The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are set to get Jameis Winston back at quarterback after a three-game absence due to a shoulder injury. The Green Bay Packers, who host Winston and the Buccaneers on Sunday, are still waiting on the return of star quarterback Aaron Rodgers but are seeing some encouraging signs from backup Brett Hundley.
Winston rejoins a Tampa Bay squad that won its first two games with backup Ryan Fitzpatrick under center before dropping a 34-20 decision at Atlanta last week in a loss that severely diminished their already slim chances of making a run at a playoff spot in the NFC. “It’s gonna be great. I’ve missed that guy out there the past couple of games,” wide receiver DeSean Jackson told reporters of Winston’s return. “He’s healthy finally now, so it’s a great addition to have back. All we can do is take one game at a time and finish as strong as we can, so it’s a great thing to have.” Rodgers is still on injured reserve while rehabbing a broken collarbone but is eligible to return to practice on Saturday and can return to games on Dec. 17 at Carolina. “I’m more focused on game planning for the Buccaneers,” Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy told reporters when asked if Rodgers would practice on Saturday. “There’s a plan laid out for Aaron, just like the other guys on IR. He’s knocking it out of the park, he’s going at it 120 miles an hour. We’ll see what the end of the week brings.”
TV: 1 p.m. ET, FOX. LINE: Buccaneers -1.5. O/U: 44.5
ABOUT THE BUCCANEERS (4-7): Winston is not only returning to a team on the outside of the playoff hunt but one that will also have trouble protecting him after placing two offensive linemen on injured reserve. Starting center Ali Marpet (knee) and starting right tackle Demar Dotson (knee) are done for the season while left guard Evan Smith (concussion) is questionable after sitting out last week. “It’s disappointing that you take two guys that are playing well on a team that needs more consistent play and they are out, but that is the worst part of this game and something that is uncontrollable [are] injuries,” Tampa Bay coach Dirk Koetter told reporters.
ABOUT THE PACKERS (5-6): A rough start to Hundley’s tenure as the starting quarterback left fans clamoring for Rodgers’ return, but the UCLA product is beginning to settle in as the starter and is coming off his best performance - 245 yards passing with three TDs and no interceptions in a 31-28 loss at Pittsburgh last week. Hundley, who threw three picks without a score in the previous game, is just 1-5 including the loss at Minnesota in which he took over for Rodgers on Oct. 15. He could be getting more help on offense soon from running back Aaron Jones (knee), who returned to practice on Wednesday and is questionable after missing the last two games.
1. The Bucs promoted TE Alan Cross, WR Jesus “Bobo” Wilson and DE Patrick O’Connor from the practice squad.
2. Green Bay LB Clay Matthews (groin) returned to practice after sitting out last week and is questionable.
3. Tampa Bay CBs Vernon Hargreaves (hamstring) and Robert McClain and S T.J. Ward (concussion) all sat out practice on Wednesday.
PREDICTION: Packers 34, Buccaneers 21