With this week marking the mid-way point of the 2012 NFL season, one team playing tonight is ecstatic with their position, while the other is not so content. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, at 2-4, roll into Minnesota to take on the Vikings, who are 5-2. Can Tampa Bay bounce back from a controversial call that cost them the game on Sunday against the New Orleans Saints, or can the Vikings remain at the top of the NFC North and be the most surprising team in football this season?
One side has to give, so lets see how these two teams matchup.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers:
After a great game played by both sides of the ball, namely Josh Freeman and his 400 yards through the air—the Tampa Bay Bucs came out with a loss. A loss that included a touchdown catch by Mike Williams called back as time expired for illegal touching. Now the Bucs fall to 2-4 and are quickly falling out of relevance in the highly competitive NFC. It won’t get any easier for Tampa Bay as they must go to Minnesota on a short week and take on a Vikings team that is striking from all cylinders. Do not count the Bucs out though, for Josh Freeman has been on a surge as of late, with 728 yards and 6 touchdown throws in the past two weeks since the teams bye week. Do not overlook Doug Martin either, who in the same time has picked up 160 yards on the ground on only 29 carries, and a touchdown run to add to that. With a high-powered offense, the Bucs may just be able to outscore the Vikings in the matchup. The need to outscore the Vikings is because the Bucs defense ranks near the bottom in total yards averaging just under 400 a game, so expect the team to rely heavily on Josh Freeman and company. If the Bucs could play the way they did on Sunday, this team could pull themselves out of the basement of the NFC.
Every coach needs to be confident coming into a new season, but did Leslie Frazier see this coming? The miraculous recovery of Adrian Peterson as he resumes his role as a workhorse in the backfield jumpstarted the Vikings season, and took pressure off second-year signal caller Christian Ponder. Although Ponder has excelled in his sophomore campaign, ranking 6th in the entire NFL in completion percentage with his 67% rate. The Vikings have come out of nowhere to defeat teams as great as the 49ers. With a 5-2 record the Vikings are tied with the Bears for the top of the NFC North. With a defensive unit that ranks in the top ten in least points allowed and total yards allowed, the Vikings have the defense to carry them into the postseason. Their offense isn’t to shabby either, with already noted strengths at running back and quarterback; the Vikings are a complete football team. If the Vikings can shut down the explosive plays out of Doug Martin and Vincent Jackson, then Christian Ponder and Adrian Peterson will make this an easy game for Minnesota and they will keep shocking the league week in and week out.
What to Watch:
Mike Williams: After falling into the dreaded sophomore slump last season, Mike Williams has reemerged as a consistent threat in the passing game. With Vincent Jackson attracting two defensive backs, the entire field is open for the 6 foot 1 inch Syracuse alum. With an average catch of over 19-yards this season, Mike Williams is always in position to make a big catch and open the field up. Tonight, Williams will need to have a big play or two. With Jared Allen commanding a sturdy defensive line, Josh Freemen will be under direst often, and he will need to find his go-to-players to come up with the plays to keep drives alive. Williams will be targeted early in this game to set the tone for an upset.
Percy Harvin: Percy Harvin takes the cake for the most surprising candidate for MVP to date. As either a running back, or a receiver, Harvin is always finding a hole and breaking off big plays. Being the number one receiver has not stopped Harvin yet, as defensive backs have had trouble slowing down his speed and the way Minnesota moves him around on the field makes it hard to make reads on the standout receiver. Already with 53 receptions entering this game, Christian Ponder depends on Harvin heavily. With a below average secondary, expect to hear Percy Harvin’s name being called upon a lot. Harvin is a guarantee to make the big play in this one: it can be on a catch, handoff, or even on the kickoff where he may be most dangerous.
Christian Ponder: Ponder has been excellent to date, as noted earlier, but in last weeks’ win against Arizona the quarterback was limited in his chances to make plays. Yes, the Vikings controlled nearly the entire game by two touchdowns, and Adrian Peterson had a great day running the ball, but how will the Vikings plan to take on the Bucs. Will they come out firing to Harvin, and tight end Kyle Rudolph, or will they go run-heavy similar to last week? The Bucs do rank 3rd against the run as opposed to their ranking of 31 against the pass, so this may be a game where Ponder gets back to his play earlier in the season against a terrible Tampa Bay pass defense.
Prediction: This will be a closer game than many think. The Vikings have been great this year, and the Bucs have been mediocre, but the Bucs do possess the qualities of a winning team. Although, the Bucs will face even more trouble tonight at the Mall of America Field. With a top ten defense, the Vikings will force many mistakes on this young Bucs squad, and Adrian Peterson and Christian Ponder will dominate throughout the contest. This one will be competitive, but the inexperience of the Bucs will create to many mistakes.