One of the great stories in the NFL this season is the play of the Minnesota Vikings, who will get their first national showcase game of 2012 when they host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Thursday Night Football.
Tampa Bay is an interesting case study. Through six games, the Bucs have actually outscored their opponents by 12 points, but they are just 2-4 entering Thursday night. They just can't find any consistency on offense, nor do they have a secondary capable of making a big stop when needed.
Minnesota is succeeding with a game plan predicated on running the ball, not turning it over and playing great defense. The Vikings need to win all the games they can now if they want to stay in the playoff race all year, as they play Seattle, Detroit, Chicago twice and Green Bay in the next six weeks.
Which QB Do You Want In A Late-Game Situation?
Where: Mall of America Field
When: Thursday, October 25 at 8:20 p.m. ET
Watch: NFL Network
Live Stream: NFL.com
Betting Line: Minnesota (-7), according to Bovada
Minnesota Injury Report (via CBS Sports)
|LB Adam Hayward||Ankle|
|DB Brandon McDonald||Ankle|
|DB Aqib Talib||Suspension|
Tampa Bay Injury Report (via CBS Sports)
|TE John Carlson||Concussion|
|DL Fred Evans||Knee|
|DB Harrison Smith||Calf|
What's At Stake?
It sounds cliche to say, but this really is a game that neither team can afford to lose, though for very different reasons.
For the Buccaneers, this game represents a chance to get back in the postseason race. They don't exactly look like contenders when they are playing anyone other than Kansas City. Yet, at 2-4, they are tied with New Orleans for second place in the NFC South.
For the Vikings, if you want to be a real contender, these are the kinds of games you have to win—you are playing better than your opponent, have more talent top to bottom and are being put on the national stage to show the world what you can do. How will the young team respond?
Tampa Bay WR Vincent Jackson
He is not getting a lot of attention because the Buccaneers aren't lighting the world on fire, but Jackson is having an outstanding first season with the team. He is sixth in the NFL with 586 receiving yards, tied for fourth with five touchdown catches and third in yards per reception (21.7).
Jackson has gone for at least 100 yards in three of the last five games and has caught touchdown passes in three straight games.
The Buccaneers don't often wow you with their passing game, but Jackson has more than lived up to the big contract he got in the offseason.
Minnesota QB Christian Ponder
Ponder has been very hit-or-miss in fantasy this season. Last week against Arizona, he was virtually non-existent, throwing the ball 17 times for just 58 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions.
So what is there to love about Ponder this week?
Tampa Bay's 31st-ranked pass defense. This season, the Buccaneers have allowed at least 283 yards passing to every opposing quarterback not named Brady Quinn.
Ponder is going to have hot and cold spells, but with Percy Harvin on the outside and Adrian Peterson in the backfield, he should be able to rise from the ashes of last week's game with a huge performance.
What They Are Saying
The Buccaneers know that the easiest way to contain the Vikings offense is to stop Percy Harvin, who is a do-it-all player in a league that specializes in one-dimensional talents.
Per the Bucs' official Twitter account, they may have the secret weapon to contain Harvin in this game.
Percy Harvin is an outstanding KO returner, but the Bucs have a weapon against him for Thurs.: Michael Koenen, leading NFL in touchback %.— Tampa Bay Buccaneers (@TBBuccaneers) October 22, 2012
Special teams is always an area of the game that no one notices until you have a reason to. If a kicker is constantly getting touchbacks, no one will pay attention.
In a game like this, though, with a weapon like Harvin, the Buccaneers might be able to neutralize him by simply not letting him touch the ball.
Key Matchup: Vikings Wide Receivers vs. Buccaneers Defensive Backs
Exploiting a weakness is the easiest way to win a game in the NFL. The best teams in the league are able to do that on a weekly basis.
If the Vikings want to be included in that group, they have to start figuring out what works for them and doesn't work for the opposition.
As mentioned before, the Buccaneers have really struggled to stop the pass this season. The Vikings don't have a dynamic passing offense most of the time, yet they do have weapons more than capable of making big plays, like Percy Harvin and Devin Aromashodu.
Whoever wins the battle on the outside is going to end up winning this game.
The Buccaneers will keep this game close, but they are also traveling on a short week with two days to prepare, so you have to give the edge to the Vikings.
Vikings 24, Bucs 17