This week the Packers aim for win number ten, the number where Packers coach Mike McCarthy allows his players to begin discussing the “p-word”—playoffs. It took the Packers the full season to reach that threshold last season. This year, they can hit ten wins the fastest way possible.
Standing in the Packers way are the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Expected to contend for the title in the difficult NFC South, the Buccaneers instead have slumped to 4-5 and have lost three in a row.
Haven’t we seen this script somewhere else before?
The Packers have a chance to avenge one of the most embarrassing losses in franchise history when in 2009 they lost to a winless Buccaneers team in Tampa which happened to be quarterback Josh Freeman’s first start.
Will revenge truly be a dish best served cold?
Key Buccaneers Players
QB Josh Freeman
At this time last year, Freeman was dubbed the next big thing. He was emerging as the next superstar quarterback in an already stacked NFC South. He played solid in his rookie year of 2009 and grew in 2010. The plate was set.
Instead, Freeman has fallen back to earth and it could be argued that he has regressed. He has thrown for nine TDs to go with 13 interceptions. While he doesn’t have a very talented receiver corps, he still needs to be smart with the ball.
With a ball hawking defense like the defense, Freeman needs to improve his decision making. That said, he has snuck up on the Packers before. Could he do it again?
RB LeGarrette Blount
The Oregon stud has slowly emerged as the next big running back for the Buccaneers. He has rushed so far this year for 434 yards and three touchdowns. Unfortunately he has been hampered not only by injuries, but also stupid mistakes.
Two weeks ago, the Buccaneers were in position to possibly steal a victory against the division leading New Orleans Saints until Blount got in a scuffle with a Saints defender and as promptly flagged for a personal foul.
Now that he is getting healthy, Blount will try and get going back on pace for a 1,000 yard season again. With a Packers defense that asserted itself against an elite back in Adrian Peterson this past Monday, Blount will have a tough time getting going.
DT Albert Haynesworth
Question the guy’s work ethic all you want. I won’t stop you. He’s been a cancer on every team he has been on.
Still, you can’t deny that when he is right in the head Haynesworth can be a defensive force. He can be very athletic when he is in shape (which he reportedly has not been in for awhile) and can rip an offensive line apart.
Given the poor play of the Packers offensive line against the Vikings, Haynesworth could have some success against the Packers. Scott Wells will have his hands full.
CB Ronde Barber
The anchor of the Buccaneers secondary and the heart of the defense, Barber remains one of the better cornerbacks in the league.
Barber currently has 39 tackles, three interceptions, eight deflected passes and one safety. He is a ball hawk and even at his age, still needs to be accounted for on the field. With the relative youth of the Bucs defense, Barber is a key cog.
Still, he can’t cover everyone. He probably will draw Greg Jennings or Jordy Nelson, but there is much more to the Packers offense besides those two.
Three matchups to watch
Scott Wells vs. Albert Haynesworth It’s not clear how much playing time Haynesworth will get, but since he is on a new team and has yet to wear out his welcome it’s a fairly safe bet he could be a disruptive force. Given the problems the Packers had in pass protection last week, keep an eye on Haynesworth.
Jermichael Finley vs. Bucs linebackers Derrick Brooks is long gone and this linebacking corps isn’t good enough to do his laundry. Finley should be looking at this unit and salivate. There is not enough talent on the Bucs defense to stop all the Packers weapons and thanks to the emergence of Nelson, opposing defense may have to let off Finley a bit. Look for the tight end to have a big game.
The Frozen Tundra vs. the Tampa Bay Buccaneers The Bucs’ struggles in cold weather have been well documented. They broke their losing streak in cold weather during their run to Super Bowl XXXVII, but they still don’t play well in bitter cold. The forecast for Sunday? High of 36 with a chance of AM snow showers. Stay tuned.
Packers 31, Buccaneers 14
As I say every week, the games will get tougher for the Packers as they get each opponent’s best each weekend. The Bucs, while down, are 2.5 games out of first in the NFC South which is doable should the Saints encounter a major speed bump.
The ghosts of the 2009 game will be busted, but not after a bit of a scare. Finley has a big game as Rodgers continues rolling.
Bring on the Lions on Turkey Day.——————
Kris Burke is a sports writer covering the Green Bay Packers for AllGreenBayPackers.com and WTMJ in Milwaukee. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) and his work has been linked to by sites such as National Football Post and CBSSports.com. Follow @KrisLBurke