Game Preview

NFC Championship Preview: Bucs vs. Packers

Aaron Rodgers

It’s a battle between former league and Super Bowl MVP quarterbacks when Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers travel up north to face Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers this Sunday. This will be Rodgers’ fifth NFC championship game in his career, but surprisingly this will be his first time playing the game at home. This will be Brady’s 14th conference game appearance in his luxurious career. That means Brady has twice as many seasons with a conference game appearance than he does without (7), which includes a season that he missed with a torn ACL. On defense, the teams bring different philosophies. The Buccaneers are a stout run defense that allows them to remain in the game if they trail, giving Brady a chance to come from behind if they trail. The Packers, on the other hand, will defend the pass while Rodgers, 48 (No. 1) passing touchdowns, picks apart opposing pass defenses.

– NFC CHAMPIONSHIP SUNDAY FOOTBALL PREVIEW –

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Green Bay Packers

Spread: Packers -3.5 | Over/Under 51.5

Vegas Odds

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are 5-2 ATS in their last 7 games but are 3-7 ATS in their last 10 January games. The Buccaneers are 6-0 straight up in their last 6 games, 7-0 straight up in their last 7 road games, but are only 1-15 straight up in their last 16 games played on the road against the Green Bay Packers. The total has gone UNDER in 4 of their last 5 games played against an NFC North opponent. The line for this game might move, check out Live NFL Odds at BettingData.

The Green Bay Packers are 5-2 ATS in their last 7 games and are 7-0 straight up in those games as well. The total has gone OVER in 4 of the Packers’ last 6 games played against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The total has gone OVER in each of the Packers’ last 8 games played in January. The Packers are 6-0 straight up in their last 6 home games.

Quarterback

The Green Bay Packers’ defense, unlike its three remaining playoff team counterparts, does not blitz opposing offenses heavily. While the Kansas City Chiefs, Buffalo Bills, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are top-10 in blitz rate by defenses, the Packers are a bottom-10 blitz rate defense. The conservative play-calling works for the Packers as they allow 16.0 fantasy points to quarterbacks (fifth-best), while the other three playoff teams allow 18.0+ fantasy points. Tom Brady leads the NFL with 9.1 Air Yards Per Attempt, but his receivers have dropped 71 (No. 8) passes this season. The decisive factor will be Brady’s receivers’ YAC ability. Brady’s receivers averaged 2.95 (No. 65) YAC per target, while the Packers are a bottom-12 defense in both YAC per target and YAC per completion.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were one of five defenses to have 600 or more pass attempts thrown against them. Despite this, the Buccaneers allowed the fewest first downs of the remaining playoff teams and were one of five defenses to allow a first down or touchdown in less than 60-percent of opposing offenses pass attempts (56.40-percent, No. 2). Buccaneers’ defense pressures quarterbacks at a 27.2-percent rate of opposing quarterback dropbacks (third-highest) and allowed 2656 completed air yards, which was the fourth-highest in the NFL. The conclusion is that the Buccaneers defense pressures frequently (39.0-percent blitz rate, No. 5 in the NFL), but is vulnerable to quarterbacks that can convert deeper passes under pressure. Aaron Rodgers’ 43.1-percent Pressured Completion % is No. 11 among NFL quarterbacks this season and his 9.2 Adjust Yards Per Pass Attempt leads the NFL while completing 44.4-percent (No. 11) of his 72 No. 3) deep ball attempts.

Running Back

Last week, the running back combo of Leonard Fournette (17 carries) and Ronald Jones (13 carries) combined for 125 yards on the ground against the New Orleans Saints, the fantasy football’s best defense in points allowed to the position (14.0). The difference between the two running backs in this timeshare is their involvement in the passing game. Fournette converted 5 of his 6 targets for 44 yards and a touchdown, while Jones finished the game without a catch. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers go from playing the most difficult fantasy defense for running backs to one of the easiest in the Green Bay Packers. The Packers’ defense allowed the sixth-most fantasy points to running backs (21.3) in 2020. On 397 rushing attempts, the Packers’ defense has allowed a first down or touchdown on 34.01-percent of the attempts, the third-highest in the NFL.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are the NFL’s top run defense this season. They were the only defense to allow less than 1000 rushing yards during the regular season and they lead the league in yards per attempt (3.6), rushing touchdowns allowed (10), and rushing first downs allowed (78). Last week, the Green Bay Packers had success running the ball against another top run defense in the Los Angeles Rams (32 carries for 191 yards). They did, however, struggle to run the ball when the Packers and Buccaneers played each other back in Week 6. In that game, Aaron Jones finished with 10 carries for 15 yards and his 41 yards from scrimmage was his season-worst. Jones finished top-10 in both carries and targets during the 2020 season despite missing a couple of games and his involvement in the passing game allows him to remain a relevant option in DFS, despite Jamal Williams’ guaranteed involvement in the game.

Wide Receiver

Last week, Mike Evans was almost shut down by Marshon Lattimore but managed to score on a 3-yard touchdown pass to redeem his lackluster performance. Fortunately for Evans, this week he gets matched up with PFF’s lowest-graded cornerback that is expected to start in Kevin King (PFF grade: 55.3). The Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ wide receiver to avoid this week is Antonio Brown. Brown (knee) is a game-time decision has been ruled out for the NFC championship game, but he also gets matched up with Jaire Alexander. Alexander finished with -3 receiving yards allowed last week against the Los Angeles Rams. Chris Godwin is the play this week; his primary coverage is Chandon Sullivan, who ran a 4.60 40-yard dash. From Week 10 onwards, Sullivan saw less than six targets in a game just once. For the Buccaneers’ wide receivers to have success, they will have to get their yard after the catch versus through the air. The Green Bay Packer is a top-10 defense in air yards per completion allowed (6.10 yards, but allow 5.37 yards after the catch per completion (eighth-highest).

Last week, Carlton Davis held Michael Thomas to zero receptions. This week, he matches up with the best receiver in 2020, Davante Adams. Davis had 15 (No. 5) pass breakups this season but also allowed 0.40 (No. 64) fantasy points per cover snap. This will be problematic when matching up with Adams, who leads the lead in yards per route run (2.97) and fantasy points per route run (0.78). The wide receiver to avoid is Marquez Valdes-Scantling. Jamel Dean is his projected primary coverage for the game and he only allows 0.75 yards per route covered. To put it in perspective, Jaire Alexander has only allowed 0.56 yards per route covered. The Buccaneers’ pass defense excels at not allowing yards after the catch. The 4.70 yards after the catch per completion is the fourth-fewest allowed in the NFL this season. Among the remaining four playoff teams, the Buccaneers allow the most air yards per completion (6.24), which is right in the middle of all NFL teams during the 2020 season.

Tight End

According to PFF, both primary tight ends Robert Tonyan and Rob Gronkowski will face coverage from players with grades under 50.0 (Devin White and Christian Kirksey, respectively). The Green Bay Packers are better equipped to handle tight ends on defense than the Tampa Bay Buccaneers; the Packers allowed 6.1 fantasy points per game (fourth-best), while the Buccaneers allowed 8.5 (12th-worst). Tonyan’s match is exploitable; Tonyan caught 90-percent of his targets this season, while White allowed opposing tight ends to catch 86-percent of their targets. Kirksey had a 14-percent target rate per route run this season, as the Packers allowed only 101 targets to opposing tight ends in 2020 (seventh-best). Gronkowski (1 catch, 14 yards on 6 targets in the playoffs) is a fade in DFS not only because of the tough defense matchup but because Cameron Brate has out-targeted him in both games (8 catches, 130 yards on 11 targets in the playoffs).

Prediction

The NFL is a pass-first league and this game features two of the three quarterbacks to pass for 40 or more touchdown passes. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ ability to stop the run on defense was beneficial and necessary to beat the New Orleans Saints last week because of Drew Brees’ inability to push the ball down the field. However, the Packers are a bad matchup for the Buccaneers. Brady (18-of-33 for 199 yards and 2 touchdowns) struggled against the New Orleans Saints pass defense and the Green Bay Packers are an equivalent challenge to opposing quarterbacks. PACKERS 28-20.

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