One team, with its gunslinging signal-caller, top-tier wide receiver and young-gun 41-year-old head coach will look to hold off the opposition at home and take the franchise to its first Super Bowl in 10 years.
The other team, meanwhile, will rely on a six-time Super Bowl champion, surplus of receiving options and veteran 68-year-old head coach to claim the road win and reach the Super Bowl for the first time in 18 years.
All stakes will be on the line Sunday afternoon, as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will face the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field at 3:05 p.m. EST.
The Bruce Arians-led Buccaneers find themselves in their first NFC Conference Championship since Jan. 19, 2003, when they overtook the Philadelphia Eagles, 27-10. Tampa Bay, through two postseason games during their current season, have utilized just enough offense and clutch stops from the defense to win games.
Offensively, it is all about Tom Brady and a receiving corps including Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown. Evans, Godwin, Brown and running back Leonard Fournette each have one receiving touchdown to their name this postseason. Ironically enough, tight end Cameron Brate, despite not collecting a receiving touchdown in the postseason, currently leads Tampa Bay receivers with 130 receiving yards. Together, Brady’s production (he is 40-73 with 580 passing yards, four passing touchdowns and a 99.1 quarterback rating) behind a stout offensive line has been good enough to get the job done, even though the completion volume is not at usual Brady standards.
Defensively, the Buccaneers showed out against Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints in their 30-20 win in the Divisional Round. Over the course of the game, the Buccaneers’ defense collected three interceptions off of four total turnovers. The four takeaways in the game marked the first time Tampa Bay’s defense collected at least four takeaways in a postseason game since their 48-21 Super Bowl XXXVII win against the Oakland Raiders on Jan. 26, 2003 (Tampa Bay picked up five). Should Tampa Bay wish to keep Green Bay’s opposing offense quiet, the likes of Antoine Winfield Jr. and Sean Murphy-Bunting will need to be magnetic in coverage, while the front-seven led by Lavonte David and Devin White (who lead Tampa Bay linebackers in total tackles with 16 and 11, respectively) will need to keep the opposing quarterback out of sync.
Speaking of the opposing offense, let’s discuss it. That is, if anything about Matt LaFleur’s offense needs to be discussed. The quarterback-wide receiver duo of Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams has almost been like no other over the season’s entirety, postseason included. In Green Bay’s 32-18 Divisional Round win over the Los Angeles Rams, Rodgers found Adams for nine receptions (10 targets), 66 yards and one touchdown. When coupled with running back Aaron Jones in the backfield, tight end Robert Tonyan in the end zone and a strong offensive line up front, Green Bay’s offense will look to continue cruising as it has done for the majority of the season.
On the Packers’ defensive side, Rashan Gary and Kenny Clark (who combined for five quarterback hits against Los Angeles) will look to keep the trenches physical and nasty. To close off the immediate passing lanes and routes down the field, linebacker Krys Barnes and defensive backs in Chandon Sullivan and Adrian Amos will be heavily relied upon to keep the plethora of Tampa Bay receiving options in check.
While it would make sense to look back at the regular season matchup these two teams took part in on Oct. 18, it would be close to futile, given how much Green Bay has changed since then. After scoring a mere 10 points against Tampa Bay in the 38-10 drubbing, Green Bay’s offense averaged 32 points per game in the following 11 regular season games and scored precisely that in the Divisional Round. Additionally, the game will take place at the nigh-glacial gridiron of Lambeau as opposed to the warmer confines of Raymond James Stadium.
Injuries will also be a factor. Brown (knee) for the Buccaneers has already been ruled out for the game, while Winfield Jr. (ankle) is questionable. On the Packers’ side of the ball, defensive lineman Kingsley Keke (concussion) is out, while cornerback Kevin King (back) is questionable. As a result, both teams will have to do mixing and matching in their defensive schemes and route coverage.
With Brady and Rodgers slated to face off in their first NFC Conference Championship game together, fireworks should be expected, even if the weather is on the overcast side of the spectrum. While Tampa Bay’s offense and secondary is definitely more formidable than in year’s past, Rodgers is simply on a different level this season. Even under the best circumstances, Rodgers very well might be unstoppable. With that said, Tampa Bay will stay within striking distance, but fall just short of their Super Bowl goal.
Prediction: Green Bay 34 – Tampa Bay 24