Two legendary quarterbacks will square off with a spot in the Super Bowl on the line when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers visit the Green Bay Packers in Sunday's NFC Championship Game at Lambeau Field. Tampa Bay is in the conference title game for the first time since 2003 after topping the New Orleans Saints 30-20 as a 2.5-point road underdog last Sunday in the Divisional Round. Green Bay had the NFC's lone bye as the No. 1 seed and won its opening playoff game 32-18 over the Los Angeles Rams as a seven-point favorite on Saturday to reach its second straight conference title game.
The Buccaneers crushed Green Bay 38-10 as a three-point home underdog back in Week 6 to break a three-game winning streak for the Packers head-to-head. These teams have met once in the playoffs, a 21-7 win for the Packers in the 1998 Divisional Round at Lambeau Field.
Tampa Bay gets past division rivalAfter losing twice in blowout fashion to the Saints in the regular season, Tampa Bay was able to get some revenge on its NFC South rival with a strong second half in the Superdome. After an even first half at 13-13, the two teams traded third-quarter touchdowns with Tom Brady finding Leonard Fournette on a touchdown pass late in the quarter to tie the game at 20. Tampa picked off Drew Brees twice in the fourth quarter and got a 36-yard field goal by Ryan Succop and a one-yard scoring sneak by Brady to secure the win.
Brady completed 18 of 33 passes for 199 yards and three total touchdowns, while Fournette continued his postseason surge with 107 yards from scrimmage and one score on 22 touches. Tampa Bay held New Orleans to 294 total yards and forced four turnovers, with all three Buccaneers touchdowns coming off giveaways by the Saints.
“Really just locking in and playing a lot better than we did the first two times we played them,” Brady said to the Associated Press. “We had a bunch of turnovers last time. This time they turned it over and that’s usually the story of football games.”
Tampa Bay is now 10-8 against the spread this season and has covered in five of its last seven games, although one of the recent losses came in the playoffs as the Buccaneers were unable to cover as a 10-point favorite in a 31-23 win over the Washington Football Team in the Wild Card round. Overs are also 10-8 for the Buccaneers this year after the New Orleans game fell short of the betting total of 53 points.
It hasn't always been smooth this season, but Tampa Bay finished to third in the NFL in scoring at 30.8 points per game and fourth in total offense at 387.1 yards per game. Opponents averaged 22.2 points and 327.9 yards per game in the regular season, both of which ranked top eight in the league.
Brady put up unprecedented stats at 43 years old, completing 401 of 610 pass attempts for 4,633 yards, 40 touchdowns and 12 interceptions, plus three more scores on the ground. Mike Evans went over the century mark with 70 catches for 1,006 yards and 13 touchdowns, while top running back Ronald Jones was just shy of 1,000 yards himself. Linebacker Devin White had a monster second season in the NFL with 140 tackles, 15 tackles for loss and nine sacks.
The major injury concern for Tampa Bay heading into the week is wide receiver Antonio Brown, who hurt his knee against New Orleans and will be a game-time decision. Defensive tackle Vita Vea was activated off injured reserve and has a chance to play after breaking his ankle in Week 5. A handful of other Buccaneers were limited including Evans and Jones, but figure to be at full strength by Sunday.
Green Bay overwhelms the RamsThe Packers will be hosting the NFC Championship Game for the first time with Aaron Rodgers under center after handling the Rams for their seventh straight victory. Davante Adams broke a 3-3 tie early in the second with a one-yard touchdown catch before Rodgers gave Green Bay some breathing room with a short scramble for a score. Los Angeles wouldn't get closer than 25-18 in the second half, as Rodgers hit Allen Lazard on a 58-yard touchdown pass with 6:52 to go to seal the win.
Rodgers completed 23 of 36 passes for 296 yards and two touchdowns plus the rushing score, while Aaron Jones had 14 rushes for 99 yards and a touchdown. Green Bay put up 484 yards and didn't have a turnover against a Rams defense considered by many to be the best in the NFL.
“We were definitely feeling a little bit of pressure,” Lazard said to the Associated Press about the game only being one score well into the fourth quarter. ”I think it’s more so just our expectation is to go out and score every single drive because we know that the only people that are stopping us is us.″
Green Bay has a strong record against the spread as well at 11-6, and has covered in each of the last three games while beating the likes of the Rams and Tennessee Titans by multiple scores. Overs are 10-7 for the Packers and also on a three-game win streak after the two teams eclipsed the betting total of 45 points last weekend.
The Packers were the NFL's top-scoring offense in the regular season at 31.8 points per game and second in total offense at 394.6 yards per contest. Green Bay's defense wasn't quite as prolific but still had a fine year, allowing 23.1 points per contest to rank 13th in the NFL on 328.7 yards per game.
Rodgers is all but certain to win his third MVP after completing 327 out of 526 passes for 4,299 yards, 48 touchdowns and five interceptions plus three rushing scores. Adams has a strong argument as being the top reciever in the NFL after catching 115 passes for 1,374 yards and 18 touchdowns in 14 games. Za'Darius Smith had another Pro Bowl season with 12 tackles for loss, 12.5 sacks and four forced fumbles.
The only Packer unable to practice on Thursday was veteran tight end Mercedes Lewis with a regular rest day. Running backs Jamaal Williams and AJ Dillon, safety Will Redmond and linebacker Krys Barnes are among the key players limited on Thursday, but it appears they will all be able to suit up for the game. Green Bay had a key injury near the end of the regular season when all-pro left tackle David Bakhtiari tore his ACL, but the offensive line managed to turn in an excellent performance against the Rams nonetheless.
Trends via Covers.com. Green Bay is:
- 5-0 ATS in its last five home games against teams with a winning road record.
- 5-1 ATS in its last six playoff home games.
- 5-2 ATS in its last seven games as a favorite.
- Tampa Bay is 3-7 ATS in its last 10 January games.
- The road team is 2-5 ATS in the last seven head-to-head meetings.