A win, and the Bucs are in.
But that win won't come easy, as the Green Bay Packers stand in the way of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Super Bowl LV. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, like Tom Brady, is showing no signs of slowing down after leading the NFL in touchdown passes during the regular season.
Sure, Tampa Bay handed it to Green Bay back in Week 6, 38-10. But don't allow that to be your sole preview of this game. Just like last week, when Bruce Arians called the Buccaneers a "different football team" than the one that lost two games to New Orleans during the regular season - the same can be said about Green Bay. In fact, that matchup really was an outlier for an otherwise successful season.
Considering the magnitude of this contest, we'll be joined by Bill Huber of SI's PackerCentral.com every day leading up to the game, previewing matchup by matchup. We'll start with the Packers' passing offense against the Buccaneers' passing defense.
Packers passing offense preview
It’s been a blast-from-the-past season for Aaron Rodgers on his way to what’s likely to be his third MVP. After posting ratings of 97.2 during his injury-abbreviated 2017, 97.6 in his final year under Mike McCarthy in 2018 and 95.4 in his first year under Matt LaFleur in 2019, he posted a mark of 121.5 in 2020. That’s the second-best in NFL history behind his 122.5 in 2011.
Rodgers threw 48 touchdown passes after a combined 51 the past two seasons. And he became the second quarterback in 80 years to lead the league in completion percentage, touchdown percentage and interception percentage. Finally, he had a rating 107-plus in 15 of his 17 starts. Of course, one of the exceptions was at Tampa Bay. In that game, he had the second-lowest rating and third-lowest completion percentage of his career.
The receiver corps has someone for every role. It is led, of course, by Davante Adams, who set a franchise record with 115 receptions and tied for third in NFL history with 18 touchdowns. At 6-foot-1, he’s not the tallest. With 4.5 speed in the 40, he’s not the fastest. All he does is get open. Adams is the best route runner in the NFL and is of one mind with Rodgers. He can beat defenses short, long and in between.
Allen Lazard does the dirty work but surprised the Saints and Rams with his ability to get deep for big touchdowns. Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who played his college games at Raymond James Stadium, is one of the fastest players in the NFL. He’s a long touchdown waiting to happen. He’s also a drop waiting to happen. Tight end Robert Tonyan had 52 receptions and scored 11 touchdowns. A lot of that production has come on bootlegs, and he has a knack for getting lost in the secondary.
The offensive line has been surprisingly fantastic. Rodgers has been sacked 20 times this season, and he’s taken the blame for probably a quarter of those. Even with All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari out with a torn ACL, the line dominated the Bears and Rams the past two games. Billy Turner, who looked like an overpaid addition at right guard at this point a year ago, played well at right tackle and has performed admirably as Bakhtiari’s replacement on the left side. Center Corey Linsley was named All-Pro and second-year left guard Elgton Jenkins was named to the Pro Bowl. Both players ranked second at their position in ProFootballFocus.com’s pass-protection metric. However, to sort of bring this breakdown full circle, this group was overwhelmed by the Bucs in allowing five sacks. That battle might decide the game.
Buccaneers passing defense preview
There is either an over-appreciation for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 2020 defense, or underappreciation, depending on your perspective. While the Bucs are lauded for their ability to move the ball, they've been a bit hit or miss when it comes to slow down the opposition. The unit can shut down any run game it faces and is filled with playmakers - Devin White, Lavonte David, Jason Pierre-Paul, and Carlton Davis III have been tone-setters all year long - but has struggled against the modernized passing game time and time again.
Davis has been a force to be reckoned with in man coverage, but the remainder of the secondary and at times the second level plays off-coverage and struggles with reactionary timing against RPOs and rhythmic passing concepts. Drew Brees, Teddy Bridgewater, Jared Goff, and Patrick Mahomes strung together strong performances with a similar approach during the middle of the season which left the Bucs sitting at 1-3 during that stretch of games. Bridgewater started off 13-of-13 for 126 yards and two touchdowns in Week 10, Goff completed 84% of his 25 first-half attempts, and Mahomes connected with Tyreek Hill for 203 yards in the first quarter throughout those contests, for example.
Taylor Heinicke did the same thing in the Wild Card round of the playoffs, tossing for 306 yards in his second career start.
Sunday's matchup will come down to Tampa Bay needing to put up points, doing its best to remain disciplined against up-tempo play-calls, and limit Aaron Rodgers from getting creative outside of the pocket. In recent weeks, an explosion created by offensive firepower has covered up the Bucs' defensive issues, and has even led the unit to some better play. However, a quarterback with the caliber of Aaron Rodgers and a strategic, up-tempo passing attack can expose Tampa Bay's shortcomings from this year, and the Packers are certainly capable of taking advantage of that.