WHERE: Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida
SPREAD: Bucs by 3
WHERE THE PACKERS STAND: The Packers are 8-2 and are in first place in the NFC North Division.
PACKERS HEAD COACH: Mike Sherman
PACKERS OFFENSIVE COORINATOR: Tom Rossley
PACKERS DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Ed Donatell
PACKERS SPECIAL TEAMS COACH: Frank Novak
HOW THE BUCS RANK IN THE NFL (2002):
OFFENSE: OVERALL: 19th RUSHING: 28th PASSING: 14th
DEFENSE: OVERALL: 1st RUSHING: 6th PASSING: 1st
HOW THE PACKERS RANK IN THE NFL (2002):
OFFENSE: OVERALL: 8th RUSHING: 13th PASSING: 5th
DEFENSE: OVERALL: 17th RUSHING: 30th PASSING: 9th
MATCHUP TO WATCHBucs MLB Shelton Quarles vs. Packers RB Ahman Green : Green is arguably the best running back in the league and the numbers he has produced this season would certainly support such a sentiment. Green has rushed for 833 yards and is averaging 4.3 yards per carry this season. He has rushed for six touchdowns as well. Green possesses both power and speed, which is a lethal combination at his position. He has excellent field vision and is also a great receiver out of the backfield, where he has hauled in 40 passes for 286 yards and he's scored two touchdowns.
Packers head coach Mike Sherman has been criticized for not giving Green the ball enough in games this season. Look for Sherman to give Green the ball early and often against Tampa Bay on Sunday. Bucs middle linebacker Shelton Quarles, who leads the team in tackles this season, will play a significant part in containing Green, who makes a living off of breaking tackles. If Green carries the ball more than 25-30 times, the Packers will likely win this game.
DID YOU KNOW…
…the Buccaneers have never lost to the Packers in Raymond James Stadium (4-0)?
TURNOVERS WILL BE KEY:
The Bucs and the Packers are doing plenty of things well, but it's what they're not doing that has helped both teams start the season 8-2.
Both teams are not turning the ball over and they're creating a ton of them. Green Bay has the best turnover ratio in the league at plus-15 and Tampa Bay is right behind them at plus-12.
The Packers' defense has come up with 18 interceptions and the Buccaneers' defense has 21 of their own. Both teams have tossed just seven interceptions this season, but Tampa Bay's secondary noticed Packers QB Brett Favre looking on to his receivers well before he was actually throwing passes to them last season, which translated into five interceptions in their two meetings last season. Favre has done a nice job of not eyeing his receivers as long this season, but he fell back into old habits last Sunday and he had three passes intercepted by Minnesota because of it.
BUCS MUST GET TO PACKERS QB FAVRE EARLY AND OFTEN:
Green Bay QB Brett Favre is one of the most dangerous quarterbacks in the league, especially when he has time to find his receivers downfield. That said, Tampa Bay's defense, which ranked No. 1 in the league and has recorded 31 sacks and 21 interceptions this season, must get to Favre, who has been sacked 17 times in 10 games. Favre has completed 64.4 percent of his passes for 2,540 yards and he's thrown 19 touchdowns this season. Favre hasn't had much success against Tampa Bay's defense in the past and they know they must pressure Favre into forcing passes, which will likely turn into turnovers Sunday.
RESPECT GREEN BAY'S RECEIVING CORPS:
Green Bay's receiving corps are much faster and much more productive this season than they have been in the past, which is another reason why the Packers are off to an impressive 8-2 start. Packers wide receiver Donald Driver is an absolute speedster and he has hauled in 50 passes for 838 yards and he's scored six touchdowns. Driver is Green Bay's deep threat, which is evidenced by his 16.8 average per catch this season.
Packers WR Terry Glenn was supposed to be the team's No. 1 receiver when they acquired him in a trade with New England during the offseason, but he's benefited from the emergence of Driver. Glenn has caught 38 passes for 568 yards and he's scored one touchdown.
Tampa Bay's defense is ranked No. 1 against the pass this season, but cornerbacks Ronde Barber and Brian Kelly, who have both been playing at a Pro Bowl-level this season, will certainly be tested Sunday.
BEWARE OF BUBBA:
Green Bay tight end Bubba Franks has turned into much more than a red zone threat. He has been a very productive tight end this season. Franks is a solid blocker, but he's also an excellent receiver. Franks has hauled in 35 passes for 292 yards and he's scored five touchdowns. While he is still one of Favre's favorite targets inside the red zone, Franks is just as dangerous in the flat and across the middle of the field.
WILL BUCS' RUNNING GAME OPEN UP?:
Tampa Bay's rushing attack, which is ranked 28th in the league, might have a chance to get on track against Green Bay on Sunday. The Packers' defense is ranked 30th against the run and they're allowing opposing offenses to rush for an average of 136.1 yards per game this season. While no one knows for sure which running back Bucs head coach Jon Gruden will feature as the team's primary ball carrier on Sunday, look for fullback Mike Alstott to carry the load against Green Bay, who he has had some success against in the past.
BUCS SOUND OFF:
Bucs head coach Jon Gruden on how turnovers will play a big part in the outcome of Sunday's contest:
"I think the lack of turnovers can be attributed to our quarterback. Brad Johnson is as good a quarterback, in terms of protecting the football, as I've been around. He has two hands on the ball, almost at all times. He's very careful with his throws and that has to be an edge for us in a game like this. We need to do a better job, in terms of running backs protecting the ball. We had two running back fumbles (last Sunday) that were unacceptable."
Tampa Bay linebacker Derrick Brooks on whether or not Green Bay provides extra motivation:
"No, outside just playing Green Bay and obviously what's at stake, the best record in the league – if you can't get excited about this one, you don't need to be here. But we can't get caught up in these factors. I think our veteran players will grab hold of that – find that you're going to be excited but have it controlled. Realize you can't get caught in the emotions of the game, because that's not going to win it. You have to go out there and execute."
Brooks on what comes to his mind when he thinks of the Packers:
"The first thing I think about, obviously, is Favre making plays. We've had success against him here in Tampa. You've just got to make plays against him. When we've beat him, we've made plays, we've made turnovers. When he throws the ball up for grabs, we come down with it. When we lost to them, we've missed some tackles, dropped some interceptions, missed some field goals, let a punt return when we had stopped them seven straight times. It's playing a 60-minute ballgame."
Bucs CB Dwight Smith on QB Brett Favre's habit of looking onto his receivers too long, which sometimes leads to interceptions:
"Yeah, (he's still looking onto his receivers), but that's because he has new receivers. So, he has to stare them down because he doesn't know where they're going to be. He doesn't have guys like Antonio Freeman and guys that he is familiar with. But Favre also believes he has the strongest arm in the world so he's going to force a lot of throws and try to make a lot of plays that are not there, so we have to take advantage of that."
Gruden when asked if he gets excited about facing Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers:
"Yeah, no question about it. It doesn't take Brett Favre to get me jacked up. I'm kind of jacked up to start with. But this is a great opportunity for both teams. It will be a very exciting atmosphere, I know the crowd will be in the ballgame and we've got to be at our best."
The match-up between the 8-2 Green Bay Packers and the 8-2 Tampa Bay Buccaneers is about as close to a playoff contest as you can get in the regular season. Both teams are battling each other for playoff positioning within the NFC and the winner of this game could get home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
The keys to victory are obvious, but yet difficult to accomplish. Can Tampa Bay rattle Packers QB Brett Favre, who is having a spectacular season? The Bucs' defense is going to have to get pressure on Favre early and often, but Green Bay may come out and put the ball in RB Ahman Green's hands early.
If Tampa Bay's No. 1 ranked defense can contain Green in both the running and passing game, which won't be easy, life against the Bucs will not be easy Sunday. Turnovers will obviously play a big part in determining the winner of Sunday's game. The team that wins this battle will likely improve to 9-2 on the season.
Tampa Bay is going into this game a very confident team. Green Bay isn't so confident since they're coming off of a big loss to Minnesota last Sunday.
The Packers have a five-game lead in the NFC North Division and they could clinch the division title Sunday, even with a loss to the Bucs. Tampa Bay is, however, in a tight NFC South Division race with the Saints (7-3) and Falcons (6-3-1) and they don't have as much breathing room. Did I mention the Packers are 0-4 against the Bucs at Raymond James Stadium? I had originally penciled in a loss next to this game for the Pewter Pirates, but the two facts I just mentioned above are enough to pick the Bucs to beat the Packers at home in a game that will likely live up to all of the hype.
FLYNN'S PICK Buccaneers 20 Packers 17
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