The Green Bay Packers covered a 5-point spread in a 14-point win over the Atlanta Falcons in Week 4 to reach 4-0 against the spread (and overall) on the season. After a bye, they visited the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as 2.5-point favorites in NFL odds and, holding a 10-point lead with possession in the second quarter, the Packers were cruising to 5-0.
The Packers didn’t cruise to 5-0; they didn’t score again and surrendered 38 unanswered points in a 38-10 loss, one of the largest ATS point-differential (30.5) losses in franchise history. Three months later, the Packers have six ATS losses this season but, at 11-6 ATS overall, enter the NFC Championship against the Bucs with the second-most ATS wins in the NFL this season. In order to hit 12 wins (and potentially tie the ATS-leading Buffalo Bills, who are 12-6 entering the AFC Championship), the Packers must cover 3.5 points at home.
On the Field
The Packers didn’t allow a sack against the Rams and enter the NFC Championship with only 21 sacks allowed on the season. Of those 21 sacks, only four have come against a blitz, three of which came in one game, Week 6 against the Bucs (plus two more sacks without facing blitzes). Since that loss, during which Aaron Rodgers was 6-for-17 for 63 yards, zero touchdowns, and two interceptions against the blitz) the Packers haven’t allowed a sack against the blitz.
“Their offensive line couldn’t really pick up none of our stunts,” Bucs’ linebacker Devin White said after the game. “Everything starts with Todd Bowles. He set us up for success.”
The Bucs rank among the most blitz-happy teams; defensive coordinator Todd Bowles brought pressure on 40 percent of plays in Week 6 and 38 percent for the season, fifth in the NFL. The Packers were without starting guard Lane Taylor in the blowout loss and have since lost to David Bakhtiari, leaving them with only 60 percent of their starting offensive line from Week 1. Nonetheless, they’ve been a dominant unit that’s kept Rodgers upright and allowed Packers’ ball carriers to average nearly five yards per carry on the season.
Defensively, the Packers recorded zero sacks of Tom Brady in the 38-10 loss but have generated one of the league’s highest pressure rates since. Against the Rams, they generated pressure on 48.4 percent of Jared Goff’s dropbacks, the highest pressure rate allowed in Sean McVay’s four seasons as head coach. Five different players recorded at least three pressures, including seven apiece from Za’Darius Smith and Rashan Gary, more than the combined team total from Week 6.
As they won nine of their final 11 regular-season games and largely dominated the Rams on both sides of the ball, it has become increasingly clear the loss in Tampa was an anomaly on steroids. That was not this Packers’ team, nor was that this Bucs’ team. And last week in New Orleans, three months after a blowout loss to the Saints, the Bucs proved early season anomaly results should be taken with a grain of salt, if not completely discarded.
“We’re such a different team than when we played back in [October],” Bucs’ head coach Bruce Arians said Monday. “The same thing -- Green Bay’s a different team than we played back then so those games don’t really matter anymore.”
In the Books
The Packers were strong against the spread at home this season (5-3), have covered in five straight playoff home games, have covered in approximately 65 percent of Aaron Rodgers’ home starts in his career, and are 5-0 ATS in their last five home games versus a team with a winning record. Further, the Packers are 5-1 ATS in their last six games after registering at least 350 total yards in their previous game and a convincing 18-7-1 ATS in their last 26 games after rushing for more than 150 yards in their previous game.
The Bucs, meanwhile, have covered in three straight road games after starting 3-4 ATS on the road and have covered in five of their last seven games. They’re also 4-1-1 ATS in their last six games as an underdog. And Tom Brady is a staggering 40-17-1 ATS as an underdog in his career, including 5-3 in the playoffs.
In online sports betting, the spread opened at Packers -4 but was quickly bet down to Packers -3.5. In the books, both teams have paid dividends for bettors over the last couple of months. There are strong arguments for both sides of a game that should have more balanced ticket and handle splits than the AFC Championship. As a result, I’m leaning more toward the field than books and betting the Packers are more prepared for pressure this time.
Prediction: Packers (-3.5)
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Andrew Doughty is a writer for BetMGM and host of High Motor by BetMGM, an NFL and college football podcast available on Apple Podcasts and everywhere else. He has written for Sports Illustrated, HERO Sports, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation. Follow him on Twitter: @DoughtyBetMGM.