The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are headed to the NFC Championship game after dispatching the New Orleans Saints in the divisional round. After a tight scoring affair in the first three quarters of the game, the Buccaneers buckled down and put up 10 unanswered points in the final frame to run away with a 30-20 victory.
Their opponents in the Green Bay Packers are fresh from manhandling the Los Angeles Rams in the other divisional-round matchup in the NFC bracket. The Packers leaned on a 16-point scoring outburst in the second frame to create distance from their opponents. They continued to step on the pedal to finish the game on a 32-18 lopsided victory.
The Buccaneers will certainly have their hands full on Sunday after seeing the capabilities of the Packers. Here are two major X-factors that will be key for the Bucs to emerge victorious in the NFC Championship Game:
1. Tom Brady's overall effectiveness under center
Head coach Bruce Arians' loaded squad has been built around Tom Brady and the team will go as far as where the veteran quarterback will take them. Perhaps the Bucs' most lopsided defeat of the season came from the Saints back in Week 9. In the battle of the two division rivals, Brady was only limited to produce 209 yards on 22-of-38 passing without a touchdown scored. He also threw three interceptions and amassed three sacks against the Saints' defense.
The game ended on a 38-3 defeat as the Buccaneers tallied their third loss in the regular season. Several weeks later, the two teams faced once again in the divisional round of the playoffs. Brady did better this time around with 199 yards on an 18/33 passing clip with two passing touchdowns. He also evaded the Saints' defense and only amassed a single sack in the game.
With Brady being effective under center, the Bucs' offensive players found their groove on the field as well, resulting in a 30-20 victory for Tampa Bay. The team found contributions from running back Leonard Fournette who snagged 44 receiving yards on five receptions and a touchdown. Wide receiver Mike Evans also notched three yards on a lone catch along with a score on the endzone.
The two games against the Saints revealed that Brady's performance will be key for the Buccaneers if they are aiming to win against a similarly tough team like the Packers.
If Brady is shut down by the opposing defense then the entire offense won't get to do their work on the field and will fail to put up points across the board. However, if Brady gets to be efficient and fluidly operate the offense, then his weapons gain momentum and can even score a multitude of touchdowns if they wanted to, considering that most of them are capable of finding the endzone.
Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown, and even tight end Rob Gronkowski are all looking to contribute to the team's aerial attack while running backs Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones will look to lead the ground game for the Buccaneers.
The team already has a serious advantage in their matchup against the Packers as they certainly have better offensive players than their opponents do. However, Arians will need to capitalize and use his players' skill sets to contribute to the team's winning cause, which begins with Brady's effectiveness under center.
2. The performance of Tampa Bay's defense
The Buccaneers' defensive rotation has been solid all season long. In fact, it was also the main driver of their divisional-round victory against the Saints. The cornerback duo of Carlton Davis III and Sean Murphy-Bunting locked up Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas in the game. The three-time Pro Bowler left the game without a single catch for the first time in his career despite seeing four targets from quarterback Drew Brees.
Looking back in hindsight, the Bucs defense already imposed their dominance against the Packers dating back to their Week 6 encounter. The Buccaneers defense led by the linebacker duo of Devin White and Lavonte Davis along with defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul all made life harder for quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
The two-time NFL MVP was contained by the opposing defense and only generated 160 yards on 16-of-35 passing. Rodgers also threw two interceptions and was dealt with four sacks in the game. Similar to how important Brady is to the Bucs, the Packers' offense also starts with Rodgers under center.
Given that Rodgers didn't get to have much breathing room in the game, the Packers' offense went flat without a single receiver tallying a touchdown. WR1 Davante Adams already led the team with 61 yards and six receptions.
Running back Aaron Jones managed to sneak a scoring drive but was still limited to generate only 15 rushing yards on 10 carries, a far cry from his usual production in the ground game. With a deflated offense, the Packers eventually succumbed to a 38-10 loss against the Buccaneers.
It will be wise for Tampa Bay if they can replicate their efforts against the Packers, similar to how they did in Week 6. The team's defense will have to be at its best if they want to limit Rodgers from gaining any rhythm and prevent him from orchestrating the Packers' offense early on.
The Buccaneers will certainly face a tall task when they match up against a fluid team like the Packers which have already shown their capabilities all season long. Nonetheless, a win isn't completely out of the window and the Buccaneers still have a chance to deal an upset to their opponents in the NFC Championship Game, considering how their roster was built from top to bottom.
At the end of the day, the Buccaneers will have to make things work on both ends of the field if they want to deal the Packers a loss at Lambeau Field on Sunday.