Bet: Green Bay Packers -3.5 - Click Here To Bet
Key Stat: Since a poor performance in a loss to Tampa Bay in Week 6, Aaron Rodgers has completed 72.4% of passes and thrown 37 touchdowns with just three interceptions across 12 games
The Buccaneers travel to Green Bay for the first of Sunday’s two Conference Championships, each of which is a rematch from the regular season. Unlike the game in Kansas City, the NFC side features this weekend’s underdog as the previous big winner. Way back in Week 6, Tampa Bay dominated the Packers en route to a massive 38-10 win. But that game was in Tampa, and this one will be played in a frigid sub-freezing climate at Lambeau Field.
While Aaron Rodgers struggled with the Buccaneers the last time these teams met, he has been absolutely automatic in 12 games since. That Week 6 loss stands as the only game all season where Rodgers didn’t throw a touchdown, and he’s dominated in the time since to the tune of a 72.4% completion percentage with 268 passing yards per game and a ridiculous 37 touchdowns against just three interceptions. That somehow doesn’t even tell the full story of how good he’s been — Rodgers and the Packers have been particularly electric in the first halves of games down the stretch of the season, and have at times taken their foot off the gas after halftime in a way that has, if anything, limited his statistical production.
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So the early-season egg Green Bay laid against Tampa is almost certainly not reflective of what we should expect this weekend. Tom Brady and Tampa’s offense have been hot over the season’s second half as well, and while both defenses have been solid units throughout the season, we’re looking at a matchup of two offenses that fit among the best in the league in basically any measure — multiple opponent-adjusted metrics put them both in the top three, to be specific.
The major question mark, though, is the weather. As of Friday, Green Bay is expected to get snow overnight and into the early hours of Sunday morning, but things look likely to clear up by gametime. Temperatures aren’t expected to be so cold as to force the teams to abandon their strengths and lean on an extremely run-heavy gameplan. And, crucially, Brady and Rodgers have among the most experience and success playing in sub-freezing temperatures of any quarterbacks in the league.
But it will be interesting to see how the Bucs are impacted. The Packers tend to play slow and deliberate, ranking last in the league in situation-neutral time to snap during the regular season, and they put up points thanks to elite efficiency. Tampa had the fourth-quickest situation-neutral time to snap during the regular season, and on paper their vertical passing game and willingness to play fast offset any tempo concerns the Packers might bring. Of course, Green Bay’s defense pushes teams toward the run, and one potentially important note from the last time these teams met is how heavily Tampa stayed on the ground, with Brady throwing just 27 times for 166 yards, numbers certainly impacted by the big win.
If the Bucs do run at a decent clip, it’s not hard to see a path to this game going under the high total. But I like Green Bay to be far better in the second meeting between these teams, and if the Packers can build a bit of a lead, Tampa’s aggressive offensive style could also lead to a high-scoring affair. With the NFL experiencing an offensive boom not just in 2020 but over the past decade, the old trope “defense wins championships” has been and will continue to be tested. The Chiefs obviously prevailed as the Super Bowl champions last year on the strength of their fantastic offense, and in many ways the offensive explosion has been a few years ahead at the college level where we’ve seen the country’s best teams end the season with high-scoring CFP games as the norm over the past few seasons.
Under the current rules, it’s difficult for defenses to do more than try to contain top offenses, and my operating assumption is points should be the expectation in a way the history of January football might imply it shouldn’t. That makes the total something to monitor in-game, with live lines providing some potential value based on the early flow.
But I’m on the Packers -3.5 for the game. The Buccaneers are a strong team, but they weren’t particularly sharp last week; it could be said the Saints lost that game more than Tampa won it. They’ll be without Antonio Brown, and while Tampa has strong WR depth, that could make things tougher against Green Bay’s pass defense, particularly if Rodgers and the Packers keep up their early-game production and get out to a lead at home.
NFL Expert Picks
Things are really heating up in the NFL and this Sunday sees the two Conference Championship Games. First up the Green Bay Packers and Aaron Rodgers hosting Tom Brady's Buccaneers at Lambeau. Tom Brady is no stranger to cold weather and he'll need to count on that experience in order to win here as he hunts for a 7th ring. The second game of the day sees the Buffalo Bills on the road against the Kansas City Chiefs. Patrick Mahomes' injury status has been the big story all week, but perhaps it could be his toe injury which has the biggest impact.
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