After back-to-back games on the way to kick-off the season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers open their 2022 World Cup roster on Sunday against the Green Bay Packers.
Here’s everything you need to know about this week’s third NFC demo:
The most important facts
Tom Brady vs. Aaron Rodgers
Every time a pair of first-vote Hall of Fame players go head-to-head, they must watch TV.
Tom Brady has faced Aaron Rodgers and the Packers twice since signing with Buck, and he’s outdone him on both occasions, both in 2020.
Tampa Bay dominated defense with a 38-10 win in Tampa, then upset the Packers at Lambeau Field in an NFC title game en route to a Super Bowl LV title.
This time, Rodgers returns to Raymond James Stadium without his first Davante Adams goal, but Brady will also miss his best passing player in Mike Evans.
This game will be a test for these legendary passersby, as they work with inexperienced recipient groups.
Evans will miss Sunday’s game thanks to a one-game suspension for his role in last week’s fight between the Bucks and the New Orleans Saints.
Evans knocked Saints Cornerback Marshon Lattimore to the ground after the latter exchanged hot words with Brady and pushed Leonard Fournette, which led to an all-out scuffle.
Both Evans and Latimore were ejected from the match, but only Evans received a suspension, which was upheld on appeal earlier this week.
With some of his other receivers still going, Brady is going to need someone from below the depth chart, so step up, like Russell Gage, Prishad Berryman, Scotty Miller, Jaylon Darden, or even add new Cole Beesley.
The Bucs will be without at least two of their Pro Bowl wide receivers for this machine, and they could lose a third.
Not only was Evans out, but Chris Goodwin will miss his second game in a row with a hamstring injury, while Julio Jones is questionable with a knee injury.
Starting Donovan Smith’s left tackle is questionable for the second week in a row, although he was back in training on Thursday before resting on Friday.
Defender Achim Hicks is expected to miss around a month with a foot injury, so he was already ruled out on Sunday as well.
Packers wide receiver Sammy Watkins is the only Green Bay player to have officially announced participation in the game.
Matches to watch
Bucs OT Tristan Wirfs vs. Packers OLB Rashan Gary
While left interference may be a question mark for Bucs heading into this game, at least they’ll be able to count on the All-Pro on the right.
The Wirfs quickly became one of the most dominant offensive tackles in the entire NFL, and he’s still scratching the surface of his lofty potential.
He’ll get his hands on his fellow Big Ten producer and former senior manager Gary, who has taken the fast-pass game to new heights.
RBs vs Bucs LBs packages
Rodgers may not have the passing gear he once had, but he does have a dominant ground game featuring two-headed monsters Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon.
Fortunately for the Bucs, they have their own dynamic tandem at full-back with Lavonte David and Devin White, both of whom have the sporting spirit, instincts and physicality to contain the diverse Green Bay Stadium.
Box QB Tom Brady vs Packers QB Aaron Rodgers
They won’t be on the court at the same time, but you can bet that both Brady and Rodgers know what they’re up against on the other side, and will want to up their game accordingly.
Each of these legendary passers-by will have to put in their best performances, especially considering what they’re lacking in terms of a support team.
They’ve given us a lot of specials in the past, and another one won’t be surprising here.
These teams look a little different than the ones they faced twice in 2020, putting more emphasis on solid defense and reliable ground play over high-powered passing attacks.
This could lead to a lower goal count than some might expect, but don’t be surprised if both players are still trying to take some big shots on the field when opportunities present themselves.
So far this season, the Bucs have been the most dominant defense in the league, having faced off against their midfielders and imposing a lot of turnovers, and they still haven’t benefited from their home fans.
That will change on Sunday, and it will help propel Tampa Bay to its third straight win at the start of the year.
Box 24, Packers 17