Tampa Bay enters this Week 8 matchup having scored 66 points over the past two weeks. Though they were only able to come away with one victory—a 38-10 blowout of the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 6—it seems that the Bucs have a new sense of urgency after their bye week.
Quarterback Josh Freeman has thrown for 748 yards and six touchdowns in that span. Although coming against suspect defenses, if the young signal-caller can continue gaining confidence and distance himself from last season's digression, he just might be on his way to a fine career in the NFL.
The Vikings might just be the league's biggest early-season surprise. A 5-2 start, coupled with Adrian Peterson acting like he never tore his ACL, are two of the leading stories in 2012.
No one expected this kind of success out of the team or its star running back. However, with the ninth ranked defense in terms of yardage (319.7 YPG) and sixth in point allowed (18.7 PPG)—along with a clock-controlling running game—Minnesota could have staying power in the NFC.
Thursday night's matchup will come down to two things. Can Peterson find room on Tampa Bay's third ranked run defense? And can Freeman capitalize on his minimal opportunities throughout the game.
Here are a couple bold predictions for Thursday night's game.
Josh Freeman Continues Streak of 3-Touchdown Games
Freeman has thrown three touchdowns in each of his last two games. While the Chiefs and New Orleans Saints don't exactly pose a threat to any opponent's passing offense, the feat is still pretty impressive.
The Vikings defense ranks 11th in the league, allowing just 219 passing yards per game. Minnesota also gets a ton of pressure on the opposing quarterback, having racked up 22 sacks through seven games.
It is possible, however, that Freeman gets rattled and makes mistakes, yet is still able to drive down the field and put the ball in the end zone.
Minnesota should be in control of this game from the start, increasing Freeman's chances of needing to keep the Bucs in it with his arm.
Who wins this game?
Adrian Peterson Rushes for Less than 75 Yards and Is Held Out of the End Zone
Though Minnesota is aware of the Bucs' ability to stop the run, the game plan will still be to feed their workhorse the ball.
Tampa Bay's rush defense is allowing only 76 yards per game on 3.1 yards per carry. However, even a resurgent Peterson should have trouble finding room to run on this unit.
Quarterback Christian Ponder has thrown two interceptions in each of his past three games, so the Vikings will want to limit the dependency on him trying to do too much. Tampa Bay is aware of this and will load the box on early downs to stuff Peterson.
The Vikings can still control this game with the run, but should temper expectations for Peterson to have a monster game. Instead, Minnesota's goal will be to keep the clock moving and play strong defense—even if that means a lot of short drives in a battle for field position.