Tampa Bay traveled to Minnesota in Week 2 of the 2011 season, taking on a much different Vikings squad at that time. Donovan McNabb was starting under center, which should give you an indication of what can change in just one year.
The Vikings sit just a game back in the NFC North, while the Bucs continue to struggle in close games. They do have one thing in common, though: producing fantasy starters. Both sides have multiple players who are/could be must-starts every week. Percy Harvin is taking fantasy leagues by storm, while Vincent Jackson continues to blow up the stat sheet.
Let's go ahead and take a look at who you need to start on Thursday night, and who needs to take a seat on the bench.
Josh Freeman, quarterback - The Vikings have really only given up huge points to one opposing quarterback, and the majority of those points came on the ground to RG3. Overall, they rank 11th against the pass, and while Josh Freeman has shown glimpses of fantasy greatness in recent weeks, the jury isn't completely out on his value. His last two games against poor secondaries at home padded his stats. Minnesota isn't going to let him throw all over the place on Thursday night. Last year, he threw for 243 yards, one touchdown and one pick on the road against the Vikes. We can probably bet on seeing similar numbers this time around. Only start Freeman if you're hurting at quarterback.
Doug Martin, running back - Martin ran with confidence last week, looking better than any of the previous five games in his rookie year. His 36-yard touchdown marked the first time he found the end zone since Week 2. The Vikings were dominating opposing rushers early on in the year, but last week they somehow managed to let LaRod Stephens-Howling go off for 149 total yards and a touchdown. If the Bucs continue to work Martin into the passing game, his value will continue to increase. He isn't quite at must-start level yet, but he's getting there. You should ride his momentum into Week 8.
Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams, wide receiver - Currently in the midst of a ridiculous scoring streak, Jackson recorded 216 yards and a touchdown against the Saints when he was apparently less than 100 percent (could have fooled me). He's found the end zone in four of six games this season, and leads the Bucs by far with 60 targets from Freeman. Continue starting him every week. Williams on the other hand hasn't finished with more than four receptions in a game this year. He nearly scored again in Week 7, but an illegal touching penalty rescinded his touchdown. The Vikings have only yielded three touchdowns to receivers this season, so Jackson may be the only viable starter this week. Williams is boom or bust.
Dallas Clark, tight end - Five receptions for 51 yards and a touchdown. Where did this come from? That's right, he was playing the Saints. Don't let Clark's one impressive fantasy performance of the year fool you. You can't even consider him in your lineup until he proves to be a consistent scorer. The Vikings have allowed four touchdowns to tight ends, but Clark is still a huge risk in any lineup.
Buccaneers defense/special teams - Tampa Bay is getting destroyed by opposing passers, allowing 323 yards through the air per game. Christian Ponder likely won't be throwing for 58 yards again. The Bucs' run defense ranks third overall, but Adrian Peterson looks like he could change that pretty soon. Minnesota ranks 14th in points scored per game, and while the Vikings passing game struggled last week, the Bucs defense might be just the remedy Ponder needs. A mediocre play at D/ST, only take a chance on the Bucs if you're running out of options.
Christian Ponder, quarterback - As mentioned above, Ponder looked awful in Week 7. He only attempted 17 passes, but finished with 58 yards and two picks. Not exactly the stellar performance fantasy owners were looking for. The Bucs secondary fared well against Brady Quinn and Tony Romo, but one of those two is Brady Quinn, so what do you expect? Ponder will probably be throwing the ball more often, so he should have a good chance to erase the memory of last week's debacle. If you're looking for a spot start, Ponder might be worth a look.
Adrian Peterson, running back - There are only a few rules in fantasy football. One of those is you never sit Adrian Peterson. He rushed for 153 yards and a touchdown last week against Arizona, and even with the Bucs stopping the run this season, Peterson will still find a way to tally up yards. If New Orleans can score a rushing touchdown, we can feel pretty good about Minnesota's chances. Start AP like always.
Percy Harvin, wide receiver - He's one of the top fantasy receivers in the league. He's taking on a weak secondary. He's the No. 1 target for Ponder. What else do you need to know? Last year Harvin caught eight passes for 76 yards in Minnesota. We can expect plenty of points from him this time around, as Harvin continues to dominate for his owners.
Kyle Rudolph, tight end - In Week 4 and Week 7 Rudolph went off the grid. He didn't catch a single pass last week, but with Ponder completing only eight all game, there's not much he can do. Rudolph scored in four of his first seven games. He's a huge red zone target, but if AP and Harvin continue to find ways to score, Rudolph's value will decline. You shouldn't stray away from playing him after one bad week. Just don't be surprised if his numbers are a bit erratic.
Vikings defense/special teams - Minnesota is only allowing 18.7 points per game. Tampa's offense looks like it's coming around, but we've seen it take on two poor defenses in the past two weeks. The Vikings D/ST is a solid play every week at this point, as they continue to rank in the top 10 in fewest points and yards allowed each week.