NFC Championship Best Bet

Credit: Mark Hoffman-USA TODAY NETWORK

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+150) vs. Green Bay Packers (-3.5), O/U 51.5

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers continue the Tom vs. Time tour on Sunday afternoon when they travel to Green Bay to play the Packers in the NFC Championship game. The two teams met on Oct. 18, when the Buccaneers scored 38 unanswered points to win 38-10 in Tampa Bay.

Admittedly, I was surprised to see Tampa Bay score a minor upset win last weekend against New Orleans. I was personally on the Saints, and I saw a lot of “I told you so’s” in the Twitterverse from Brady fans and Bucs backers. But what exactly were Saints bettors told?

You’d think that Tampa Bay would more than squeak by in a game that they won the turnover battle 4-0 and the opponent’s QB averaged 3.9 yards per pass.

In all honesty, the Bucs should’ve steamrolled New Orleans. The fact that it took four turnovers that turned into 21 points to top Papaw Brees and Co. is concerning if you’re a Bucs fan. Tampa Bay didn’t score a touchdown on a possession that started outside the Saints 40 yard line.

To be fair, New Orleans boasted a top three scoring and yardage defense this season, but the point is this: the Saints’ otherwise stingy defense actually ranked 29th in red zone TD percentage in 2020. In other words, the Saints offense essentially gifted 21 of the 30 points Tampa Bay scored on them last week.

Turnovers were actually the calling card of the Bucs defense this year. They ranked fifth in the league with 25 takeaways, so the four turnovers they forced last week shouldn’t come as a shock. Don’t expect Green Bay to do them any favors this week, though; the Packers only turned the ball over 11 times in 2020, the best number in the NFL.

Aaron Rodgers effectively threw two pick sixes within the span of three passes in the second quarter of the Bucs/Packers regular season meeting, but do you really want to count on a defense to do that to the soon-to-be MVP of the league again? Rodgers led the league with an interception percentage of 1%. The mark was the 13th best season of all time. In fact, Rodgers owns four of the top 13 seasons in league history in terms of interception percentage. He’s not going to throw multiple interceptions again on Sunday.

It’s not as though the Bucs defense is infallible either. After all, this is the same unit that got carved up by Taylor Heinicke, who was making his second career start, in the Wild Card round. And don’t forget that Green Bay just scored on five consecutive possessions to start last week’s game against the Rams’ league-best defense. The offense made the Los Angeles look like a Big 12 team anytime it accidentally sneaks its way into the College Football Playoff.

It’s also worth mentioning that Green Bay deploys stud punt returner, Tavon Austin, because Tampa Bay special teams unit nearly gave up massive returns on both of the first two punts of the last week’s game (the second return, which was taken back to the house, was called back due to an illegal block in the back).

Frankly, I’m not comfortable trusting any of Tampa Bay’s offense, defense or special teams to get the job done against the Packers. Green Bay is the team of destiny in the NFC, and there’s no stopping them. On Monday morning, we’re all going to rush to our nearest State Farm agent to get the Rodgers Rate after he puts on a clinic en route to clinching his second Super Bowl appearance.

The -3.5 line is always tricky, so I’m going to buy the hook and play the Packers -3 vs. the Buccaneers at -125.

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