Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) celebrates his touchdown with wide receiver Mike Evans (13) during the second half of an NFL divisional round playoff football game against the New Orleans Saints, Sunday, Jan. 17, 2021, in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Brett Duke)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) calls a play at the line of scrimmage against the New Orleans Saints during the second half of an NFL divisional round playoff football game, Sunday, Jan. 17, 2021, in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers pumps his fist after an NFL divisional playoff football game against the Los Angeles Rams Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021, in Green Bay, Wis. The Packers defeated the Rams 32-18 to advance to the NFC championship game. (AP Photo/Mike Roemer)
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers waves to spectators after an NFL divisional playoff football game against the Los Angeles Rams Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021, in Green Bay, Wis. The Packers defeated the Rams 32-18 to advance to the NFC championship game. (AP Photo/Mike Roemer)
For as much as Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers have accomplished in their Hall of Fame-caliber careers, they've rarely faced off on the field.
Never have they met with so much at stake.
When Rodgers' Green Bay Packers (14-3) host Brady's Tampa Bay Buccaneers (13-5) in the NFC championship game Sunday, it will be just the fourth time they've squared off as starting quarterbacks, and first in the playoffs.
''I remember when I heard the news about him coming to the NFC, I thought this was a real possibility,'' Rodgers said. ''I'm excited about the opportunity to play against him one more time.''
The Bucs trounced the Packers 38-10 in Tampa on Oct. 18. They met two other times during Brady's tenure in New England, with the Packers winning 26-21 at Green Bay in 2014 and the Patriots winning 31-17 in Foxborough four years later.
Both understand all eyes will be on them Sunday. Kurt Warner, the Hall of Fame quarterback and NFL Network analyst, said that's just human nature.
''When I played, I always knew who was on the other sideline,'' Warner said. ''I always said when I went into these matchups, at the end of the day, I know if we're going to win this game, I've got to outperform that guy. I've got to be better than the quarterback on the other side.''
Brady, 43, has helped the Bucs earn a franchise-record seven straight road wins. A win at Lambeau Field clinches their first Super Bowl berth since their 2002 championship season.
''This is one of the coolest stadiums in the league to play in,'' Brady said. ''I know they're excited, we'll be excited, and it will make for a great football game.''
Brady is trying to join Warner, Peyton Manning and Craig Morton as the only quarterbacks to lead two separate franchises to a Super Bowl. He already won six Super Bowls and played in nine total with the Patriots.
Green Bay is making its fourth NFC championship game appearance in the past seven seasons, but Rodgers hasn't reached a Super Bowl since leading the Packers to a title in the 2010 season. Warner said the postseason weighs heavily on where players stack up in history.
''That's why Tom is the GOAT (greatest of all time),'' Warner said. ''It's why Joe Montana is up there and guys who've been there numerous times - the John Elways - and everyone else kind of gets knocked down a notch. Even though they're been great in the regular season, there's a combination of the two that I think weighs heavily.''
Simply put, Rodgers needs this victory more than Brady.
''He plays in one Super Bowl, I think there will be something about that that just doesn't sit right with anybody,'' Warner said. ''It doesn't sit right with any of us who love this game and know how great he's been. It just doesn't seem to fit.''
This may be the best remaining chance for the 37-year-old Rodgers at that elusive second Super Bowl berth.
''It's been a while since he was last a world champion,'' CBS Sports analyst and 2002 NFL MVP Rich Gannon said. ''I think that would certainly cement his legacy as one of the greatest to ever play the game in my opinion. Not that he needs it, but I'm just telling you that's probably how he's wired.''
Green Bay has committed a league-low 11 turnovers this season, including only two during its current seven-game winning streak. The Bucs have scored 27 points off five takeaways during their two playoff victories.
LONG TIME COMING
Tampa Bay ended a 12-year playoff drought this season. The journey to the NFC championship game has been especially gratifying for ninth-year linebacker Lavonte David, eighth-year defensive linemen William Gholston and seventh-year receiver Mike Evans. They've spent their entire careers with the Bucs.
''It just goes to show throughout the hard times, the people upstairs and around the building believed in me,'' David said. ''Obviously, I believed in them, as well. It's just an honor to still be here, to still be able to live out my dream as a Tampa Bay Buccaneer.''
The Packers have allowed just 21 sacks all season and didn't give up any sacks last week against the Los Angeles Rams, who had 53 sacks during the regular season. But they allowed five sacks in their regular-season loss to Tampa Bay.
JONES VS. JONES
Green Bay's Aaron Jones rushed for 1,104 yards in the regular season and ran for 99 more against the Rams, but he was held to 15 yards on 10 carries when the Packers lost to Tampa Bay in October.
Tampa Bay's Ronald Jones rushed for 113 yards and two touchdowns in that Oct. 18 victory over Green Bay. He split carries with Leonard Fournette in Tampa Bay's triumph at New Orleans last week.
ROAD BACK HOME
Tampa Bay is seeking to become the first team in league history to advance to a Super Bowl that will be played in its home stadium.
''We don't play that game this week. That's the message to everybody,'' coach Bruce Arians said. ''We play the Packers in the NFC championship game. If you start thinking about the Super Bowl, you get beat and (will) be packing your bags on Monday.''
Tennessee Titans impending free-agent TE Jonnu Smith ranks fourth among tight ends with an average of 7.1 yards after catch over the last three seasons.
Fantasy Spin: Smith has the athleticism to be a matchup problem for opposing defenses, but he has never been in a high-volume role. He has TE1 upside depending on where he plays in 2021.
The Baltimore Ravens have agreed to re-sign DT Justin Ellis to a one-year deal worth $1.2 million with $400,000 guaranteed, according to a source.
Miami Dolphins impending free-agent DT Davon Godchaux would like to re-sign with the Dolphins this offseason, but agent Drew Rosenhaus said he is not sure if the Dolphins will be to offer what Godchaux will be looking for in free agency.
Seattle Seahawks WR Josh Gordon was released Thursday, March 4.
Denver Broncos general manager George Paton said the team plans to tender impending free-agent running back Phillip Lindsay a contract, but they aren't sure at what capacity yet. An original-round tender for Lindsay would allow the Broncos to match any offer he receives, but it wouldn't bring anything in return. A second-round tender, estimated at $3.4 million, could scare interested teams away or give Denver a high pick in return if Lindsay signs elsewhere. The 26-year-old was a surprise Pro Bowler in his rookie season after going undrafted and he managed 1,000 yards rushing in his first two years, but he took a major step back in 2020. Not only was Lindsay playing second fiddle to Melvin Gordon III, but he dealt with nagging injuries all season that limited him to 11 games. If he stays in Denver, he'll be a weak RB3/flex as a Gordon handcuff.
Updating a previous report, free-agent DE Stephen Weatherly (Panthers) agreed to terms on a one-year contract with the Minnesota Vikings Thursday, March 4, worth $2.5 million. The deal can be worth as much as $3 million with incentives.
Denver Broncos impending free-agent DT Shelby Harris will be a priority for the Broncos this offseason, according to general manager George Paton.
Denver Broncos impending free-agent S Justin Simmons' agent has had contract talks with the Broncos, and general manager George Paton said the goal is to sign Simmons to a long-term contract this offseason.
Updating a previous report, Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger signed a restructured contract Thursday, March 4. He agreed to reduce his pay to $14 million from $19 million in the final year of his contract and spread the cash payment through 2022, per source. The moves lowered his cap hit to $15 million in 2021, giving the team more flexibility.
The Pittsburgh Steelers officially signed quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to a new contract for the 2021 season on Thursday. ESPN's Adam Schefter reports that Roethlisberger willingly reduced his pay to $14 million from $19 million in the final year of his deal, spreading his cash payment through 2022, according to a source. The move lowered Pittsburgh's salary cap hit by over $15 million, allowing them to make other moves to remain as competitive as possible. Big Ben was initially set for an exorbitant cap hit of $41.25 million. The 39-year-old will have one more shot at a championship and will likely retire after the 2021 season. Pittsburgh's offense could lose wideout JuJu Smith-Schuster this offseason and Roethlisberger is pretty injury prone, so he'll mostly be targeted as a fantasy backup as he heads into what will likely be his final NFL season.
Arizona Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald could return for an 18th season with the team, but head coach Kliff Kingsbury said Thursday, March 4, that the wide receiver's status remains a mystery. 'I don't know anything,' Kingsbury said in a news conference, adding it's been honor to work with Fitzgerald and hopes he plays five more years.
Fantasy Spin: Once an annual locked-in WR2, Fitz hit career season lows across the board last season at age 37 with 54 grabs for 409 yards and one TD and is off the fantasy radar outside of deeper leagues if he does play in 2021.
Seattle Seahawks QB Russell Wilson is not being 'shopped,' according to a source Thursday, March 4, but calls from other teams interested in trading for Wilson have been answered.
Fantasy Spin: Translation: The Seahawks have every intention of sticking with Wilson unless they're absolutely blown away by an offer. Then it would be a matter of Wilson approving the deal as well. It remains an ongoing offseason hot topic, but it's most likely Wilson and his QB1 talents remain in the Pacific Northwest.
Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger on Thursday, March 4, signed a restructured contract with the team and will return for an 18th season. Terms of the new deal were not immediately available. 'We are excited we were able to come to an agreement with Ben Roethlisberger on a new contract for him to return to the Steelers in 2021,' general manager Kevin Colbert said in a story posted on the team's website. 'We know that Ben can still play at a high level and do special things for this team. Our goal remains the same - to put together a roster that will compete for another championship. We are happy that Ben will be one of our leaders to help us accomplish that goal.'
Fantasy Spin: Roethlisberger's return boosts the fantasy value of the team's pass-catchers, but Big Ben's own fantasy value at age 39 is now in the mid-QB2 range.
Detroit Lions CB Desmond Trufant on Thursday, March 4, was informed by the team that he will be released at the start of the new league year later this month, per a source.
Chicago Bears WR Allen Robinson has totaled 131 receptions resulting in first downs since the start of the 2019 season, third most in the league according to Pro Football Focus data.
Fantasy Spin: Robinson's 12.4 yards-per-catch average in Chicago (three seasons) has dipped from his 14.1 average from his four seasons in Jacksonville, but he's caught 53 more passes in one fewer season with the Bears. The bottom line is that Robinson possesses one of the league's strongest all-around WR skill-sets and is a legit fantasy WR1 if he can finally get better QB play.
Kansas City Chiefs TE Travis Kelce leads the league with 145 receptions resulting in first downs since 2019, according to Pro Football Focus data.
Fantasy Spin: Kelce is fantasy gold. He has been a top-two fantasy tight end in each of the last five seasons and shows no signs of slowing down. He's a legit top-25 pick as the first non-RB or WR off the board in drafts.
Los Angeles Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey, who shares the same agent as Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, said on the Huddle and Flow podcast that, "I highly doubt (Deshaun Watson) will suit up in a Texans uniform again. He's extremely serious." The Texans and Watson are in a standoff, with Houston saying they will not trade the 25-year-old signal-caller. But Watson remains steadfast in his trade demands and wants out of Houston. Eventually, something has to give. If this continues to play out, the Texans may have no choice but to find the best available offer for the star quarterback. Watson was still a top-five fantasy QB without All-Pro wideout DeAndre Hopkins in 2020, so he should be drafted as an elite quarterback again in 2021. A trade out of Houston could make him even more attractive.
The New Orleans Saints restructured kicker Wil Lutz's contract on Thursday to create $1.74 million in salary cap space, according to a source. New Orleans continues to maneuver around the lowered 2021 salary cap, but they still have plenty of work left to do as the new league year approaches on March 17. The 26-year-old kicker made 23 of his 28 field-goal tries in 2020 and also was successful on 57 of his 58 extra points last season. The Saints offense should be pretty solid under either Taysom Hill or Jameis Winston in 2021, which should at least make Lutz a low-end fantasy kicking option. Lutz finished as the No. 9 fantasy kicker in most leagues in 2020.
Free-agent DE Stephen Weatherly (Panthers) agreed to an undisclosed deal with the Minnesota Vikings Thursday, March 4.
Free-agent LB Thomas Davis (Football Team) will sign a one-day contract with the Carolina Panthers March 11 to retire with the team.