NFL Gamebreakers: Can Aaron Rodgers Overcome His Bad History in Tampa Bay?

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Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers looks on against the Chicago Bears at Lambeau Field. Michael Reaves/Getty Images/AFP

As Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers prepares for what could be his final meeting with Tom Brady, he should be extra motivated to do what he can to make this his final game in Tampa Bay. He does not want to go back there for the playoffs to a venue that has been host to some of Rodgers’ worst games in his NFL career.

Look, some quarterbacks just do not like going to Florida, and we don’t only mean any Colts quarterback going to Jacksonville where they have lost eight years in a row. Even Brady was only 8-10 in Miami against the Dolphins.

While Rodgers has to deal with Tampa Bay’s top-ranked defense, the Packers are only a 1.5-point road underdog at many of the top-rated sportsbooks, meaning they would be favored on a neutral field.

But this expects to be one of the weirdest Rodgers-Brady matchups with a total set at 42 points, as both teams are dealing with depleted receiving corps for the two oldest quarterbacks in football.

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Green Bay Packers vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Sunday, September 25, 2022 – 04:25 PM EDT at Raymond James Stadium

Rodgers’ Past Tampa Bay Misery

Sunday will be Rodgers’ fifth start in Tampa Bay. He is 1-3 with five touchdowns and a very uncharacteristic eight interceptions in those games.

When you compare the three losses to the rest of Rodgers’ illustrious career, it really makes the case that Tampa Bay has been his worst place to play:

  • In 237 career games, Rodgers has thrown three interceptions just four times, and half of those were in Tampa Bay (2008 and 2009).
  • Rodgers has thrown just three pick-sixes in his career, and two of them came in games in Tampa Bay, including one in 2020 where he had another interception returned to the 2-yard line on the next drive.
  • All three of the games in Rodgers’ career with multiple interceptions, multiple sacks, and a completion percentage under 55% have come in Tampa Bay.
  • Rodgers has 10 games in his career with multiple interceptions and at least three sacks taken, and three of them were in Tampa Bay.
  • Of Rodgers’ five lowest regular-season games in passer rating, three of them were in Tampa Bay: 35.4 in 2020, 55.9 in 2008, and 57.6 in 2009.

Despite these bad numbers, Rodgers had the Packers leading by double digits in two of the Tampa Bay losses, and they led 7-0 early and 21-20 in the fourth quarter of the other game.

But the interceptions were crippling. None are more relevant than the 2020 game in Tampa against Todd Bowles’ defense. Rodgers started off well with a 10-0 lead, but after getting his pass jumped for just the third pick-six of his career, it seemed to mentally destroy him.

He was picked on the next drive and that was returned to the 2-yard line, basically handing Tampa Bay 14 points. Rodgers narrowly avoided picks three and four that day as the pressure kept getting to him in a 38-10 blowout.

Rodgers fared much better against Bowles’ defense in the 2020 NFC Championship Game, and this is the first rematch since then. However, it is going to look a lot different for both teams.

Not Your Typical 2020 Rematch

When the Packers fell short to the Buccaneers at home in the 2020 NFC Championship Game, it was a brutal five-minute sequence late in the second quarter and early in the third that turned a tight game into a 28-10 lead for Tampa.

Rodgers was not much at fault for that sequence, as there should have been a penalty for interfering with his receiver on an interception, but the Packers also lost a fumble (Aaron Jones) deep in their own end, and corner Kevin King gave up a ridiculous touchdown to Scotty Miller on a deep ball before the half ended.

The other issues the Packers had that day were not coming through in the red zone for touchdowns like they did all year. Trailing 31-23 late, the Packers opted to kick a short field goal instead of going for the touchdown on fourth down. That heavily criticized decision had to not sit well with Rodgers, who never got the ball back after Tampa Bay ran out the clock in a 31-26 win, denying him that long-awaited second Super Bowl appearance.

Much Has Changed Since Then

But many of the key skill players in that game are not going to be on the field this Sunday. The Packers traded Davante Adams to the Raiders and let Marquez Valdes-Scantling go to the Chiefs. Even for the Buccaneers, Rob Gronkowski retired, Chris Godwin (hamstring) is injured, and Mike Evans is going to serve a one-game suspension for his role in a fight with Marshon Lattimore on Sunday.

These quarterbacks were already trying to adjust to being another year older and without their favorite receiver, but both offenses have been injured this year, with the Packers only getting Allen Lazard back on Sunday night.

The downgrades and injuries at receiver have led to a slow start for both offenses and quarterbacks with Rodgers (34.9) sitting at 25th in QBR and Brady (38.6) at 23rd. Pittsburgh’s Mitch Trubisky (38.4) is in between them going into Week 3.

Now you can start to see why the NFL odds set the total for this game to 42 points, especially when Tampa Bay’s defense has allowed 13 points in two games while also returning a pick-six on Sunday.

Will Rodgers Air It Out in Tampa?

We only have two division games in the books to judge how Rodgers and the Packers are adjusting to life without Davante Adams this year. So far, it has been with a quick, short passing game:

  • Rodgers’ 3.6 average completed air yards is the lowest in the league through Week 2 (source: Next Gen Stats).
  • Rodgers’ 5.3 average depth of target is the second lowest in the league this year (source: Next Gen Stats).
  • Rodgers’ average pass is traveling 3.9 yards short of the first-down marker, the second-smallest average in the league (source: Next Gen Stats).
  • Rodgers’ average pass on third down is traveling 2.2 yards short of the first-down marker, which ranks 30th out of 33 quarterbacks (source: Football Outsiders).
  • Rodgers’ only completion of 25-plus yards so far was on a deep ball to Sammy Watkins for 55 yards against the Bears.

Some of these numbers are being deflated by those soft tosses to Aaron Jones out of the backfield that count as a pass even though they are basically running plays. But the alarming one is at the end where Rodgers is not attacking on third down like he has his whole career. He usually always finishes near the top of the league in that area. There is no reason to think he won’t be there by season’s end, but he has not been that aggressive to start the season.

Tampa Bay’s defense leads the NFL with 10 sacks as Bowles loves to blitz. The Buccaneers have only played two injured quarterbacks and hampered offenses in the Cowboys and Saints, but they forced Dak Prescott and Jameis Winston into throwing nearly 10.0 yards down the field on average, the second-deepest passes in the league right now.

Rodgers did throw for 442 yards, tied for the second most in his career, against a Bowles defense when he coached the Jets in 2018. But the Buccaneers have better personnel than those Jets did.

Predictions for Sunday

Rodgers is 1-3 in these meetings with Brady, and tale as old as time, it looks like Brady will have the better defense for all five matchups.

Rodgers should not throw as many inaccurate passes as Prescott or implode with turnovers the way Winston did last week, but it is hard to see him shining against this defense this week.

I would fade Rodgers having a good game in Tampa and take the Buccaneers to cover for your NFL picks.

NFL Pick: Buccaneers -1.5 (-110) at Bovada (visit our Bovada Review)

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Buccaneers -1.5 (-110)
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