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October debacle between Packers, Buccaneers complicates prediction for Sunday

Steve Brownlee

If it wasn’t for that dad-gummed blowout back in mid-October, it would be easy for this Armchair Quarterback to pick a winner of the Packers-Buccaneers game on Sunday.

Green Bay, Green Bay, Green Bay all the way.

But what to make of not just a loss, but a 38-10 blowout to the team the Packers face for the right to play in Super Bowl LV — that’s 55 to those of us challenged by Roman numerals bigger than 10.

I always remembered what the various Roman numeral letter were when old movies would have their year made in those letters — something like MCMXLVIII made me think of “McMixlivy” and I’d remember that “L” was 50.

Back to the important stuff, though. On paper, the Packers look to be a decided favorite with their 13-3 record and Aaron Rodgers’ MVP-worthy season.

Rodgers completed 72 percent of his passes with 50 touchdowns and only three interceptions — in the 16 games, including last week’s playoff opener vs. the Rams, that weren’t against Tampa Bay.

But against the Bucs, he was 16 of 35 (46 percent) for 160 yards, two pickoffs and no TDs.

OK, I’m thinking that whole debacle from three full months ago is a good thing — guess which team will be hungrier in the rematch?

But on the flip side, is there some sort of matchup nightmare the Packers suffer vs. Tampa?

Or maybe were some key players out that day that are in now, or maybe just the other way around.

I found a report online at U.P. Matters.com and attributed to TV station WFRV on the day of the game saying that receiver Equanimeous St. Brown was reactivated the day before and Davante Adams had also been recently reactivated, which meant “the Packers offense returns to mostly healthy form.”

Adams caught six passes that game but for only 61 yards. No other receiver had any more than half those numbers, and no rusher broke 35 yards either.

Tom Brady, meanwhile, was 17 of 17 for 166 yards but no picks as Ronald Jones II rushed for 113 yards and two TDs and Rob Gronkowski caught five passes for 78 yards and one of Brady’s two passing TDs.

On defense, I see seven Bucs with at least one quarterback hit, totaling 13 hits and led by Jason Pierre-Paul and William Gholston with three each. Oh, and I almost forgot Rodgers sacked four times and Tim Boyle once for 18 “hounding” plays on the QBs. Pierre-Paul had 1 1/2 sacks himself.

Brady suffered just four QB hits and no sacks.

Probably the two biggest plays, I’m remembering this week in highlights shown on TV, were Jamel Dean returning one of Rodgers’ interceptions 32 yards for a TD and Mike Edwards almost returning the other pick for a TD, too, and bringing it back 37 yards.

In a drive chart I dug up online, I see those interceptions were barely a minute and a half apart and turned the Packers’ 10-0 lead into a 14-10 deficit in the first five minutes of the second quarter.

OK, that explains the early part of the game, but what got it from 14-10 to 38-10?

Brady picked apart the Packers’ D the next time Tampa got the ball, going 65 yards to make it 21-10 despite having only one play longer than seven yards — a 13-yard pass to Gronkowski on the second play. Also helping was a Rashan Gary face mask penalty that moved the ball from near midfield to field-goal range.

Then Brady made it a 28-point second quarter by leading Tampa to a late TD to Gronk with 1:07 left.

So basically, Green Bay played Tampa even for three quarters — the first, third and fourth. The roof caved in during the second quarter.

With this, let’s look at this weekend’s games:

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NFC No. 5 Tampa Bay (13-5) at No. 1 Green Bay (14-3), 3:05 p.m., Fox — I’m not convinced the Bucs have a matchup edge as the first game was a stalemate for 45 of the 60 minutes.

You have to like Green Bay’s motivation in not only wanting to get to the Super Bowl (both teams would like to, I think), but shoring up its reputation after the October debacle.

On that count, I’ll take the Packers, 29-20.

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AFC No. 2 Buffalo (15-3) at No. 1 Kansas City (15-2), 6:20 p.m., CBS — This is really the game you have to look at the QBs, specifically the Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes, since he was knocked out of last week’s win against Cleveland.

It’s a good sign KC could win a game like that, except that while Chad Henne had some good moments over the last quarter and a half, compared to Mahomes he’s just a game manager. But the Browns only outscored the Chiefs 7-3 after Mahomes left when it had been 19-10.

What really worries me about KC is that Sunday’s 22-17 victory was their eighth straight win of six points or less. We throw out the final regular-season game, a 38-21 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, as the Chiefs had nothing to play for that day and sat Mahomes and a multitude of others.

Statistically, both teams are in the middle of the league in defensive yardage, but Buffalo I’ve heard has improved during the second half while just those close games seem to indicate KC didn’t get any better.

Reports came out just on Friday saying Mahomes passed the concussion protocol, even if he’s not 100 percent due to another injury to a toe.

Still, while Mahomes definitely deserved all the different MVPs he’s earned, he’s not a one-man band on offense with all the receiving, offensive line and running back talent that surrounds him. Even with their top two running backs possibly out, I still have to go with the Chiefs, 35-29.

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Last week — 2-2, 50 percent. Playoffs — 6-4, 60 percent.

Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is sbrownlee@miningjournal.net.

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