The NFC Championship Game sees Green Bay Packers take on Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Ross Williams has a preview for the contest.
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Two of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history going head-to-head in an NFC title game at Lambeau Field? Count me in.
In years gone by, this clash between the Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady would almost certainly be the later game in the Championship Sunday window, but 2021 feels like a passing of the torch moment, with the younger duo of Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes taking centre stage in the primetime slot.
This works well for us in the UK though, as it means the kick-off time in Green Bay is extremely palatable, giving Monday morning workers the chance to watch the entirety of this blockbuster battle in the frozen tundra.
It’s impossible to analyse this match-up without first referencing the regular season meeting between these two sides in week six. How much we can truly take from a game that took place in mid-October is up for debate, but it would be amiss to not discuss what happened at Raymond James Stadium that day.
There’s no doubt that it was Green Bay’s lowest point of the season.
The Packers actually started the game on the front foot and picked up a 10-point lead in the first quarter, but from there, the ceiling fell down around Matt LaFleur’s team.
Tampa Bay – who were actually coming off a very disappointing primetime loss to Chicago at the time – came back at the Packers with a vengeance, scoring an incredible 38 unanswered points in what became one of the blowouts of the season.
The most interesting thing to take away from that particular game, in my opinion, was the performance of Tampa Bay’s secondary.
That unit has been much maligned this season, and even I have regularly referenced it as the Bucs’ Achilles heel in this very column. However, in this one game at least, Tampa Bay’s cornerbacks shined.
Carlton Davis had a big hand in holding Davante Adams to 61 yards on the day – which is about as well as anyone has done all season – and Tampa were able to pick off Rodgers twice over the course of the 60 minutes. Two-interception games for Rodgers are akin to flying pigs, and even more shocking was the fact that Jamel Dean returned the first of those interceptions to the end zone – just the third pick-six of Rodgers’ long and ridiculously efficient career.
Going into Sunday’s title game, pundits will be keen to factor in the gusty wind that was blowing in Tampa Bay that afternoon, and the fact that Rodgers began exceeding even his own lofty standards in the second half of the season – performances that have him firmly in the driving seat to collect his third NFL MVP award in a fortnight’s time.
All of this is true, but week six should still provide the Bucs’ secondary with some much-needed hope that they can provide adequate opposition to the Packers’ explosive offensive arsenal on Sunday.
It is vital that Tampa Bay channel that performance, and use the confidence they will have gained from dominating (an admittedly retiring) Drew Brees in the Superdome last week. The only way the Buccaneers can beat the Packers at Lambeau is by taking the ball out of Rodgers’ hands as much as possible.
The policy worked well in the Divisional Round, as Tom Brady expertly turned New Orleans turnovers into crucial points all night long, but Green Bay are a different animal.
As far as offences go, we have rarely seen a better-oiled machine than this current incarnation of the Green Bay Packers. Rodgers and Adams are the undoubted stars of the show, but the supporting cast are nothing short of spectacular.
The Packers’ offensive line matched up incredibly well against the NFL’s top-ranked defence last week, and it really was a joy to behold. Rodgers left the field at the end of the game wearing a jersey that looked fresh off the rack, and if we see something similar on Sunday, Green Bay will be stamping their tickets to the Super Bowl.
Allen Lazard was the most productive Packers receiver against Los Angeles, but the brilliance of LaFleur’s scheme means any one of the Green Bay weapons could be the difference against Tampa Bay. Marquez Valdes-Scantling is a bonafide deep threat nowadays, and emerging tight end Robert Tonyan has quickly become one of the league’s premier talents at the position.
Not to mention Aaron Jones, a running back with an astonishing 29 touchdowns to his name over the last two seasons.
It’s a ‘who’s who’ of devastating talent, and with how well they’ve played down the stretch, I struggle to foresee the Tampa defence replicating their week six performance, despite their best efforts.
All will not be lost for the Buccaneers if Green Bay do get on top early, of course.
Although I do feel it will require a year-best performance from the whole Tampa Bay roster to secure a Super Bowl berth, there’s no question that Tampa Bay’s offence will pick up the slack if their defensive counterparts fail to deliver the goods, albeit in vain.
In their last five games, Tampa have averaged a whopping 36.6 points, so don’t be fooled into thinking the Bucs will simply fade if Green Bay pull away in the opening stages.
Tom Brady may not complete the fairy tale of delivering the first ever ‘home’ Super Bowl to his Buccaneers, but he’ll be damned if he doesn’t give it everything, and there’s no way his head coach Bruce Arians will stand in his way.
Arians offences are renowned for airing the ball out, so we can expect plenty of fireworks down the stretch in this game. With Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown by his side, Brady will give this Packers defence a real run for its money, and I like Godwin (6/4 anytime TD) in particular to make it onto the scoresheet at least once
This one will not go out with a whimper.
With home-field advantage for the first time in an NFC title game, Aaron Rodgers should do enough to guide Green Bay to their first Super Bowl in ten years, but I suspect we’ll see plenty of points before the clock runs down to zero, and I find it hard to believe that Brady will be more than a touchdown behind when all is said and done.
Prediction: Green Bay Packers reach Super Bowl LV
Odds correct at 1700 GMT (22/01/21)
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