It’s not just that we all get to watch Tom Brady vs. Aaron Rodgers in a surreal NFC Championship Game. It’s that we get to watch them playing at this level, with Rodgers trying to cap an MVP season and Brady performing like a top-five quarterback again while younger members of his generation decline or retire.
I expect both quarterbacks to ball out Sunday because they will be well protected. In a league where pass rushers had supposedly gained the upper hand, the Packers and Bucs’ offensive lines should win up front. Perhaps second-year pass rusher Rashan Gary’s emergence outside will allow Za’Darius Smith to get pressure up the middle against backup Bucs guard Aaron Stinnie. Perhaps Shaquil Barrett can turn the clock back to 2019 for a week against backup Packers tackle Rick Wagner. It’s more likely that the quarterbacks will control the pass rush and get rid of the ball like they have all season.
One exception for Rodgers was the 38-10 loss at Tampa in Week 6, when Bucs defensive coordinator Todd Bowles dictated effective blitzes. That strategy is unlikely to work as well again, and the boom-or-bust approach could give Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Allen Lazard chances for big plays, while Davante Adams is presumably double-teamed by Carlton Davis and a safety. I’m not worried about the Packers offense putting up points, but I am worried about Mike Pettine’s defense being the worst unit in this game.
Both of these quarterbacks are incredible at adjusting. Brady should be able to diagnose the Packers’ plan, which can only cover up Green Bay’s shortcomings at linebacker and in the secondary so much. For all the attention paid to the Packers’ front office not drafting a wide receiver last April, what this team really needs is another cornerback or two. (Yes, Green Bay has spent a lot of draft capital there recently. No, it hasn’t bore enough fruit.) A linebacker like Devin White or Lavonte David wouldn’t hurt, either. The Bucs are deep at the skill positions, and their running game, led by Ronald Jones and Leonard Fournette, is peaking at the right time. In a game that I believe will be decided by which team has the ball last, I give the slight edge to Brady closing this one out like he has so many times before.