The Los Angeles Times' Sam Farmer examines the NFL conference championship games. Last week, Farmer went 4-0 in his divisional-round predictions (9-1 for playoffs). Using point spreads with the scores he predicted, the record against the spread would have been 3-1 (8-1-1 for playoffs):
No. 5 Tampa Bay at No. 1 Green Bay
Sunday, noon PST, Fox. Line: Packers by 3 1/2.
First meeting: In Week 6 at Tampa Bay, the Buccaneers fell behind 10-0 before outscoring the Packers, 38-0, in the final three quarters for a 38-10 victory. Aaron Rodgers was held to a season-low 160 yards passing and had two interceptions.
Buccaneers keys: They have to take away Green Bay's running game. If Rodgers is allowed to hand it off more than 50% of the time, that will make it too easy for him. … Avoid the defensive holding penalties that hurt them against New Orleans. … Establish a running game that lets Tom Brady stay on schedule. … Mike Evans and Chris Godwin can make catches against tight coverage, but they tend not to separate. Tight end Cameron Brate is the most-open guy much of the time.
Packers keys: Get the running game going to set up the play-action and keep Rodgers in rhythm. … Try to rev up Aaron Jones, who was held to 15 yards on 10 carries the first time. … Neutralize the Tampa Bay pass rush by putting Rodgers in those second-and-sixes and third-and-fours. … On defense, hold the Buccaneers to less than 40% on third down. … With so much focus on Davante Adams, create some explosive plays with their other receiving weapons.
Farmer's pick: From the Colts to the Cardinals to the Buccaneers, Bruce Arians has had a lot of success against the Packers in recent years. Green Bay is playing with incredible efficiency on offense, with that hinging on establishing the run. That's harder to do with Vita Vea returning for Tampa Bay. Cold weather doesn't scare Tom Brady.
BUCCANEERS 28, PACKERS 24