Championship Weekend has arrived, and it sure looks like it won’t disappoint.
On the NFC side, we see Aaron Rodgers host his first-ever NFC Championship game, against Tom Brady and the surging Buccaneers.
It’s crazy to think that the 37-year-old Rodgers has been an all-time great in this league for well over a decade, and has never had this opportunity.
Meanwhile, Brady switches to a new team at the young age of 43, has limited off-season activities due to COVID-19, and makes it look easy as he will now suit up in his league-leading 14th conference championship game.
We have already seen this matchup earlier in the season in Week 6 when Green Bay was handed their worst loss of the season from the Bucs in a 38-10 loss in Tampa Bay.
But if last week proved anything, it’s that regular-season results don’t automatically carry over to the playoffs as the Bucs knocked out the Saints after losing to them in Week 1 and getting blown out in Week 9.
I think everyone should take a moment Sunday afternoon and soak in this all-time great quarterback matchup, we haven’t seen it often.
Despite being in the league together since 2005, this will be just the fourth time that Brady and Rodgers go head-to-head, with Brady holding a 2-1 advantage thanks to Tampa’s Week 6 win.
We should be in store for a great game this time around. So let’s get to the action.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Green Bay Packers -3.5, O/U 51.5
THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE HOME
Just one year ago, the Green Bay Packers found themselves in this exact game.
But things looked much different.
In his first season with Matt LaFleur as his head coach, Aaron Rodgers had one of the worst seasons of his career, passing for just 26 touchdowns with a 62.0 completion percentage – the second worst of his career.
And yet, the Packers found ways to win games ugly and knocked off the Seattle Seahawks in the divisional round, earning a trip to the conference championship.
Green Bay travelled to San Francisco where they would quite literally get run out of the building.
The 49ers rushed for a remarkable 285 yards, with 156 of those coming before contact, and Rodgers struggled, throwing two interceptions.
The Packers never stood a chance, and trailed San Francisco 27-0 at the half, before falling 37-20.
But my oh my, how the times have changed.
Just one year later, Rodgers is now the frontrunner to win league MVP. This Packers defence, which ranked 23rd in run defence last season, finished in the top half of the league in terms of rushing yards given up this season.
Green Bay has also been nearly unbeatable at home recently.
The Packers went 8-1 at home this season, with their only loss coming against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 8.
The success at home is par for the course with Rodgers as he sports a 78-19-1 record at Lambeau Field.
That success has mostly carried over to the playoffs.
It wasn’t the ideal start for Rodgers at home in the postseason, when the New York Giants upset the Packers as eight-point underdogs in the 2012 Divisional Round.
But since then, Rodgers has gone 5-1 straight up and 4-1-1 against the spread at Lambeau Field in January.
A great indication of how dialed in this offence is right now came last week when they hung 32 points and 484 yards against the Los Angeles Rams – the league’s No. 1 defence.
Davante Adams had another big game, thanks to his nine catches for 66 yards and a touchdown.
And Green Bay’s versatility in the backfield was on full display with Aaron Jones, Jamaal Williams and rookie running back AJ Dillon combing for 32 rushing attempts for 191 rushing yards.
NEW TEAM, SAME TOM
Tom Brady has done it again.
Yup, in his first season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Brady has done what he has always done.
Twenty-one seasons in the NFL, 14 trips to the conference championship round for TB12.
It’s been truly remarkable.
Brady and his Bucs have been a completely different team since their Week 13 bye, and they’ve been winning when it matters most.
Through 12 weeks, the team sat at a modest 7-5, right in the wild-card mix.
But since then the team is unbeaten, finishing the regular season on a four-game winning streak and carrying that momentum into the playoffs.
Brady was great in their wild-card win over the Washington Football Team with his 381 yards and two touchdowns.
But last week was a different story.
Last week, against a Saint defence that was seeing Brady for the third time this season, Brady tossed for just 199 yards, but added two touchdowns.
In fact, his 199 passing yards amounted to the third fewest of the season, with his lowest coming against the Packers in that 38-10 win.
Now, the low passing yards against Green Bay makes sense; Tampa led by 18 at the half, and by 28 after three quarters and he needed to pass just 27 times.
But Sunday’s game was much different, as Tampa trailed at many points in the game and just couldn’t generate any offence.
Tampa Bay benefited greatly from playing a Saints team with a quarterback that, frankly, had no business being in the game.
It’s sad to say, but Drew Brees held that team back following his rib injury and it played right into the hands of the Buccaneers.
Brees’ inability to push the ball downfield allowed the Bucs to be aggressive with jumping routes and disrupting the pass game all night, leading to key takeaways.
Tampa scored three touchdowns on Sunday, with all three of those coming after a turnover had set up the Bucs in prime field position.
The first Bucs touchdown drive was one play and started at New Orleans’ three-yard line, the second started on the Saints 40, and the third began on the 20.
Tampa Bay needed just 10 plays and had to go a combined 63 yards for their three touchdowns.
Meanwhile, they scored just nine points on their eight other drives, which all began in their own territory.
After facing Brees last round, and former XFL-backup quarterback Taylor Heinicke on Wild Card Weekend, I think it’s safe to say that this Bucs secondary will be getting their biggest test of the playoffs on Sunday.
I liked the Bucs to avenge their regular-season losses to the Saints last week, and I’m taking Green Bay to do the same thing this week.
Pick: Packers -3.5