The first game on the slate for Week 8 here in 2012 is a game that I think will be a good one (much like the contest these two teams had Week 2 last year). The Tampa Bay Buccaneers travel to Mall of America Field to take on the Minnesota Vikings. The Buccaneers have won the last five match-ups in this series, and the last two in Minnesota. I believe that they will make it six in a row on Thursday night.
To start, I want to point out the quarterback comparison. Josh Freeman is easily playing his best ball since his breakout 2010 season. But I am going to focus on his numbers since his team’s Week 5 BYE. Since that time Freeman has played very well. He has passed for 720 yards, 6 TDs, and only 1 INT. As a matter of a fact, if you include his game against the Redskins, he has passed for 1047 yards, 7 TD’s and 2 INTs. Over the past three games he has posted an astounding 16.6 yards/completion and a 105.9 QB rating. My point is that Freeman is at the top of his game and has shown a lot of growth in his fourth year in the NFL.
Speaking of showing growth, how about Christian Ponder? He has played phenomenally in his sophomore season. His numbers over the past three games have offset his fast start, but his team is currently 5-2 and sits in second place in the NFC North. His numbers have been better at home than on the road in his career, but not anything like Matt Ryan or Joe Flacco. He’s got two of the premiere players in the league at their respective positions in Percy Harvin and Adrian Peterson. Harvin has been playing at an all-pro level posting 53 catches, which is good for second in the league (Wes Welker), and 7 of those have gone for 20+ yards. He creates a match-up problem for a Tampa Bay defense that struggles badly in pass defense (31st in the league). However, their run defense fairs much better, ranking third in the league, allowing only 76 yards per game on the ground. What does this mean for Adrian Peterson? Well, I don’t think it will be any trip to the country club for him. The Tampa Bay front four does a good job at clogging the holes, and that will force Adrian Peterson to bounce it to the outside. This can be countered with the short pass, and I’m sure Percy Harvin and Kyle Rudolph will have nice games. Perhaps if the Vikings have a lead in the second half, Peterson will find some room to run.
I may have fed you a lot of information, but what I have said can be boiled down to this: Josh Freeman has been playing well (granted it has been against poor defenses), but he is hot right now. I believe he brings the momentum from last Sunday’s contest against the Saints with him to Minnesota on Thursday night. And Minnesota may find trouble trying to run the ball against Tampa’s defense. I do not think this will be a blowout by any stretch of the imagination. It may even take a fourth quarter comeback from Tampa Bay, but I will take them in this game because they have the hotter quarterback and are the most desperate team of the two (currently 2-4 and in a tie for second in the NFC South). Not to mention, it’s hard for me to imagine Minnesota getting off to a 6-2 start.
Tampa Bay 27, Minnesota 23