December 17, 2014

The Green Bay Packers can assure themselves a shot to win the NFC North by getting a road victory over the conference's worst team, but they've had trouble winning anywhere outside Lambeau Field.

The Packers also could clinch a playoff spot Sunday and stay alive in the race for the NFC's No. 1 seed - with some help - if they beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Green Bay (10-4) dropped into a tie atop the division with a 21-13 loss at Buffalo last Sunday and Detroit's 16-14 victory over Minnesota. That defeat ended the Packers' five-game winning streak and put them in a position where they must win Sunday to avoid giving the Lions a chance to capture the NFC North with a victory at last-place Chicago.

Regardless of how Detroit fares, Green Bay just needs to beat the Buccaneers (2-12) to enter the regular-season finale with the division title up for grabs against the Lions at Lambeau on Dec. 28.

The Packers, though, could wrap up a franchise record-tying sixth consecutive playoff berth if they win this weekend while either Philadelphia or Dallas loses. They also need a Seattle win over Arizona to keep them alive for home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.

"Everything is right in front of us," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. "We win out, we still win the North."

Rodgers is coming off his lowest-rated game as a pro (34.3) and had a career-high 25 incompletions on 42 attempts against the Bills, including two interceptions, while finishing with 185 yards. The MVP candidate, who failed to throw a TD pass for the first time this season, had entered with an NFL-best QB rating of 119.0.

"It wasn't my best day by any stretch of the imagination," Rodgers said. "I've got to play better for us to win, and I expect more of myself."

All five of Rodgers' INTs this season have been on the road, where he's been held under 210 yards passing four times in seven starts. The Packers have gone 3-4 in those games as he's been limited to 12 touchdown passes, compared to 23 at home.

The last four road games have included losses to New Orleans and Buffalo and three-point wins over Miami and Minnesota.

"This is a road game we have to have," Packers coach Mike McCarthy told the team's official website. "We clearly understand the importance of winning in December, and we need to take it up a notch as a football team."

Losing in Tampa would be significantly more shocking. The Buccaneers are the NFL's only team without a home win and have lost seven straight at Raymond James Stadium going back to last season. They haven't lost more consecutive home games since dropping the first 13 in franchise history from 1976-77.

"We've come close quite a few times at home," coach Lovie Smith said. "Once we get it going – instead of talking about getting that first win, we should be talking about, 'Hey, we haven't lost at home.' ... We realize we have a couple of more opportunities, but what better week than (against Green Bay)?"

The Bucs have failed to generate more than 17 points once in their current four-game losing streak. They've topped that mark only three times during Smith's first season and rank 30th in total offense at 305.9 yards per game.

The Packers, meanwhile, maintain one of the league's most-prolific offenses at 31.1 points and 383.6 yards per game.

Tampa Bay hasn't been much better on the other side of the ball under the defensive-minded Smith, allowing 26.2 points and 366.6 yards per game to rank 25th in the NFL in both categories.

The former Bears coach has lost his past six games against Green Bay, including the NFC championship game in January 2011. The Packers haven't faced the Bucs since a 35-26 win in 2011 behind Rodgers' three touchdown passes, but he's totaled six interceptions in two career games in Tampa and lost both.

Rodgers, though, won't have to face Buccaneers star defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who was placed on injured reserve this week because of a sprained right knee.

"Of course you want to finish the games with your guys, but you have to look at the bigger picture, and that's my overall health," McCoy said. "I think we have a lot of great - not good, great - ahead of us for this team, this organization ... A big part of that will be my health."

It's unclear if the Packers will have Bryan Bulaga after the right tackle suffered a concussion last Sunday. Cornerback Davon House isn't expected to play because of a shoulder injury but hopes to return against Detroit.

McCarthy will pass Vince Lombardi for second on the franchise's all-time list if he earns his 99th career victory, a total that includes the postseason.

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