When Tom Brady’s Buccaneers travel to play Aaron Rodgers’ Packers (-3.5, 51 o/u) in Sunday’s NFC championship game (3:05 p.m. ET, Fox), it doesn’t get more marquee than that.
Brady is playing in his 14th conference title game after making 13 such AFC appearances with the Patriots. He is looking for a shot at his seventh Super Bowl ring in Super Bowl 55. Meanwhile, Rodgers is playing at home with a Super Bowl on the line for the first time in Lambeau Field, 10 years after he led the Packers on a successful Super Bowl 45 run as an NFC wild-card team.
The Bucs are also trying to get the glory as a wild card. The Packers were the best team record-wise wire-to-wire in the NFC with the league’s highest-scoring offense that should return Rodgers to NFL MVP status.
Who will win this battle of No. 12s, No. 1 seed vs. No. 5 seed? Using some key numbers, here’s a deep dive into the matchup between Tampa bay and Green Bay, a rematch of a Week 6 game that the Buccaneers won at home, 38-10.
Packers vs. Buccaneers picks, predictions
- Buccaneers running game vs. Packers run defense
The Buccaneers can get too downfield pass-happy under Arians as Brady also likes taking his shots against one-on-one coverage. They can get enamored by Brady’s myriad of receiving weapons at wideout and tight end where they can go away from power football even when it’s right there for the taking.
Tampa Bay ended up with the No. 28 rushing offense in the regular season. The Packers, despite a few hiccups, ended up in the top half, No. 13 against the run — tied to many teams needing to throw often trying to play catchup with Rodgers in the second half.
The Rams gashed the Packers well with rookie Cam Akers, before game script forced them to go away from the run in the second half. The Buccaneers dropped 30 carries in a split between Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones to pile up 127 yards on a good Saints run defense. They stuck with it until they got key second-half chunks and Fournette also was a force in the short passing game.
In the first meeting, the Bucs nicely featured Jones (23 carries, 113 of his team’s 158 rushing yards, 2 TDs) as they won going away 38-10 after spotting the Packers a 10-point lead in the first quarter. Should the Bucs stay committed to the run again, as they should to work the clock and try to limit opportunities for Rodgers to answer Brady, they will have a another solid ground game with their offensive line playing stout. Advantage: Buccaneers
- Packers running game vs. Buccaneers run defense
The Packers pounded well on the Rams with their No. 8 rushing attack, getting to nearly 200 yards with mostly pending free agents Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams pushing through. The Buccaneers top-ranked run defense had some issues with the Saints’ Alvin Kamara, but overall contained a very strong power running game.
The Bucs simply don’t spring many leaks up front and are all-around much more sound than the Rams were in that capacity. They would prefer to not commit an extra defender to run support so defensive coordinator Todd Bowles isn’t handcuffed with his back-seven blitzes. Other than a couple long runs from Williams and rookie A.J. Dillon, there wasn’t much room for them or Aaron Jones. The Bucs should be confident they at can least keep the Packers one-dimensional to give Bowles a better idea of how to pressure Rodgers. Advantage: Buccaneers
- Buccaneers passing game vs. Packers pass defense
The Buccaneers were No. 2 in the NFL in passing, sandwiched between the AFC finalist Chiefs and Bills. They have trusted Brady plenty with high volume and throwing downfield often, because it is Bruce Arians after all. The Packers were No. 7 against the pass, with a combination of “The Smith Brothers” (Preston and Za’Darius) putting some edge pressure and Jaire Alexander and Adrian Amos leading a fine seconary.
Brady leaned on the run well in Week 6, didn’t hold the ball long and was calculated in mostly spreading the ball around on short-to-intermediate routes. He should have.a few shots develop off play-action. The Packers do agood job of covering tight ends and Alexander could once again slow down Mike Evans. But the Bucs can scheme to get slot Chris Godwin and their other wide receivers open away from Alexander. Advantage: Buccaneers
- Packers passing game vs. Buccaneers pass defense
The Packers had the No. 9 passing attack during the regular season. Rodgers could have thrown for a lot more to pad his already MVP-worthy stats, but the Packers were in control of many matchups in the second half, turning games over to effective running and pass defense. The Buccaneers have good young defensive backs, led by corner Carlton Davis and rookie safety Antoine Winfield Jr. They also have two savvier 3-4 edge rushers for Bowles in Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaquill Barrett.
But sometimes there”s a disconnect and the Buccaneers have been more vulnerable to some chunk plays, either after the catch on the second level or as a result of a breakdowns downfield. The Packers worked to get Davante Adams open in key spots away from the Rams’ Jalen Ramsey and will do the same against Davis, Sean Murphy-Bunting and Jamel Dean. The Bucs need linebackers Devin White and Lavonte David to have another good coverage game after they dominated against the Saints.
Still Rodgers, will find the holes, take advantage whenever the lapses happen and settle into a few matchups he likes. Rodgers will be motivated to make up for his shaky Week 6 in Tampa Bay and will stay on point in a high-level locked-in QB duel with Brady. Advantage: Packers
The Packers and Bucs have some ancillary players in the passing game who could surprise to boost Brady and Rodgers with big plays. The Packers saw wide receivers Allen Lazard and Equanimeous St. Brown have big moments against the Rams. The Bucs wouldn’t have beaten the Saints without clutch catches from Tyler Johnson, Scotty Miller and No. 2 tight end Cameron Brate. The running backs also can be key on checkdowns with the defenses worrying about all the other pieces. Advantage: Packers
- Special teams
The field-goal games are pretty even with the Packers’ Mason Crosby and the Buccaneers’ Ryan Succop, although they are more known for accuracy than range. The Packers have had a notoriously bad return game this season while the Bucs aren’t that much better. The Packers’ J.K. Scott and the Buccaneers’ Bradley Pinion make this close in punting. The Bucs struggled in coverage against the Saints and it nearly cost them. Give the emotional and familiarity edge to the Lambeau team, too. Advantage: Packers
Arians has won lot of games with different teams at age 68. Matt LaFleur, 27 years his junior at 41, has developed his own reputation as one of the game’s sharpest offensive minds and in two years leading Green Bay, he’s done good situational work without any egregious mistakes. Arians’ teams can tend to get undisciplined at times and between him, Byron Leftwich and Bowles, they can get too aggressive at the wrong times. Advantage: Packers
Brady wants to prove he can get to a Super Bowl without Bill Belichick and the Patriots. Rodgers, after the team drafted Jordan Love, has used that latest chip on his shoulder to have one of his greatest seasons, too. The Bucs also know they can be the first team to play in the Super Bowl in their home stadium. There will be no lack of intensity on either side. Brady has done this often, but his Bucs are new to this stage. But the Packers also are limited in big winning experience around Rodgers. Advantage: Buccaneers
NFC championship game prediction
This game will be an instant classic with Brady and Rodgers having an epic duel. This game will come down to whichever team has the ball last. With 10 meetings, Green Bay and Tampa Bay would each win five. When Brady is involved in games like these and playing this well, it’s hard to go against the six-ringed GOAT, even with a three-time MVP to be on the other side. The coin flip lands on Tampa over Green Bay this time.
Buccaneers 30, Packers 27