In the battles of the Bays, the Bucs stop here
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If Sunday’s game goes anything like Green Bay’s first 36 quarters of the 2011 season have, Aaron Rodgers will continue his record pace, fans throughout the state will nearly catch a buzz off watered-down touchdown shots alone, Jermichael Finley will do that hilarious rooster or fish-type thing with his hand, and the Packers will improve to 10-0.
It’s likely that all of those things will happen Sunday. In fact, we’re so confident in Green Bay’s chances this weekend, you might consider reading something else at this point (HEY! Get a load of Nyjer Morgan on the red carpet with Twilight!). Yet despite the near certainty of the Pack hitting the double-digit win total, there is an outside chance that the defending champs could be given their first schedule blemish in 11 months.
First mention of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers undoubtedly delivers imagery of the era when the Creamsicle-colored perennial cellar-dwellers of the NFC Central dropped two games annually to its then-division foe Packers. But the Bucs have fared much better—both in general and against the Packers—since the team’s post-Trent Dilfer era move to the NFC South before its Super Bowl-winning 2002 season. The Bucs have also beaten the Packers in four of the first five out-of-division matchups, including the last three meetings. A particularly heated 2002 contest featured Mike Sherman (in a rare display of personality) charging after Warren Sapp, whose cheap shot turned Chad Clifton’s hip into pulled pork. The latest such game, a 2009 meeting, saw Josh Freeman lead Tampa (who came into the game 0-7) to a win in his first professional start ... with the assistance of three Rodgers interceptions.
Though Freeman and company come into Sunday’s game with four more wins than they had prior to Tampa’s 2009 upset of the Packers, the team also has five losses to its record and is widely considered to be one of the league’s biggest letdowns this season. The Buccaneers are the only team this season to lose games in more than one continent, and they’ve played especially unsavory football during the last three games—in which they’d been outscored 88 to 43—during the losing streak they ride to Lambeau Field this weekend.
Still, recent woes aside, coach Raheem Morris is just a season removed from captaining the Bucs to a 10-6 record, only a win away from a wild card spot. Much of the cast is back, including a more experienced Freeman, breakout running back LeGarrette Blount, and the ageless defensive back Ronde Barber. Only a handful of disappointing weeks ago, the promising team was a media darling and dark horse pick for the NFC South title. Actually, Tampa Bay is still very much alive for the division crown, though it would take considerable bedshitting from both New Orleans and Atlanta (the Falcons did their part to help Tampa out in overtime last week) for that to be possible.
The NFL is a crazy league. It’s one in which any team, no matter how bad (with the present exception of the Colts) is capable of victory, oftentimes against teams with superior records and lopsidedly favorable statistics. Tim Tebow is a starting quarterback. Literally anything can happen. So technically, the 4-5 Buccaneers beating the 9-0 Packers at Lambeau Field in mid-November is possible.
However, the league is also one in which the cream always seems to rise. And it’s a league in which Green Bay is the undisputed king until someone does what it takes to topple the team. Despite the unfamiliar success the other Bay has enjoyed against the Pack since moving divisions 10 seasons back, it’s truly hard to believe Tampa’s success will continue into this weekend.
Packers 30, Buccaneers 17