
"It's what we wanted, it's why we worked so hard," said wide receiver Mike Evans. "We're in a position now; we've just got to beat a really, really good team at home in a cold climate. We've got to do whatever we can, scratch and claw to get this win to reach our goal."
GAME AND BROADCAST DETAILS
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers (13-5) at Green Bay Packers (14-3)
- Sunday, January 24, 3:05 p.m. ET
- Lambeau Field (capacity: 81,441…approximately 6,500 fans will be in attendance)
- Green Bay, Wisconsin
- Television: FOX
- TV Broadcast Team: Joe Buck (play-by-play), Troy Aikman (analyst), Erin Andrews (reporter), Tom Rinaldi (reporter)
- Radio: 98Rock (WXTB, 97.9 FM), Flagship Station
- Radio Broadcast Team: Gene Deckerhoff (play-by-play), Dave Moore (analyst), T.J. Rives (reporter)
ALL-TIME HEAD-TO-HEAD SERIES
The Buccaneers and Packers have met in the playoffs before, but the last time it happened they were still division foes in the old NFC Central and the Super Bowl was not yet on the line. After snapping a 14-season playoff drought with a Wild Card berth in 1997, the Buccaneers beat Detroit at Tampa Stadium to earn a trip to Lambeau Field to play the Central-champion Packers in the division round. Donnie Abraham picked off two passes and Warren Sapp had three sacks in his ongoing mutual-appreciation feud with Brett Favre but Tampa Bay's offense couldn't get anything going in a 21-7 loss. Green Bay went on to lose to Denver in Super Bowl XXXII.
The Buccaneers and Packers spent 25 seasons together in that "Black-and-Blue Division" before expansion and realignment created Tampa Bay's new home, the NFC South, in 2002. All of those years of home-and-away season series, plus additional matchups every few seasons since '02 have led to 55 previous meetings, in which the Packers hold a 32-22-1 all-time edge.
The most recent meeting went very well for the Buccaneers, as they rebounded from an early 10-0 deficit in Week Six of this season to score 38 unanswered points and win going away at Raymond James Stadium. The Buccaneers sacked Aaron Rodgers four times and picked him off twice, and it was the only game all season in which Rodgers threw multiple interceptions and failed to record a touchdown pass. It was also the only game Green Bay lost by more than six points. Cornerback Jamel Dean started the Bucs' onslaught with a pick-six in the second quarter. Tom Brady threw two touchdown passes and Ronald Jones ran for two more scores.
The Packers last three decades have been defined by an incredible run of elite quarterbacking, and the Buccaneers helped usher that era in. Since 1992, Green Bay has been able to run out Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers for a total of 431 regular-season starts, with only 21 games started by another quarterback. In Week Two of 1992, the Buccaneers beat the Packers, 31-3, and prompted Mike Holmgren to bench Don Majkowski for Favre at halftime. After one more Majkowski start in Week Three, the Packers turned to Favre and he then started 253 straight games. Aaron Rodgers succeeded Favre in 2008 and began his own incredible run.
As such, it was 25 years between the Majkowski start and the Bucs facing any Green Bay quarterback other than Favre and Rodgers. Brett Hundley started in place of an injured Favre in a Bucs-Packers game at Lambeau Field in 2017, helping the home team pull out a 26-20 lead. The Bucs' most recent win in the series also featured a notable start by a quarterback, as it was the first one for then-rookie Josh Freeman in 2009 after an 0-7 start by Tampa Bay. The Bucs pulled off a major upset over a playoff-bound Packers team, winning 38-28 in a game that included a blocked punt return for a punt by Ronde Barber and a pick-six by Tanard Jackson.
On their way to a Super Bowl championship, the Buccaneers faced the Packers in 2002 despite moving out of the rebranded NFC North Division. Brian Kelly had two of Tampa Bay's four interceptions off Favre in a 21-7 decision at Raymond James Stadium. Another notable win for the Buccaneers came early in their 2005 division-winning campaign, as red-hot rookie Cadillac Williams ran for 158 yards. Two Joey Galloway touchdowns and two Will Allen picks helped the Bucs escape Lambeau Field with a 17-16 decision. The Bucs-Packers series also includes the only tie in Tampa Bay's franchise history, a 14-14 final in 1980 in which Green Bay actually rolled up 569 yards of offense.
The memorable turnaround the Bucs' franchise experienced in the '90s after a decade-and-a-half of futility began in 1997, but the Packers still won the Battle of the Bays three times that year, including the one that eliminated Tampa Bay from the playoffs. That was part of a six-game winning streak in the series for Green Bay, as Favre and the Packers became the hurdle the Buccaneers had to overcome in order to go from good to great. They finally did so with a 24-22 win in December of 1998 that included touchdown catches of 64 yards by Jacquez Green and 62 yards by Reidel Anthony.
- Packers Offensive Coordinator Nathaniel Hackett began his NFL coaching career in Tampa, spending the 2006-07 seasons as an offensive quality control coach on Jon Gruden's staff. His father, Paul Hackett, was the Buccaneers' quarterbacks coach from 2005-07.
- Buccaneers Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles worked as a college scouting assistant for the Packers in 1995 and 1996.
- Green Bay Defensive Backs Coach Jerry Gray played nine seasons in the league as a defensive back, the last one with Tampa Bay in 1993.
- Packers Senior Analyst Butch Barry also broke into the NFL with the Buccaneers, spending four seasons (2015-18) as the team's assistant offensive line coach.
- Green Bay's Vice President of Communications Jason Wahlers was a member of the Buccaneers' public relations staff for nine years (2002-10) before joining the Packers in 2011.
SENIOR COACHING STAFFS
· Tampa Bay:
- Head Coach Bruce Arians
- Assistant Head Coach/Run Game Coordinator Harold Goodwin
- Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles
- Offensive Coordinator Byron Leftwich
- Special Teams Coordinator Keith Armstrong
· Green Bay:
- Head Coach Matt LaFleur
- Offensive Coordinator Nathaniel Hackett
- Defensive Coordinator Mike Pettine
- Special Teams Coordinator Shawn Mennenga
KEY 2020 ROSTER ADDITIONS
- QB Tom Brady UFA)
- WR Antonio Brown (FA)
- RB Leonard Fournette (FA)
- TE Rob Gronkowski (T-NE)
- T Joe Haeg (UFA)
- WR Tyler Johnson (5th-round draft pick)
- RB LeSean McCoy (FA)
- DT Steve McLendon (T-NYJ)
- K Ryan Succop (FA)
- RB Ke'Shawn Vaughn (3rd-round draft pick)
- S Antoine Winfield Jr. (2nd-round draft pick)
- T Tristan Wirfs (1st-round draft pick)
- RB A.J. Dillon (2nd-round draft pick)
- DL Damon Harrison (W-SEA)
- LB Christian Kirksey (FA)
- QB Jordan Love (1st-round draft pick)
- LB Kamal Martin (5th-round draft pick)
- G Jon Runyan (6th-round draft pick)
- T Rick Wagner (FA)
ADDITIONAL 2020 CHANGES OF NOTE
- Though it is noted in the "Roster Additions" section above, it's worth further elaborating on the extremely dramatic change the Buccaneers made at the game's most important position. After five seasons, the team moved on from Jameis Winston, the first-overall pick in the 2015 draft, and filled the starting quarterback spot with the man many consider the G.O.A.T., former Patriot Tom Brady. Brady brings 20 years of experience and six Super Bowl championship rings to Tampa in one of the most notable free agent signings in NFL history. Brady's move to the Buccaneers also prompted former Patriots star tight end Rob Gronkowski to come out of retirement and he was promptly traded to Tampa Bay for a fourth-round draft pick. Another former teammate of Brady's, albeit for just one game, arrived in late October when the Buccaneers signed WR Antonio Brown.
- Tampa Bay debuted new uniforms in Week One in New Orleans. The uniforms are largely inspired by the ones the team wore during its Super Bowl era and overall from 1997 through 2013. Some elements of the uniforms introduced in 2014 remain, such as the sharper, more detailed skull-and-crossed-swords logo and the larger flag on the helmet (though not as large as before). The uniforms debuting in 2020 also include an all-pewter version that is completely unique in team and NFL history and was worn for the first time in Denver in Week Three.
- The Buccaneers have two new additions to their coaching staff in 2020: Defensive/Special Teams Assistant Keith Tandy and Assistant Strength & Conditioning Coach Cory Bichey. Tandy worked at the high school and college levels in 2019, the latter at his alma mater of West Virginia, but he begins his NFL coaching career with the same team that drafted him in 2012. Tandy spent six seasons in Tampa as a safety and special teams standout before finishing his playing career in Atlanta in 2018. Bichey comes to the Buccaneers from Mississippi State University, where he previously worked under current Buccaneers Head Strength & Conditioning Coach Anthony Piroli.
- The Buccaneers used their franchise tag during the 2020 offseason for the first time in eight years. That tag was employed to retain outside linebacker Shaq Barrett, who went from a rotational reserve in Denver to the NFL's 2019 sack leader after signing with the Bucs as an unrestricted free agent. Barrett's 19.5 sacks in his first year with the Buccaneers broke Warren Sapp's single-season franchise record and made him one of the team's top priorities in the offseason. Barrett and the Bucs were unable to reach agreement on a long-term deal during the 2020 offseason, in part due to the uncertainties caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, so Barrett played on the tag's one-year contract this season.
- The Buccaneers lost one of their key defensive players in Week Five when third-year defensive lineman Vita Vea suffered a broken leg and was placed on injured reserve, ending his season. Vea recorded 2.0 sacks through the first five games and was a key member of the team's league-leading run defense. However, Vea returned to practice this week and could possibly be activated in time for Sunday's game.
- Green Bay used a first-round pick on a quarterback for the first time in 15 years, trading up to the 26th overall spot to select Utah State's Jordan Love. Love now backs up Aaron Rodgers, who was the team's last first-round quarterback in 2005. The Packers may view Love as their eventual replacement for Rodgers as the team's next long-term answer at the position, but that move is not looking particularly imminent with Rodgers recording a 121.5 passer rating and a 48-5 TD-INT ratio in 2020.
- The Packers signed wide receiver Devin Funchess to pair with Davante Adams but Funchess elected to opt out of the season based on COVID-19 concerns. Otherwise, the team made no additions to their wide receiving corps.
- Green Bay also moved on from long-time right tackle Bryan Bulaga, who signed with the Los Angeles Chargers. Billy Turner, a 2019 addition who started all 16 games at right guard for the Packers last year, split time at that spot with Ricky Wagner but is now playing left tackle, with Wagner holding down the right side.
- In March, the Packers promoted Luke Getsy to the position of quarterbacks/passing game coordinator. He had spent his first season on Matt LaFleur's staff as the quarterbacks coach. LaFleur also promoted offensive assistant Jason Vrable to wide receivers coach. That position was vacated in January when Alvis Whitted was dismissed. Offensive Quality Control Coach Connor Lewis and Senior Analyst Butch Barry are also new additions to the coaching staff in 2020.
Dueling MVPs – The Buccaneers are coming off a game that pitted the two all-time leading passers in NFL history in the first playoff game ever between two starting QBs over the age of 40…and somehow this week's quarterback matchup is even more compelling. As noted above, Rodgers could match Brady's total of three MVP awards by winning it this year, which seems likely after he threw 48 touchdown passes and just five interceptions and compiled the second-highest single-season passer rating of all time (121.5, behind only his own 122.5 in 2011). Brady wasn't far behind with 40 touchdown passes as he made it increasingly clear that he was still at the top of his game at the age of 43. Brady's most significant edge in comparing resumes is, of course, his postseason success, as he owns a league-record six Super Bowl championships among nine total trips to the big game. Brady has also been named the Super Bowl MVP four times, an award that Rodgers also earned when his Packers beat Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XLV. Though Rodgers is six years Brady's junior, his accomplishments at the age of 37 are equally remarkable and he has indicated he also wants to play into his 40s. At the moment, Brady is first in league history in career regular-season touchdown passes (581) and second by a very small margin to the possibly-retiring Drew Brees in passing yards (79,204); Rodgers is seventh and 11th in those categories, respectively. If he does play into his 40s and continue to produce at such a high level, Rodgers might eventually end up in the same statistical neighborhood as Brady and Brees. Right now, however, they are simply two of the best quarterbacks in the game fighting for just one number Sunday: one win.
Pressure Packed Situation – Speaking of those two incredible quarterbacks, they did already share a field this season in Tampa in Week Six. As noted above, the Buccaneers won that game handily, roaring back from an early 10-0 deficit to score 38 unanswered points. Neither Brady nor Rodgers threw for anywhere near their per-game average in yards in 2020, but Brady's final line ended up much more palatable. The Bucs' quarterback completed 17 of 27 passes for 166 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating of 104.9. Rodgers completed just 16 of 35 passes for 160 yards, no touchdowns, two interceptions and a passer rating of 35.4. The main reason in the disparity between those two lines can be found in the one number we haven't presented yet: Rodgers was sacked four times while Brady wasn't dropped once. The Bucs' defense also hit Rodgers 12 times (and backup Tim Boyle once) while Brady was only hit four times. It doesn't take a football savant to determine that the defense that puts the most pressure on these two passers will have the best chance of slowing him down, and both of these defenses can definitely get after the quarterback. Tampa Bay's defense ranked seventh in sacks per pass play (7.78%), with Green Bay's defense just behind in eighth (7.65%). The Bucs had three players with eight or more sacks in 2020 – OLB's Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaq Barrett and ILB Devin White – and the Packers have a dangerous inside-outside combination in Za'Darius Smith and Kenny Clark. Which one, if either, will succeed in disrupting the opposing passer? It may have to do with which offense can get its ground game going the quickest. Green Bay's rushing attack has been more successful in 2020 but the Bucs have come on strong of late, with an average of 118.5 rushing yards per game over the last four weeks. "When you're running it [well], that fraction of a [second] changing somebody's eyes, that initial step in the wrong direction gets people open and it makes it easy."
Coldly Calculating – The game-time temperature for Sunday's NFC Championship Game is expected to be in the mid-20s, with the possibility of some snow flurries. In the rare occasions that the Buccaneers face the prospect of a cold weather game it raises concerns – outside team headquarters – about the franchise's historical struggles in such conditions. But is that what history really tells us? It is true that the franchise lost its first 21 games with a kickoff temperature below 40, but the first two decades of franchise history involved a lot of defeats under all conditions. In 2002, the Buccaneers capped their regular season with a win over the Bears in Champaign, Illinois with a kickoff temperature of 38 degrees (and falling fast). Three weeks later, the Bucs memorably shut down the Vet on a frigid evening to earn a spot in Super Bowl XXXVII. One might have expected those outcomes to kill that old storyline about the franchise, but the team did not win another game below 40 degrees until earlier this year. There's a good reason for that, though – they only played four such games from 2003 through 2019. One of those was at Lambeau Field in 2011, and while the Bucs lost that game, 35-26, it was a surprisingly competitive contest between a Tampa Bay team in the midst of an 11-game losing streak and a Green Bay team that would finish 15-1. The 2020 Buccaneers played two games in under-40-degree weather this season – at the New York Giants on Monday Night Football in Week Eight and at Washington in the Wild Card game – and won them both. Said Arians: "I don't really consider 28 degrees cold. I grew up in the North. We've got a lot of guys that played in Green Bay and played in colleges up north. The weather won't affect the ballgame, I don't think, at all."
Turning Over a New Leaf? – As one would expect from the final two teams standing in the conference, the Buccaneers and Packers did a good job of winning the turnover battle in 2020, overall and week to week. The Bucs ranked seventh with a plus-eight ratio and the Packers were next on the list with a plus-seven ratio. Adding in the playoff results, and the Bucs are now at plus-12 while the Packers remain at plus-seven. Counting last week's game in New Orleans, Tampa Bay is now 10-0 in 2020 when it wins the game's turnover battle. Since the arrival of Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles in 2019, the Bucs have recorded 53 takeaways, tied for fourth-most in the NFL in that span. But the Buccaneers did something against the Saints that they hadn't done since Week Two of this season: Force more than two turnovers in a single game. The Bucs have frequently won turnover battles in the second half of the season because they're offense essentially swore off giving the ball away in Week 14 (two giveaways in six games since), but it wasn't until Sunday in the Superdome that the defense started to take the ball away with regularity again. As both Arians and Bowles have said on more than one occasion, turnovers tend to come in bunches, and the Buccaneers will have to hope that's true and they're at the start of another run. Given the potency of the Packers' offense, it may be tough for the Bucs to come out on top if their defense can't take it away from Rodgers and company on a couple occasions. The Packers beat the Rams last weekend in the Divisional Round in what remained a seven-point game past the midway point of the fourth quarter. What the Rams didn't get was a single turnover and they just couldn't quite claw all the way back into the game.
Secondary Support – After allowing 282 passing yards and an 82.9% completion rate in a lopsided Week Nine loss to New Orleans, Tampa Bay's defense got its revenge in impressive fashion last Sunday, holding the Packers to 190 passing yards (56 of it on a trick-play pass by Jameis Winston) and a 57.1 completion percentage. Tampa Bay's young cornerback trio of Carlton Davis, Jamel Dean and Sean Murphy-Bunting was particularly impressive in coverage and the Bucs' broke up eight of Drew Brees's passes in all. The Bucs appeared to adopt a more aggressive approach in coverage, but it's fair to wonder if that was prompted at least in part by the Saints' offensive approach, which rarely asks Drew Brees to throw downfield anymore. Can the Bucs' young secondary clamp down on a second straight legendary quarterback, one who threw 48 touchdown passes in 2020? The first question may be if it can afford to be as aggressive in Green Bay as it was in New Orleans. According to Next Gen Stats, Rodgers threw 74 "deep passes" in the 2020 regular season, the second most in the league, and completed 31 of them, the most in the league. Those 74 passes included 12 touchdowns and no interceptions. One of the keys for the Bucs' young defensive backs will be to avoid being manipulated by Rodgers' eyes and getting moved off their spots. Said rookie safety Antoine Winfield: "He's great with his eyes so we've got to make sure we're in our right positions. We can't get fooled by what he's doing. I've just got to make sure I'm doing my job, and the same with all my teammates around me. He's great back there, one of the greatest quarterbacks, so you know we've got tighten up on the back end to get the job done."
1. Packers WR Davante Adams vs. Buccaneers CB Carlton Davis
Davis has had his share of shutting down opposing number-one receivers – most recently taking the lead in pitching the first-ever shutout against the Saints' Michael Thomas in the Divisional Round – but if the Bucs choose to have him shadow Adams it might be the most urgent assignment of his young career. Adams was the NFL's most unstoppable receiver in 2020. He has caught at least six passes in all but one game so far this year, including the playoffs and, incredibly, he has scored in 14 of the Packers' 17 games. Adams finished the season with 115 catches for 1,374 yards and 18 touchdowns, the last total leading the league, all while missing two-and-a-half games. Adams is extremely good at beating press coverage at the line, but laying off in coverage allows him to utilize his sharp cuts, which he makes without telegraphing his intentions. And Green Bay's incredible red zone offense – a league-leading 80% touchdown rate – has a lot to do with the connection between Adams and Aaron Rodgers, who hooked up for 14 touchdowns on red zone passes. That's the most for any receiver in the league. Davis has the size to match up with the 6-1, 215-pound Adams and is very good in press coverage, which could set up some interesting battles at the line of scrimmage. Davis is also adept at mirroring receivers in their routes, a rare skill that has helped him rank second in the NFL passes defensed in each of the past two seasons. According to Next Gen Stats, Davis allowed just one reception for 16 yards in last weekend's win at New Orleans and receivers could get only 1.1 yards of average separation from him when they were targeted with him in coverage.
2. Buccaneers C Ryan Jensen vs. Packers DL Kenny Clark
The 6-3, 314-pound Clark showed his potential for disrupting an offense in the Divisional Round when he hit the Rams with 1.5 sacks, providing the Packers with the kind of up-the-middle pressures that is hard to come by. After he racked up 16.5 sacks and 22 QB hits from 2017-19, Green Bay locked him down with a four-year, $70-million contract. The Packers' defense is simply more effective at getting to the quarterback when he's on the field, perhaps because of the attention he draws away from the edge rushers. From the start of 2018 through the midpoint of 2020, Green Bay's defense had a pressure rate of 31.7% with Clark on the field and a 22.3% rate without him, according to Next Gen Stats. With two legendary quarterbacks who each topped 40 touchdown passes this year playing at a very high level, the game could be decided by which defense is able to pressure the opposing passer into more miscues. Fortunately for the Buccaneers, their offensive line has played at a high level most of the season and particularly down the stretch and into the playoffs. The Bucs finished second in the league on offense in sacks allowed per pass play and have held up very well against two of the league's best pass-rushing teams in Washington and New Orleans. Jensen has been a key part of that effort and is also the emotional leader for that line, a blocker who will stay engaged right up to the whistle. Jensen and guards Ali Marpet and Aaron Stinnie also helped the Buccaneers put together a very strong running game between the tackles in the win over the Saints, with Leonard Fournette getting 63 yards and Ronald Jones adding 62. The line of scrimmage will be a battleground on Sunday afternoon and Jensen is the anchor that holds the Bucs' blocking wall intact.
3. Packers T Billy Turner vs. Buccaneers OLB Shaquil Barrett
On the other side of the ball, the Buccaneers hope to generate more pressure than they have in recent weeks. According to Next Gen Stats, the Buccaneers had a pressure rate on its pass rushes of less than 20% just one time in their first 10 games, but then fell below that mark four times over the next seven contests, which stretched into the Wild Card game at Washington. The Bucs then failed to get a sack and had just three QB hits on Drew Brees last Sunday. Of all the Tampa Bay defenders who could break the team out of this mini-slump, Barrett is the most likely. He racked up 59 quarterback pressures during the regular season despite missing the Week 17 game against Atlanta, which ranked third in the entire NFL. He was the one who got closest to Brees last Sunday, with an average separation from the quarterback at the time of the pass of 3.79 yards. That was by far the best of any Bucs' pass-rusher and significantly better than the NFL average of 4.52 yards. Barrett and fellow outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul have switched back and forth from the right and left sides based on matchups this season, but both saw close to half their snaps on each side in New Orleans. When Barrett is rushing off Aaron Rodgers' blind side he will have to contend with Billy Turner, who is holding down the left tackle job after the loss of Pro Bowler David Bakhtiari to an ACL tear in Week 16. Turner had mostly played guard before 2020, including starting every game at right guard for the Packers last year, but he has played primarily at the two tackle spots this year and has been a savior for Green Bay through various injury issues. Turner is athletic and nimble and he moves well on the run, which helps in the Packers' zone blocking scheme but also makes him tough to get around for speed rushers on the edge.
4. Buccaneers TE Cameron Brate vs. Packers S Adrian Amos
Brate had 282 receiving yards during the entire 2020 regular season. He already has 130 yards through two playoff games, the most any Buccaneer tight end has ever had in a single postseason. It's not that Brate was struggling during the regular season and has suddenly found his footing; it's a simple matter of defensive priorities and the Bucs' run-blocking schemes. In Washington, Rob Gronkowski spent most of his time as a blocker on the end of the line and was superb in that role, helping keeping the Football Team's fierce pass rush at bay and create a strong ground game for the Bucs. In New Orleans, the Saints focused on limiting Tampa Bay's outside receivers, creating opportunities over the middle for the likes of Brate, running back Leonard Fournette and slot receiver Chris Godwin. Always a sure-handed receiver who could make catches in traffic and hold onto the ball despite hard hits, Brate has been finding more open holes in opposing defenses in the playoffs and is averaging an impressive 16.3 yards per catch. If the Packers choose a similar strategy to what the Saints employed, Brate could become a favored target yet again. However, Green Bay's secondary does include two safeties who are strong in coverage and who are playing their best football near the end of the season. A 2019 free agency acquisition, Amos made an instant difference in Green Bay's overall coverage upon his arrival and has continued to do so in 2020. Amos did it all this season, leading the team with 83 tackles while adding two sacks, two interceptions and nine passes defensed.
DNP: Did not participate in practice
LP: Limited participation in practice
FP: Full participation in practice
NL: Not listed
- WR Antonio Brown (knee) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: DNP; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Out.
- WR Mike Evans (knee) – WEDS: LP; THURS: LP; FRI: LP. Game Status: Not listed.
- WR Chris Godwin (quad) – WEDS: LP; THURS: LP; FRI: LP. Game Status: Not listed.
- RB Ronald Jones (quad/finger) – WEDS: LP; THURS: LP. FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
- DL Jeremiah Ledbetter (calf) – WEDS: FP; THURS: FP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
- G Ali Marpet (pectoral) – WEDS: FP; THURS: FP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
- CB Sean Murphy-Bunting (quad/ankle) – WEDS: LP; THURS: LP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
- OLB Jason Pierre-Paul (knee/not injury related) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: DNP; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Not listed.
- S Jordan Whitehead (knee) – WEDS: LP; THURS: LP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
- S Antoine Winfield, Jr. (ankle)– WEDS: NL; THURS: FP; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Questionable.
- LB Krys Barnes (thumb) – WEDS: LP; THURS: LP; FRI: LP. Game Status: Not listed.
- K Mason Crosby (shoulder) – WEDS: LP; THURS: LP; FRI: LP. Game Status: Not listed.
- RB AJ Dillon (quad) – WEDS: LP; THURS: LP. FRI: LP. Game Status: Not listed.
- DL Kingsley Keke (concussion) – WEDS: LP; THURS: LP; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Out.
- CB Kevin King (back) – WEDS: NL; THURS: NL; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Questionable.
- WR Allen Lazard (wrist/back) – WEDS: LP; THURS: LP; FRI: LP. Game Status: Not listed.
- TE Marcedes Lewis (knee) – WEDS: LP; THURS: DNP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
- S Will Redmond (knee) – WEDS: FP; THURS: LP; FRI: LP. Game Status: Not listed.
- LB Za'Darius Smith (thumb) – WEDS: LP; THURS: LP; FRI: LP. Game Status: Not listed.
- WR Equanimeous St. Brown (knee/ankle) – WEDS: LP; THURS: LP; FRI: LP. Game Status: Not listed.
- T Rick Wagner (knee) – WEDS: LP; THURS: LP; FRI: LP. Game Status: Not listed.
- RB Jamaal Williams (ankle) – WEDS: LP; THURS: LP; FRI: LP. Game Status: Not listed.
Intermittent snow showers, high of 28, low of 18, 46% chance of precipitation, 82% humidity, winds out of the W at 5-10 mph.
Head referee: Clete Blakeman (13 seasons, 11 as referee)
- Favorite: Packers (-3.0)
- Over/Under: 51.0
INDIVIDUAL STAT LEADERS
Buccaneers (regular season)-
- Points Scored: K Ryan Succop, 136
- Touchdowns: WR Mike Evans, 13
- Passing Yards: QB Tom Brady, 4,633
- Passer Rating: QB Tom Brady, 102.2
- Rushing Yards: RB Ronald Jones, 978
- Receptions: WR Mike Evans, 70
- Receiving Yards: WR Mike Evans, 1,006
- Interceptions: CB Carlton Davis, 4
- Sacks: OLB Jason Pierre-Paul, 9.5
- Tackles: ILB Devin White, 140
Packers (regular season)-
- Points Scored: WR Davante Adams, 108
- Touchdowns: WR Davante Adams, 18
- Passing Yards: QB Aaron Rodgers, 4,299
- Passer Rating: QB Aaron Rodgers, 121.5
- Rushing Yards: RB Aaron Jones, 1,104
- Receptions: WR Davante Adams, 115
- Receiving Yards: WR Davante Adams, 1,374
- Interceptions: S Darnell Savage, 4
- Sacks: OLB Za'Darius Smith, 12.5
- Tackles: S Adrian Amos, 83
TEAM STAT RANKINGS
Buccaneers (regular season)-
- Scoring Offense: 3rd (30.8 ppg)
- Total Offense: 7th (384.1 ypg)
- Passing Offense: 2nd (289.1 ypg)
- Rushing Offense: t-28th (94.9 ypg)
- First Downs Per Game: t-10th (22.8)
- Third-Down Pct.: 11th (43.5%)
- Sacks Per Pass Attempt Allowed: 2nd (3.51%)
- Red Zone TD Pct.: 7th (68.9%)
- Scoring Defense: 8th (22.2 ppg)
- Total Defense: 6th (327.1 ypg)
- Passing Defense: 21st (246.6 ypg)
- Rushing Defense: 1st (80.6 ypg)
- First Downs Allowed Per Game: 5th (19.9)
- Third-Down Pct. Allowed: 14th (40.0%)
- Sacks Per Pass Attempt: 7th (7.78%)
- Red Zone TD Pct. Allowed: 20th (62.8%)
- Turnover Margin: 6th (+8)
Packers (regular season)-
- Scoring Offense: 1st (31.8 ppg)
- Total Offense: 5th (389.0 ypg)
- Passing Offense: 9th (256.6 ypg)
- Rushing Offense: 8th (132.4 ypg)
- First Downs Per Game: 13th (22.4)
- Third-Down Pct.: 2nd (49.4%)
- Sacks Per Pass Attempt Allowed: 5th (3.99%)
- Red Zone TD Pct.: 1st (80.0%)
- Scoring Defense: 14th (23.1 ppg)
- Total Defense: 9th (334.0 ypg)
- Passing Defense: 7th (221.2 ypg)
- Rushing Defense: t-13th (112.8 ypg)
- First Downs Allowed Per Game: 10th (20.8)
- Third-Down Pct. Allowed: t-10th (39.5%)
- Sacks Per Pass Attempt: 8th (7.65%)
- Red Zone TD Pct. Allowed: 8th (57.7%)
- Turnover Margin: 7th (+7)
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
- TE Cameron Brate had 130 yards on eight catches through the first two games of the 2020 postseason. If he gets 19 more yards on Sunday he will surpass Buccaneers Ring of Honor Member Jimmie Giles (148) for the most career postseason receiving yards by a Tampa Bay tight end.
- RB Leonard Fournette had 239 yards from scrimmage this postseason. He only needs seven more on Sunday in Green Bay to surpass Michael Pittman (245 in 2002) for the most yards from scrimmage by a Buccaneer in a single postseason.
- CB Sean Murphy-Bunting has an interception in each of the last two games. If he picks off another pass in Green Bay he will be the first player in franchise history with an interception in three consecutive playoff games. He would also be the first NFL player to have a pick in three straight games in the same postseason since R.W. McQuarters in 2007.
- TE Rob Gronkowski has already recorded an incredible 12 touchdown catches in his playoff career. That is tied with John Stallworth for the second most postseason scores in NFL history, so one more on Sunday would put Gronkowski alone in second place. He has a ways to go to catch the record, though, as Jerry Rice scored 22 times in the playoffs.
- Gronkowski has also recorded four 100-yard receiving games in the playoffs, tying Jordan Reed for the most by a tight end in league history. One more and Gronkowski will stand alone.
- Not to be outdone, WR Antonio Brown has five 100-yard receiving games in postseason play. If he gets another one on Sunday he will tie Julian Edelman and Michael Irvin for the second most by any player in league annals.
- Head Coach Bruce Arians on the Buccaneers practicing within sight of Raymond James Stadium, which is undergoing outward changes in preparation for Super Bowl LV: "We don't play that game this week – that's the message to everybody. We play the Packers in the NFC Championship game. If you start thinking about the Super Bowl, you get beat and [will] be packing your bags on Monday."
- Quarterback Tom Brady on if he's had conversations with his teammates about playing in conference championship games: "I think everyone understands the significance of these [games]. It's very difficult to get to this point – to be [one of] four of [the last] 32 [teams]. I think we're all excited for it, but certainly understand we have a lot of prep to go. We're going to take every minute up to kickoff to get ready to go."
- Safety Antoine Winfield, Jr. on how the Packers are different since losing in Tampa in Week Six: "They still have a great offense. It's the same offense. It is difficult to beat the same team twice, so we know going in that we really have to prepare well, practice well [and] make sure we're still studying these guys extremely well because they have a great offense. Going into this game, that game before doesn't matter anymore. The game last week [does not] matter anymore. We've just got to know to move forward and get ready to prepare to go out there and play these guys.
- Wide receiver Mike Evans on helping the team that drafted him seven years ago make it back to the NFC Championship Game: "It's awesome. A lot of guys, we've been losing for a long time. We didn't take the easy road out – guys didn't demand trades. I know people's situations are different, but for guys like me, Lavonte [David], Will Gholston, Ali Marpet, Donovan Smith, Cam Brate and all those other guys who have been here for over four, five years – nine years for Lavonte – it means a lot. We've been here, we saw some bad days. We're happy to be in the position we are now."
- Running back Ronald Jones on Aaron Stinnie stepping in at right guard to make his first NFL start and keep the Bucs' offensive line operating at a high level: "My boy, he did great out there, a lot of single blocks. We weren't helping him, chipping and things like that. That game, that's just a testament to his hard work and his preparation, things like that. Like Coach always says: 'Next man up.' You never know when it's going to be, but when you're opportunity comes you've got to keep it moving. I think he did a great job."