Somehow, it has always seemed inevitable that the Green Bay Packers would have to prove their worthiness for the Super Bowl by showing they can beat the one team that dominated them during the regular season. In week six, the Tampa Bay Bucs scorched the Packers 38-10. When they meet again Sunday to determine the NFC championship, I believe the outcome will be very different. Here are the reasons why:
Week Six Issue: The game took place in Tampa, Florida. Game time temperature was 86 degrees with a heat index of 90. Halftime temp was 82 degrees.
Why This Game Will Be Different: Sunday’s contest is at Lambeau Field in Green Bay. Game time temperature is forecast to be about 20 degrees with a chance of snow. Halftime temp projected to be about 17 degrees.
Week Six Issue: A rattled Aaron Rodgers throws 2 interceptions, takes 5 sacks, and misses multiple open receivers.
Why This Game Will Be Different: Rodgers’ confidence seems to be at an all time high. It seems unlikely he will be rattled, particularly playing at home. Green Bay’s running game is peaking, which should slow down the Bucs’ pass rush. MVS and Allen Lazard have shown improvement at getting open faster, allowing Rodgers to throw on schedule.
Week Six Issue: The Packers’ attempts to run wide were smothered by the lateral speed of linebackers Devin White and Lavonte David.
Why This Game Will Be Different: Green Bay found success against the vaunted Rams defensive front by running straight at them. The offensive line seems to have found its groove pushing instead of pulling. The Packers will pound the ball effectively between the tackles with the three-headed hammer of Aaron Jones, Jamaal Williams and AJ Dillon.
Week Six Issue: Tom Brady takes no sacks and few hurries or hits.
Why This Game Will Be Different: The Green Bay pass rush has simply gotten better and better with each game. Preston Smith, who was all but invisible in week six, has become a beast again. Rashan Gary, who had one tackle in week six, is becoming dominant. Kenny Clark has fully recovered from the groin injury that hampered him throughout the first half of the season. Brady is going to feel some heat, and he doesn’t handle it well.
Week Six Issue: The Bucs’ Ronald Jones was able to power through the middle of the Green Bay defense for 113 yards and two touchdowns.
Why This Game Will Be Different: Krys Barnes was hurt early in week six and replaced by Ty Summers who didn’t play well. Barnes is back. The Packers also now have Snacks Harrison, if needed, to bolster the defensive front. Dean Lowry is playing much more aggressively in recent games.
Week Six Issue: All Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari was hurt early in the third quarter and replaced by Rick Wagner, who almost immediately gave up a sack to White and struggled throughout.
Why This Game Will Be Different: Bakhtiari is out again, but this time his substitute will be Billy Turner, who has been a revelation at the position, playing effectively against the stout fronts of the Bears and Rams. Wagner is back at right tackle, where he is more comfortable and played well in the last two games.
Week Six Issue: Josh Jackson started for the injured Kevin King. He was beaten for a TD by Tyler Johnson, had a DPI on the two yard line covering Scotty Miller, and had a holding call.
Why This Game Will Be Different: King is back. He tends to play too far off and misses too many tackles, but he’s a definite upgrade over Jackson.
Week Six Issue: Rob Gronkowski dominated the middle with 5 catches for 78 yards and a touchdown.
Why This Game Will Be Different: Safety Adrian Amos was a step slow covering Gronk the whole game. Both Amos and Darnell Savage have shown great improvement, breaking quicker on the ball and striking with more authority. Barnes has been an upgrade from Kirksey dropping in middle coverage. Adding the experience and toughness of Tramon Williams would help even more.
Week Six Issue: Tampa Bay had zero penalties in the game. The only call against them was a late hit on the quarterback, which was offset by a Packers infraction.
Why This Game Will Be Different: The aforementioned improved pass rush will force at least a few holding calls on the Bucs’ O-line. The speed of MVS and the route precision of Davante Adams should result in some defensive holding and pass interference calls.
• Tampa Bay is 2-4 against winning teams thus far.
• Tampa Bay’s highly ballyhooed four game win streak at the end of the regular season came at the hands of the Vikings, Lions and the Falcons twice, all losing teams.
• I believe Aaron Rodgers senses this may be the final year he is surrounded by enough talent to win a Super Bowl. Because of salary cap issues, the Packers may look very different next season.
• Green Bay’s receivers need to get ready for a street fight. Watching the Bucs play New Orleans last Sunday, I was amazed at how handsy and physical the defensive backs were. The worst offender is Sean Murphy-Bunting, who seems to hold on every play. He got away with a hold on his interception. Carlton Davis and Jamel Dean are close behind. These guys are a wrestling match off the line, but if you can get free of them, there will be plays to be made downfield.
• If it is true the Houston Texans are going to be forced to trade Deshaun Watson, I’m hoping it’s not to the Lions or Bears, though he seems destined for one of those locations.
•I have this feeling that Green Bay’s special teams, a thorn in their side all year, is going to come up with a big play to help win this game. Lord knows they are overdue.
Ken Lass is a former Green Bay television sports anchor and 43 year media veteran, a lifelong Packers fan, and a shareholder.