Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-5) at Green Bay Packers (9-0)
KICKOFF: Sunday, noon.
TV: FOX, Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Pam Oliver
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Packers' receiving depth challenges defensive coordinators to pick their poison, and with little pass rush to speed up QB Aaron Rodgers' progressions the Bucs will be in the same boat. Tampa Bay has allowed 175 rushing yards or more in four of its past five games, so living in nickel and dime formations ice dicey - especially given Rodgers' mobility. The Bucs will have to find a way to keep pace. QB Josh Freeman says he hasn't regressed, but he also hasn't thrown a touchdown in the first quarter all season. Tampa Bay can't pull its slow-starting act and survive - Green Bay gives up yards in big chunks, and Freeman must capitalize on drives and not settle for field goals.
FAST FACTS: The Bucs are 1-5 when they score 20 points or less. ... The Packers have scored 39 touchdowns this season; the Bucs have 15.
BY THE NUMBERS: 0 — Games in which the Packers have trailed in the fourth quarter during their 15-game winning streak, which started last December. 2, 7 — Since injuring the thumb on his right throwing hand Oct. 23 against the Bears in London, QB Josh Freeman has thrown 2 TDs and 7 INTs. 51 — The Packers have scored on a league-best 51 percent of their drives, with 34 touchdowns and 16 field goals in 98 possessions.
TEAM STATISTICS: Packers offense — first in points with 35.6 ppg (fourth in total yards, 21st rushing, third passing). Buccaneers defense — Tied 27th in points with 25.9 ppg (31st in yards, 29th rushing, 28th passing). Packers defense — 13th in points with 20.7 ppg (28th in yards, eighth in rushing, 31st in passing). Buccaneers offense — 25th in scoring with 17.3 ppg (16th in yards, 25th rushing, 15th passing.)
SERIES HISTORY: 52nd regular-season meeting. Packers lead 29-21-1. Green Bay has lost three in a row and four of the last five matchups with the Buccaneers since 2002, the first year of realignment that ended the rivalry between the teams in the old NFC Central Division. Tampa Bay won 38-28 at home in 2009 in the last meeting. The Packers' last win over the Bucs in Wisconsin came in 2001. The teams met once in the postseason - a 21-7 Green Bay win in an NFC divisional game during the 1997 season.
GAME PLAN: The Buccaneers are falling fast with three straight losses and all but out of title contention in the NFC South with a 4-5 record. They will experience a big-time temperature drop when they leave Tampa, where it was in the balmy 70s for their loss to the Houston Texans last Sunday, and show up at Lambeau Field this Sunday, when it's expected to be in the high 30s.
Green Bay's potent offense should continue to put up some big numbers as it goes against a Tampa Bay defense that is struggling in all areas. While MVP front-runner Aaron Rodgers and his receiving group figure to come out firing against the Bucs' 28th-rated pass defense - look for Rodgers to attack the middle of the field and exploit Tampa Bay's ineffective safeties - the Packers' inconsistent run game could get well facing the 29th-ranked run defense, which gave up 185 yards to the Texans.
Green Bay's defense, apparently rejuvenated after a searing performance against the Minnesota Vikings on Monday, ranks 31st against the pass. However, the Packers are catching quarterback Josh Freeman in the midst of a woeful season - 13 interceptions with only nine touchdowns and a 72.6 passer rating. Given that he doesn't throw the ball down the field much, other than to young playmaker Arrelious Benn, Freeman stands a good chance of getting a heavy diet of defenders flying at him in much the same manner Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers rattled Vikings rookie Christian Ponder with a liberal use of pressure packages Monday. The Packers will key on keeping the rugged Freeman (6-6, 248 pounds) between the tackles and contain what might be Tampa Bay's best running option since featured back LeGarrette Blount has been slowed by a knee injury.
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