The bye week came at a fortuitous time for the Green Bay Packers, for whom injuries were starting to take a toll. The 4-0 Packers will now face a long road to the postseason with twelve games in a row with no break (COVID willing).
The next quarter of the Packers’ season features teams that looked threatening before the season started but aren’t living up to expectations. The Packers Week 7 opponent, the Texans, were considered a darling of the AFC but went 0-4 before firing head coach/general manager Bill O’Brien. Week 8 features a Vikings team that the Packers crushed in Week 1. Sure, they came close to beating the red-hot Seattle Seahawks, but nothing the Vikings have done since the season opener should give the Packers pause.
Week 9 features the San Francisco 49ers, who were once the most fearsome NFC opponent for Green Bay. While Kyle Shanahan has consistently eaten Mike Pettine’s lunch, this team looks like a shell of the Super Bowl contender of last season. Injuries to key defensive players and poor quarterback play make the 9ers a much more manageable team than previously expected.
While anything can happen in the NFL, the biggest test of the next month will be Sunday’s matchup with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Bucs haven’t lived up to their offseason hype yet, but are the most dangerous opponent the Packers will face in the next quarter of a season and are a good test after the bye.
Offensively, Tampa has an impressive arsenal of weapons that should be a good showcase for the Packers defense, a unit showing more life right before the bye. Pro Bowl wide receiver Chris Godwin is practicing after missing a few weeks with a hamstring injury and should make his return against Green Bay. He and Mike Evans will offer an enticing challenge for the Packers cornerbacks, especially if Kevin King misses time.
Gronkowski isn’t the player he was before retiring but can never be discounted when Tom Brady is in play. He and Cameron Brate, along with the Buccaneer’s interesting group of running backs, will be good litmus tests to see if the Packer defense improved their tackling, one of the team’s few major deficiencies, over the bye week.
Defensively, Tampa Bay just lost one of its best interior defenders in Vita Vea. The Bucs’ stingy run defense won’t be the same without their rising star, especially in the face of Aaron Jones.
Davante Adams likely makes his return this week, providing even more of a strain on Tampa’s defense. His return, along with a Vea-less defensive line, provide an appetizing matchup for the Packers scorching hot offense.
Young linebacker Devin White asked to be “unleashed” this week. The Packers offensive line has been stellar in the face of multiple shakeups and should be able to handle the aggressive Todd Bowles defense.
Tampa Bay has also been plagued by penalties, giving the Bears over 100 yards last Thursday from penalties alone. That won’t work well against a team like Green Bay.
Despite their flaws, the Bucs are still a solid, well-rounded team led by the most decorated quarterback in NFL history. After a quarter of a season, the Buccaneers appear to be the most solid team the Packers will face in the next month and should be a good test for LaFleur’s team. Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady have surprisingly only played against each other twice, so while I expect a Packers win, let’s hope for an entertaining game.Matt Hendershott is a Packers fan and Miller High Life enthusiast from Northwest Ohio. He has a Master of Arts in Media and Communication from Bowling Green State University. You can follow him on Twitter @MattHendershott.