The Minnesota Vikings are the surprise of the league with a 5-2 record. Tampa Bay spent big on free agents, but has just two wins on the season. Will the Vikings cruise to another win on Thursday night?
Just how many wins does $23 million buy? Not enough for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who are paying that much to free agent additions Vincent Jackson and Carl Nicks this season. A 2-4 record is probably not what the Glazers had in mind when they finally opened the check book to improve their long-suffering team. It's the opposite story for the Minnesota Vikings, who have the chance to go 6-2 when they host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Thursday night.
Tampa Bay is 0-2 on the road this season under rookie head coach Greg Schiano, but the Buccaneers' road woes started long before the new coach's flattop hairdo landing in the city of strip clubs. The last time the Buccaneers won a road game was Week 2 last season, against the Minnesota Vikings oddly enough.
Meet the Vikings
Minnesota's rebirth rests in part on the surgically repaired knee of Adrian Peterson. He is on track for his best season since 2008, averaging 4.8 yards per carry and more than 93 rushing yards per game. Percy Harvin looks like the No. 1 receiver he always wanted to be, with 53 catches for 577 yards. Second-year tight end Kyle Rudolph has also been a big help for quarterback Christian Ponder, catching five touchdown passes.
On defense, the most notable change has been in the secondary. Minnesota is allowing an average of 219 passing yards per game and just eight touchdowns on the season. Cornerback Chris Cook is finally distraction free, and rookie safety Harrison Smith is exceeding expectations. Jared Allen has six sacks in his last five games.
Meet the Buccaneers
Vincent Jackson and Carl Nicks have made a difference. Jackson has five receiving touchdowns, and Nicks has helped keep Josh Freeman on his feet while the ground game is averaging more than 100 yards per outing. Freeman's stats look better across the board, but are plagued with inconsistencies. His 55.6 percent completion rate is the lowest total since his rookie year. Last week against the Saints, he completed just 9-of-19 passes inside the opponent's 40-yard line. He was 8-for-10 on third downs, but converted just three of those (h/t Football Outsiders).
The Bucs run defense is stingy, allowing just 76 yards per game. Schiano has emphasized better play in the trenches from both his lines, and the players have responded. Things are not so consistent against the pass, more than a few quarterbacks have been quick to point out this season. Tampa Bay is allowing 323 passing yards per game, second-highest total in the NFL.
Local Takes: Vikings
The find folks over at the Daily Norseman would like to thank this year's rookie class:
Yes, the Vikings were a bit talent-starved before this year's draft took place. However, they've hit solidly on a lot of their picks from this past draft. Matt Kalil has played every offensive snap for the Vikings this year at left tackle, and performed very well in doing so. Harrison Smith has played the majority of the snaps at safety (save for the game he got ejected in the second quarter), Josh Robinson is now a regular part of the rotation at corner ... The Blair Walsh ProjectTM, who has quickly turned into one of the NFL's better kickers, going 16-of-17 through the first six games of his rookie season.
Local Takes: Buccaneers
Problems with the pass defense start up from, says Bucs Nation, with a confusing approach to the pass rush:
The idea behind a three-man rush is, of course, to beef up your coverage so that the opposing quarterback won't find that open player ... I don't care if you have three Reggie Whites on your defensive line, you're not going to beat a good offensive line rushing three players with any kind of regularity. It gets a lot harder when your coverage still can't hold up.
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People can talk all the crap about Christian Ponder they want. I sure as hell wouldn't deal him for Matthew Stafford right now.— The Daily Norseman (@DailyNorseman) October 23, 2012
The refs aren't out to get the #Bucs, guys. Seriously. Sometimes, calls just go against you. It happens.— Sander Philipse (@Bucs_Nation) October 23, 2012
@HolderStephen - Bucs beat writer
Frazier says #Bucs record not indicative of their talent level. Sees a different team than one they played last season— Stephen Holder (@HolderStephen) October 23, 2012
@TomPelissero - Vikings beat writer
OK @nfl ... I get that you want to make money off your website ... but 45 seconds of autoplay ads with no mute button is borderline assault.— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) October 23, 2012
The Vikings have won their last five home games. Opponents have scored 15 points or less in three of the four wins Minnesota has this season under the Metrodome's iffy roof. Much of Minnesota's success this season has to do with Adrian Peterson, who is currently on pace for his best season since 2008. Add in a stable quarterback, Percy Harvin getting his wish to be a No. 1 receiver and a stifling defense, and the Vikings aren't such a surprise after all. Tampa Bay is also a surprise, a huge disappointment. The Bucs had 500 yards of offense last week and still lost to the Saints.
The pick: 23-13, Vikings
The Vikings are favored by six points and as much as a full touchdown from some books, according to Oddsshark.
The Buccaneers will look for a more even matchup against the Raiders in Oakland. Minnesota heads to Seattle for game that will give the world a much better idea of whether or not the Vikings are for real this season.