NFC Championship Game playoff preview: Buccaneers at Packers

Viewers can watch the broadcast live on FOX/FOX Deportes at 3:05 pm ET on Sunday as well as stream live on the NFL App and Yahoo Sports app.

The Backstory: Buccaneers at Packers

How far back do we go in revisiting well-worn ground?

Two decades to Tom Brady's first AFC Championship Game, as he makes his 14th appearance in the game that leads to a Super Bowl berth? Back to January, 2016, the last time Bruce Arians was a head coach in the NFC Championship Game when his Arizona Cardinals got waylaid by Carolina, 49-15?

Do we go back to the 2010 playoffs, when Aaron Rodgers last raised the Lombardi Trophy? Or simply to last year, when Matt LaFleur took over, the Packers instantly made an NFC Conference Championship, but got blasted by a better San Francisco 49ers squad?

Do we go back to this spring, when the seeds of Sunday's contest were planted? To March, when TB12 elected to make Tampa Bay the second franchise he'd play for, Arians his second head coach, and joined a souped-up offense after years of carrying one in New England? To April, when the Packers selected Rodgers' eventual replacement in Jordan Love instead of adding firepower, placing a massive chip on the shoulder of the man who'd become the most valuable player frontrunner eight months later?

Back to Week 6, when the Bucs blasted the Packers 38-10, with the defense holding Rodgers to a piddling 160 yards passing and two interceptions, including the game-flipping pick-six in the second quarter? The game in which the Tampa D didn't allow Rodgers and the offense to sniff their end of the field for the final three quarters?

The Packers have insisted all week that, rightfully, that regular-season game in mid-October has no bearing on what takes place Sunday. The Bucs themselves know what it's like to reverse a regular-season trend, having just plowed past a Saints team it'd gotten creamed by twice.

How about we just go back to this past weekend, when Rodgers cut up the NFL's No. 1-ranked defense like it was a warm brie. And when the Tampa defense forced four turnovers from a stingy Saints squad, with Brady turning it into 21 points and the game-clinching drive.

Teams evolve over the course of a campaign, learning what they do well, what they do poorly, and building innate chemistry along the way. The goal: Play your best football in December and January.

The Packers, winners of seven straight, and Bucs, winners of six in a row, are rolling entering Sunday's contest.

The clash is set. Legends are made in the postseason. Either a 43-year-old Tom Brady will be playing in his 10th Super Bowl or the 37-year-old Aaron Rodgers will finally get over the hump and get a shot at his second Lombardi Trophy.

As Rodgers said this week, Sunday will be like "media porn."

Under Pressure

Tom Brady, quarterback, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Pressure ether crushes or reveals internal capacity. Every so often, when everything aligns properly, that pressure creates diamonds. Brady has won more diamonds on a football field than any human in history. Ageless, the pliability artist and anti-strawberrian led a Bucs offense that ranked third in points per game this season (30.8) while throwing 40 TD passes, second-most in his career. Much was made of Brady's deep ball early in the season, but as he's developed chemistry with his wideouts, that aspect of his game has turned a corner. Since Week 12, the QB ranks first in completions (22), passing yards (741), and TDs (nine) on deep balls. Last week, Brady again proved he could play any style, taking checkdowns where needed and moving the chains. There is no big-game player better than Brady. While his blood might have thinned spending 10 months in Florida, TB12 is no stranger to the cold. A Bucs team with few players who have been this far into the postseason will lean on the QB to once again be the guiding light through the tundra.

Aaron Rodgers, quarterback, Green Bay Packers: Sure, the pressure is on the Bucs defense, particularly the secondary, to slow the MVP favorite. But, let's be frank, Rodgers has a lot on the line Sunday. The future Hall of Fame QB hasn't been to a Super Bowl in a decade. For better or worse, many view quarterback legacies through the prism of postseason success –- as annoying as that notion might be given that football is the ultimate team sport. Brett Favre took the Packers to two Super Bowls, even if he only came out victorious in one. For Rodgers to finally get over that Favre-sized hill, a second NFC championship seems paramount. All season, Rodgers has been on a mission. Comfortable in LaFleur's system, the QB is the best field general in football, able to get the offense into the right play, reads defenses like they're a children's book, and can still pull off the "OMG, he just did whaaaatttt?" play. The greatest part of Rodgers' MVP-worthy season was his ability to raise all boats. Lack of weapons? Phooey. Rodgers still threw for 4,000-plus yards and led the NFL with 48 TD tosses. Injuries to the O-line? No biggie. The 16-year-pro will just sidestep a defender and rifle a bullet over the middle to Davante Adams. The march toward a second Super Bowl appearance began for Rodgers months ago. Sunday, the last test remains.

Matchup to watch

Buccaneers run D vs. Aaron Jones and the Packers backfield: Last week, Rodgers faced the No. 1 ranked pass defense and diced it up. This week, Jones and Co. face the No. 1-ranked run defense in the NFL. Led by a stout defensive front that walls off the line of scrimmage and two high-flying linebackers, Devin White and Lavonte David, that dispose of any trash, the Bucs defense provides little daylight for running backs. Possibly getting Vita Vea back strengthens an already strong fortification. Jones compiled a season-low 1.5 yards per carry against the Bucs in Week 6. The Packers offense runs smoothly when Jones blasts out big runs, complementing Rodgers and the passing attack. If the free-agent-to-be is slowed as he was in the past meeting, will the Green Bay offense turn one-dimensional? The Packers' three-headed RB monster with Jones, Jamaal Williams and rookie A.J. Dillon (dealing with a quad injury), have been a menace. But Sunday, they face a defense that has shut down RBs much of the year. Jones vs. White -- who played out of his mind in the Divisional Round – should be one of the best matchups of the day.

Final thought

That we've made it to the end and barely touched on the receiving corps underscores the star-studded matchup we're in for Sunday afternoon. On one side is Davante Adams, the NFL's best receiver in getting off the line of scrimmage and the top red-zone weapon in the NFC. On the other side is the trio of Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown. Brown, Evans and Adams each rank in the top 10 in receptions and receiving TDs since 2014 -- Godwin since 2019. Sunday's game may come down to which team's receiver wins when his team is in the red zone. The Packers rank eighth in red zone defense this season, while the Bucs were 20th. Adams has earned at least one TD in 11 of his past 12 games. It's not outlandish to say that whichever of these wideout stars shines brightest in the cold of Lambeau will propel his team on to one more game.

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