For the first time since 1977, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will not be in the same division with the Green Bay Packers.<p>

The Packers, along with The Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, and the Minnesota Vikings will now comprise the NFC North, which will now go back to the original NFC Central alignment that dates back to 1967. The Bucs have moved to the NFC South joining the Atlanta Falcons, New Orleans Saints, and the Carolina Panthers. Although the Bucs have left the division, the rivalry should still continue.

The Packers and Bucs both look to be teams that should compete for the NFC Championship for the next few years. The Packers will play the Bucs in Tampa this year as Green Bay will try to finally win a game in Raymond James Stadium where the Green and Gold is 0-4. The Bucs, on the other hand, have not won a game in Green Bay since 1989. The two teams will play again at Lambeau in 2005, post season play not included.

The Packers and Bucs really established themselves as rivals in 1997 when the two teams met in the playoffs as the Packers won at Lambeau 21-7. Warren Sapp really made a name for himself as he sacked Brett Favre three times.

Since that game, Favre and Sapp have made each Packer-Buc matchup that much more interesting as the mutual respect that the two have for each other is well documented. Sapp, in fact, almost broke Favre's amazing streak of starting consecutive games in 2000, when Favre sprained his foot on a tackle by Sapp in Tampa that year. Favre has his streak still going strong at 157 consecutive games, while Sapp still is considered at top notch player that often voices his opinion.

Recently Sapp has been involved in a war of words with Michael Strahan regarding the controversial sack that Strahan had of Favre to set the all time regular season record. Sapp also had some words for Favre. "I kw Favre would give him a chance to get it if he could get it. That's why it hurt so much. It was my boy (Favre) giving it up. The hardest quarterback to put on the ground."

Sapp also had some advice for Favre if he ran 4 naked bootlegs against the Bucs like he did against the Giants. "Oh, he's going down. Four for four, four for four, four for four." Sapp added one more point. "Come on. Call Mike Sherman. Mike Sherman called a belly weak (a running play). It's not a sack."

The Packer and Buc rivalry also has some other additional twists this year. Jon Gruden is now the head coach in Tampa Bay, bringing with him some of the knowledge that he picked up in Green Bay from 1992-94 as an assistant to Mike Holmgren. The Packers now have Hardy Nickerson starting at MLB, a position that he dominated during his years in Tampa Bay.

The final twist may yet to happen. OT Jerry Wunsch has been relegated to the bench as the Bucs are retooling their offensive line. Word is that Wunsch may even be in danger of being cut. The Packers are very concerned about the lack of depth on the offensive line. Wunsch is a five year veteran with plenty of starting experience and certainly would be worth a look especially with the shaky physical status of OT Earl Dotson. The Packers do seem to like former Wisconsin offensive linemen with Mark Tauscher and Bill Ferrario already on the squad.

Time will tell if the Bucs will release Wunsch, and whether the Packers might be interested in picking up the former Badger. One thing is for sure, the Packers and the Bucs will continue to be rivals, even though the teams are in different divisions now. It will never be like the Packers and the Bears, or even the Packers and the Vikings, but given their history as divisional foes, and the bright future that both teams look to have, the battle of the "Bays" will always be special.

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