Sunday, November 20, 2011

Packers vs. Buccaneers preview

After the near week-long bliss fest following the Packers' trouncing of the ViQueens -- it certainly was nowhere near as close as I and some others thought it would be (who knew the 'Queens would go into full fetal position in this game?) -- we now have the former division rivals from Tampa Bay as the next victim, er, team coming to Lambeau Field. The Packers are favored by 14 points over the 4-5 Buccaneers. The over-under is set at 48.5 points, the largest of this weekend's games.

Just a hunch, but my guess is the oddsmakers are figuring the Packers to put up the majority of those points. That's because Tampa is giving up 401.2 yards (31st in the NFL), 263.0 passing yards (28th) and 138.2 rushing yards (29th) through their first nine games. But, well, you know...until last week's game against the 'Queens, the Pack's defense wasn't exactly much to brag about either.

And that should really be the thing to watch in this game: the Packers' "D". Will it be the sieve-like bend-don't-break defense of the first eight games, or will we see a reprise of Monday night's game against Minnesota? If the latter, this Packers team is a juggernaut that is on its way to a second consecutive Super Bowl barring some freakish happening of which we must not speak. If the former, this Packers team...oh,'s still a juggernaut, let's be honest.

But back to the game at hand: let's not forget that the Bucs had a couple impressive wins this season against Atlanta and New Orleans. But they also had some equally unimpressive showings against San Francisco and Houston, losing to the Niners 48-3 and the Texans 37-9. So who knows which team will show up? QB Josh Freeman, who had his coming out party a few years back in Tampa with an upset win over the Pack, is not having such a great season. The Packers defense, particularly if they play at the same level they did last week, should be able to keep that trend of mediocrity going for Mr. Freeman.

With QB Aaron Rodgers having a season of historic proportions, the Pack will once again exploit a bad defense despite Rodgers' prior difficulties against Tampa Bay teams. That was then, this is now. The Bucs don't generate much of a pass rush, either, but unless the offensive line plays better than it did Monday night the Packers might make that rush seem world class. Let's hope the offensive line has worked out its issues. The guard play Monday evening was especially poor. We can expect that will not happen two games in a row.

One of the other things to look for in this game is to see whether coach Mike McCarthy tries to get the running game going a bit more heading into the harsh winter months. Although game conditions in Green Bay today will be relatively balmy by late Novemeber standards, winter is on its way and the running game will need to be solidified. Look for James Starks to get most of the carries of what few there will likely be, with Ryan Grant also getting a handful. But the Packers' might also try to get recently elevated practice squad rookie RB Brandon Saine into the mix just to see what he can do. In interviews this past week, it was clear coaches see something in this young man and would like to see what he can do in game situations.

So, we could go on and on about this and that. But do we need to, really? Nah. Let's just make the call, shall we?

I'm calling it Packers 41, Buccaneers 16.

Go Pack Go!!!