Wednesday, October 24, 2012


 On a short week, who would you rather have; a quarterback coming off a career day and a loss, or a quarterback who had his worst day and won?  That’s the conundrum of Thursday night’s matchup as Greg Schiano’s Buccaneers head into Minnesota to face Leslie Frazier’s Vikings. The Buccaneers have blown leads in four of their six games, leading to their current 2-4 record.  The Vikings have led and closed all but one of their five wins.  The passing offense of the Bucs, ranked 29th just two short weeks ago, is now ranked 15th, thanks in largest part to free-agent signee Vincent Jackson.  The last three weeks have been a banquet for Jackson owners as he's delivered 382 yards receiving and five touchdowns.  Josh Freeman enters Thursday’s game coming off a career day throwing for 420 yards and three touchdowns, averaging over 10 yards per attempt. The Vikings passing offense, ranked 24th two weeks ago is on a downward trajectory, now ranked 27th, with their average pass attempt dropping to 6.27 yards.  Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder, who spent the first four games protecting the football has thrown six interceptions in the last three weeks against five touchdowns.  He4 has seen his QB rating plummet from numbers in the hundreds to last week's season-worst game rating of 35.  Vikings WR Percy Harvin leads the NFL in all purpose yards, and leads the NFC in receiving yards with 577. 
Adrian Peterson is a key match-up against the Buccaneers now third-rated run defense.  It’s no surprise that Peterson averages 4.8 yards per carry and the Vikings as a team manage 4.5.  No surprise either that when Peterson eclipses the 20 carry mark as he’s done three times this year, Minnesota is 3-0.  It didn’t hurt Tampa Bay run defense that they got a whole pass (pun intended) on the rushing attack by facing the Saints, but even prior to that game they were yielding just 3.1 yards per carry, the lowest average in the NFL.  They’re also stuffing runs at an astounding 22 percent.  The Bucs have allowed just one runner, Alfred Morris to top the 100-yard mark in a game.  Peterson looked the fastest he’s been all season last week against Arizona, and expect that he’ll get 17-18 carries here.  However, taper the yardage totals to 110 all-purpose yards, with 85 rushing and a score.
Vincent Jackson has struggled against the
Vikings in the past.
However, it is Christian Ponder that has to play much better against the Tampa Bay 31st ranked pass defense.  Ponder still holds a 67 percent completion rate and is facing a defense that allows teams to score on 62 percent of their drives.  It's very possible this is one case where the Vikings offense attacks aerially in order to loosen up the tackle box for Peterson.  That means Harvin will again see lots of action and is a top play, and I'd consider both Michael Jenkins and Jerome Simpson.  Tampa Bay has allowed receivers to average 28.3 fantasy points against them, fourth worst in the league.  Simpson is fighting through foot and back injuries, so while this is a favorable matchup, I'd look more for Jenkins to have an impact here.  Tight end Kyle Rudolph should get some good yardage, but is an unlikely end zone target this week.
For the Bucs, Doug Martin faces a stiff test, as Minnesota has allowed just three rushing touchdowns to running backs, and last week's score by LaRod Stephens-Howling was their first given up in the last five contests.  A lot of this game will be on Josh Freeman's shoulders.  Call me crazy as Freeman has completed just 45 percent of his passes on the road along with a 3:3 TD/INT ratio, tbut he deep threat this offense poses a true chance at an upset.  With DE Jared Allen limited in practice due to a groin injury and Freeman having been sacked just nine times, Freeman should have some time to throw.  Minnesota has allowed over 64 percent of opponents passes to reach their targets, and have given up two touchdown passes of greater than 30 yards.  Four out of the eight passing touchdowns Minnesota has allowed have gone to tight ends.  Yes, I could be beating a dead horse, but Dallas Clark comes off his best game of the season with five catches, 51 yards and a score.  He's a likely red zone target here.  Vincent Jackson will get a shot at the end zone, but against CB Antoine Winfield, who is having a career year so far, will struggle.  I don't see his numbers topping six receptions and 80 yards this week.
The Buccaneers have won the last five contests against the Vikings, including last year's 24-20 victory in Minnesota.  Ponder's recent struggles have to have the Minnesota coaching staff concerned, and it's likely Tampa Bay is going to try punch another hole in his confidence early.  Because this is a short week and Freeman has a hot hand, there's no reason to think he won't be throwing successfully against the banged up safeties of Minnesota. I see Freeman throwing for at least one touchdown pass, garnering 250 passing yards, and picking up a touchdown plunge of his own.  I think Minnesota wins this one in a close contest, but I'd take Tampa Bay and the points.