Here are predictions from SI.com’s team beat writers, an NFC assistant coach, an AFC scout and an NFC scout for Sunday’s NFC Championship Game between the Green Bay Packers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Lambeau Field.
Bill Huber, Packer Central
Honestly, there’s little reason to pick the Packers. It’s Tom Brady, after all. He’s won six Super Bowls and nine conference championship games. While he needs two hands to wear all that jewelry, there’s no doubt he’s driven to win another with someone other than Bill Belichick as coach.
Week 6 was a massacre, and while that was three months ago, it’s hard to forget Devin White taking up residency in the Packers’ backfield. The first time Aaron Jones got the ball, White sliced through blockers and dropped Jones for no gain. It was the type of linebacker play that Packers fans haven’t seen from their team in years and years and years.
Nonetheless, the Packers will be at home. And while there will be in the neighborhood of only 8,500 fans in attendance, I do think that matters. The forecast does, too, with a kickoff temperature of about 28. That’s a lovely January day around here but about 50 degrees colder than it will be in Tampa. While I don’t think the Buccaneers are going to freeze to death, the field might be a bit treacherous. The Packers are used to it, the Buccaneers are not; I think that will mitigate some of the speed factor.
There’s no such thing as a “team of destiny.” You’re either the better team or you’re not. The Packers are a better team than they were in Week 6. The Bucs might be, too. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers after the game called the performance an “anomaly.” He was right. Rodgers is desperate to get back to the Super Bowl for the first time in a decade. Somehow – and don’t ask me how – they’ll figure out a way to win, because they have all year.
Packers 27, Buccaneers 24.
“I’m going with the home team.” Asked if Brady remains the same skilled quarterback who’s won six Super Bowls, he said, “He is. He has the slightly diminished traits of a 40-plus quarterback you would expect but all the things he does and forces are big factors, and all the things he gets his teammates to do to win are there.” Still, it’s Rodgers over Brady, in his opinion.
“Packers,” he said. “Tampa has smaller linebackers. The running game with (Aaron) Jones and (AJ) Dillon will soften up their front seven.” He agreed the field, even with snow out of the forecast, will work in Green Bay’s favor.
NFC Position Coach
“I was not impressed with the Buccaneers last week,” he said. “They forced four turnovers and still didn’t put the game away until the end? What they did to Mike (Saints receiver Michael Thomas, who had zero catches) was impressive but, let’s be honest, Aaron (Rodgers) is so much better than Drew (Brees). That ain’t happening against Davante (Adams)! Green Bay will win, maybe even comfortably.”
Zach Goodall, SI.com’s All Bucs
The defense that held the typically explosive Packers offense to just 10 points and 3.3 yards per play in Week 6 had its ups and downs throughout the regular season, but is freshly removed from another dominant showing against the New Orleans Saints in the divisional round.
We all know the Buccaneers can and will score points this weekend, and that isn't a slight toward the Packers' defense. Tom Brady and the Bucs have simply been on a roll offensively, averaging 34.8 points per game during a six-game winning streak. The questions: Can Tampa Bay's pass rush contain and disrupt Aaron Rodgers once again? Will Devin White build off a great game in coverage against Alvin Kamara and do it against versus Aaron Jones? Is Carlton Davis III capable of holding Davante Adams under 40 yards receiving in man coverage once more?
OK, maybe it won't be that dominant on Tampa Bay's end. But I do think the Bucs' defense will be able to do enough and force some turnovers to set Brady and the offense up in scoring position. The New Orleans game made me a believer.
Bill brings up a good point about the weather: The Packers are used to cold temperatures while Tom Brady said earlier this year that you wouldn't catch him dead living in the Northeast anymore.
However, it was 32 in Landover, Md., when the Bucs beat Washington Football Team in the wild-card round. That didn't appear to cause much of an issue other than, maybe, Chris Godwin's uncharacteristic drops. If Brady and Co. can get off to a fast start offensively while there is sunlight and pound the rock later, they’ll advance to the Super Bowl.
Buccaneers 30, Packers 28.