Buc Up!…for Bucs NFC Championship! – JANUARY 23
-Last week, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defeated New Orleans, 30-20, to advance to their fourth NFC Championship Game in franchise history. With a win at Green Bay on Sunday at 3 pm, the Buccaneers will become the first franchise to play a Super Bowl in the team’s home stadium, Raymond James Stadium.
-Tampa Bay quarterback Tom Brady enters Championship Sunday as the NFL’s all-time postseason leader in starts (43), wins (32), passing yards (11,968), and touchdown passes (77). He is expected to start his 14th Conference Championship game and first with Tampa Bay with the other 13 in New England with the Patriots.
-The Green Bay Packers advanced to their second consecutive Conference Championship with a 32-18 victory over the Los Angeles Rams in the Divisional Playoffs. Green Bay tied the Steelers for the second-most postseason victories (36) in NFL history with the win.
-The Packers lead all-time series, 32-22-1, against the Buccaneers. I was surprised by this as it seemed as if Green Bay perennially treated Tampa as a doormat when they were in the same division.
-Defensively, the Buccaneers played their best game of the season against the Saints last week. Leo “The Bulldog” Haggerty caught up with Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles this week:
Leo Haggerty: “You almost always want to make a team one dimensional. By shutting down the run this week, it means you are forcing Aaron Rodgers to throw it 30 to 50 times. Is that a good strategy?”
Todd Bowles: “The run is not a good thing, and the pass is not a good thing against these guys. They do both very well. We’ve just got to play hard for four quarters, play our ballgame and try to make some plays. We know it’s a tough opponent, we know they’ve got a great quarterback, and we know they’ve got a great running game as well.”
-Tampa Bay cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting has an interception in each of the Buccaneers’ two postseason games this season.
-Linebacker Devin White was an absolute beast last week. He had 11 tackles, an interception, and a fumble recovery against the Saints. White was the first player since 2000 with 140 tackles (140) and at least nine sacks in a season.
-Green Bay’s weather forecast is for snow tomorrow morning and gray skies with freezing temperatures in the afternoon. ItsSportsMagazine.com’s Leo Haggerty asked Bucs Head Coach Bruce Arians about the weather:
Leo Haggerty: “Are you more concerned about cold temperatures or high winds during Sunday’s game?”
Bruce Arians: “Definitely the wind. The wind is a much, much bigger factor. I don’t consider it cold unless it’s single digits. It’s not going to affect the game at 28 degrees, but the wind really affects the game.”
-The Tampa Bay offense ranked 3rd in points per game (30.8) and allowed 4th-fewest sacks (22) in 2020.
-Green Bay led the NFL in points per game (31.8) and ranked second in 3rd down efficiency with 49.4%.
-Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers led the NFL with a career-high 48 touchdown passes this season. Leo got to ask Green Bay Head Coach Matt LaFleur about him:
Leo Haggerty: “You have, arguably, the best quarterback in the NFL yet you relied on an extremely physical and bruising running game to beat the Rams. Was that decision weather-related when it started to snow or was it going with what was working?”
Matt LeFleur: “No, that was pretty much the game plan going into the game in regards to the structures that they were playing and how they play their defense. It’s a very umbrella-esque type coverage on the back end. It’s hard to get behind them so you have to be willing to run the ball for four or five yards. Three or four or five yards and take those runs because that’s what they’re giving you. I think our guys were totally on board with that philosophy going into the game knowing that, if you run it enough, it’s going to give us some opportunities in the pass game later on. That’s exactly what happened late in the game.”
-Tampa RB Ronald Jones set career-highs in scrimmage yards (1,143), rush yards (978), and rushing TDs (7) in 2020. Leo Haggerty asked him: “After your first year, a lot of people in the media labeled you a bust. How nice is it to look at those people and think yeah, I told you I could play?”
Ronald Jones: “Yeah, you know, that year was definitely tough. Most challenging year of football for me. So, yeah, it feels good to finally come back and be an asset to the team. Be able to make plays. You know, people are always going to have something to say, so you just have to keep doing your job.”
Jones rushed for 113 yards and scored two TDs in Week 6 against Green Bay in Tampa.
-With the Bucs playing their best defense of the season last week and Tom Brady leading the offense, Tampa Bay has been steadily improving their play over the previous two months. Green Bay opened their week six matchup with ten quick points before Tampa Bay stormed back with 39 unanswered points. Windy conditions will force both teams to be more careful in the passing game and require the running games to be established early and throughout. The Bucs have done a great job containing the run all season, though. Protecting the football and Tom Brady will be the keys to the Bucs making it to a home Super Bowl!
Prediction: Tampa Bay 34 – Green Bay 28 and a big thank you to the Buccaneers photo journalists for providing some of the pictures.