The Green Bay Packers hit the road again and look to rebound from last week’s clunker in Buffalo. They’ll face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa on Sunday. With just two games left, the Packers are looking to win out and ensure a division title and a sixth straight playoff appearance. At 10-4, Green Bay is one game behind the Arizona Cardinals (who have already clinched a playoff spot) and are tied with the Seattle Seahawks, Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions. While there are many different scenarios by which the Packers would or would not get into the postseason, to me it’s simple: The Packers must win this game against the Bucs this week.
A loss wouldn’t mathematically eliminate the Packers, but it would in every other sense. Confidence would be shot and the word “letdown” probably wouldn’t begin to describe how this Packers team and its fans would be feeling. Expectations are and have been sky-high for the Packers for the better part of the last two decades and now that the team has achieved 10 wins, it’s not “if” the Packers get in but “how and which seed?”. Fortunately for everyone’s nerves, the Packers are way less than likely to lose this game.
Lovie Smith is Tampa’s head coach and he knows Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers very well. In fact, Rodgers and McCarthy are likely part of the reason why Smith is no longer in Chicago. Smith will do everything he can to motivate his under-manned team to come out and play strong against the Packers. He and his staff will scheme as well as they can to at least make Green Bay have to work harder to get past them and on to the Packers’ week 17 game against the Detroit Lions. What Smith really needs to do is pray. He’s going to need a miracle.
During Green Bay’s five-game winning streak, we heard players talking about their goals for this season. The veteran nucleus is used to winning and playing in January and quite a few of them were on the 2010 team. They have seen and know what it takes to win deep into the postseason. There’s no question this Packers team comes out focused and ready on Sunday. I expect a fast start not only because the Packers offense is so much better than the Bucs defense, but because Green Bay knows they need to get down to business and prepare to blow through any obstacle standing between them and some added football after week 17. That starts with Rodgers.
Rodgers had his worst statistical game on Sunday against the Bills. It was odd to watch and it almost seemed like we were watching a clip of the 1980’s version of the Packers with Rodgers photo shopped in at quarterback. Rodgers has never been shy about how he plays with a bit of a chip on his shoulder. To doubt him is to motivate him. He takes his craft seriously and is one of a small handful of quarterbacks in the NFL who prepare as diligently as he does. I’ve said it many times: we don’t know how lucky we are to have a quarterback like Rodgers on our side. And we’ll see another example of why this Sunday.
The Bucs are terrible on the defensive side of the ball, both in run and pass defense. The Packers will be ready to atone for their mistakes of last week and will take advantage of those made by the Bucs. McCarthy can try and tell us that he thought his game plan in Buffalo was “balanced”, but we’ll see a true example of it this week. I foresee Eddie Lacy having a good day on the ground and the Packers easily winning the time of possession battle. Right tackle Bryan Bulaga is officially listed as questionable after he suffered a concussion last week. Whether Bulaga, Baluga, or J.C. Tretter is at right tackle, the Packers will run, run, run the ball.
Offensively, the Bucs have two very good wide receivers in Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans. They’re both tall and present match up problems for the Packers secondary. Evans has 11 touchdown catches this season. Jackson has only two but the Packers seem to help older veterans break out and have a random career game. Jackson torched the Packers in 2011 when he was with the San Diego Chargers. Tampa also has Doug Martin at running back, who is capable of eluding tacklers and extending some drives when the Packers should be getting off the field. Unfortunately, the Bucs are likely to get behind early and be looking for Jackson and Evans quite a bit. That’s when Green Bay’s pass rush comes out to play. The Bucs have given up 42 sacks on the season. This would be a good game for Julius Peppers to get some of his mojo back. He has five sacks on the season and needs just two more to equal his lowest output when he was in Chicago with the Bears. He has been largely been quiet over the last three games and the Packers are going to be counting on him come January. Not to mention Peppers was named one of six captains for the postseason.
The only area where Green Bay truly has to worry and will likely look a lot like Tampa is on special teams. This area has been a huge problem for the Packers and it’s not likely to change. It’s to the point where when the opposing kicker buries it into the end zone and DuJuan Harris takes a knee, I let out a sigh of relief. And after last week and the punt coverage, Tim Masthay might as well punt as far downfield as he can and kick it out of bounds. The Packers can overcome a bad special teams day against Tampa Bay, but that’s where the buck stops and any continued poor play will absolutely kill them.
Short and sweet this week. The Packers must and will come out and win this game. It may end up closer than a three-score differential in points but it’s simply a must win game, however they accomplish it. Get the win, come out relatively healthy and ready for a big week 17 game against the Lions.
Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on AllGreenBayPackers.comFollow Jason Perone: