NFL Preview - Green Bay (10-4) at Tampa Bay (2-12) (ET)
(SportsNetwork.com) - Midwesterners heading to Florida at this time of year aren't unique.
What's a trifle more rare, however, is a Sunshine State football team that'd rather be elsewhere.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers enter their Week 16 matchup with the visiting Green Bay Packers having lost seven consecutive games at Raymond James Stadium, including all six this season. The stretch of home futility is the franchise's longest in exactly 37 years, when the expansion version lost its first 13 games on home turf before breaking through to beat the St. Louis Cardinals on Dec. 18, 1977.
"We've come close quite a few times at home," Bucs coach Lovie Smith said. "Once we get it going, instead of talking about getting that first win we should be talking about, 'Hey, we haven't lost at home.' We realize we have a couple of more opportunities, but what better week than (against Green Bay)?"
Tampa Bay's wins this season came at Pittsburgh and Washington in weeks 4 and 11, respectively, but the 27-7 defeat of the Redskins has since been followed by four straight losses in which it has scored 13 points twice and 17 points twice. The Bucs have gotten past 17 points just three times in the other 10 games and are third from last in the NFL in total offense, with an average of 305.9 yards per week.
It's the opposite for the Packers, who have posted 31.1 points and 383.6 yards per week, while Tampa Bay has been gashed for weekly averages of 26.2 points and 366.6 yards - both 25th in the league.
Smith was zero for his last six against Green Bay while coaching the Chicago Bears, including a 21-14 loss in the NFC Championship Game at Soldier Field in January 2011. The Packers haven't faced the Bucs since a 35-26 home win in Week 11 of the 2011 regular season.
He'll have a slightly easier day this time around in the absence of Tampa Bay defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who's lost for the remainder of the season with a sprained right knee.
"Of course you want to finish the games with your guys, but you have to look at the bigger picture, and that's my overall health," McCoy said. "I think we have a lot of great - not good, great - ahead of us for this team, this organization. A big part of that will be my health."
Considering the Bucs' inability to win at home, something will have to give when it comes to Green Bay, which has gone just 3-4 in seven 2014 road games compared to a pristine 7-0 slate at Lambeau Field.
The Packers dropped a surprising 21-13 verdict last week at Buffalo, a defeat that both ended a five-game win streak and dropped them into a tie with Detroit atop the NFC North. The Lions were 19-7 winners when the teams played at Ford Field in September and could clinch the division title this weekend with a win against Chicago coupled with a Green Bay loss to Tampa Bay.
If both Detroit and the Packers win this week, the crown will be worn by the winner of their Week 17 game in Green Bay. The Packers can stay in contention for the No. 1 overall seed in the conference if they beat the Bucs and Seattle wins at Arizona.
Green Bay at least secures a playoff berth - its sixth straight - with a win, and a loss by either Dallas or Philadelphia.
"Everything is right in front of us," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. "We win out, we still win the North."
Rodgers completed just 17-of-42 passes - the 25 incompletions were a career- high - against the Bills, who picked him off twice while holding him to 185 yards. It was the first game this season in which he hadn't thrown a touchdown pass, and put a dent in what had been a league-best 119.0 passer rating.
"It wasn't my best day by any stretch of the imagination," he said. "I've got to play better for us to win, and I expect more of myself."
All five of Rodgers' interceptions have come in road games, and he's failed to exceed 210 yards four times in those seven starts. He has 12 TD passes away from home, compared to 23 at Lambeau. The last four road games have resulted in losses to New Orleans and Buffalo and three-point victories over Miami and Minnesota.
"This is a road game we have to have," said Packers coach Mike McCarthy, who can pass Vince Lombardi on the all-time Green Bay wins list (including postseason). "We clearly understand the importance of winning in December, and we need to take it up a notch as a football team."
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Getting Rodgers Right
As mentioned, Green Bay's MVP candidate heads into the weekend after the worst statistical game of his accomplishment-rich career, the loss to the Bills in which he finished with an anemic 34.3 passer rating. Though the Bucs don't present much of a threat when it comes to wins and losses, it's worth noticing that Rodgers has started twice in Tampa Bay (in 2008 and 2009) and lost both games.
Another week, another chance for Tampa Bay fans to look back when they think about running back Doug Martin. The now third-year man took the league by storm as a rookie and scored 12 times while amassing 1,454 yards. But he played just six games in 2013 and has 369 rush yards this year while still battling injuries. A good sign: He comes in this week off of 2014's best game - 96 yards against Carolina.
Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it, and the fact that Rodgers hasn't ever won in Tampa Bay is worth mentioning. But that's about all. Outside of those wins in the Jon Gruden and Raheem Morris eras, the Bucs have precious little to bank on this time around. Regardless of venue, the Packers have more on the line, more to look forward to and are just better by every pertinent measure.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Packers 35, Buccaneers 10