The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are 7-5 and coming off their late-season bye week. The last time we saw the Bucs, they came up just short against the Kansas City Chiefs and sit sixth in the NFC, just ahead of their Week 14 opponent… the Minnesota Vikings. Following a date with the 6-6 Vikings, the Bucs take on division rival Atlanta, twice, and the Detroit Lions. All winnable games for the Bucs who find themselves in the thick of the NFC wildcard race.
The Vikings are coming into this game pretty confident having won five of their last six games. On offense, they have become an explosive unit with the likes of rookie wide receiver Justin Jefferson and veteran Adam Thielen. Last week against the Jacksonville Jaguars they combined for 17 catches with 196 yards and two touchdowns. In addition, quarterback Kirk Cousins has rebounded from his early-season struggles. Over the course of his last six games, Cousins has completed 70 percent of his passes for 1,598 yards, 15 touchdowns, and just two interceptions with a passer rating of 118.6.
Getting to Cousins Sunday shouldn’t be a problem for the Bucs and they should generate a good pass rush. The one negative to Cousins run the last six weeks is that he has been sacked 11 times and 25 on the year. In contrast, Bucs quarterback Tom Brady has been sacked just 16 times the entire season. The Bucs have the fifth-highest sack rate in the NFL at 8.4 percent. In comparison, the Vikings have the eighth-highest sack rate which gives the Buccaneers a chance to disrupt this potent passing attack. On top of the pass defense being tested this week, the Bucs league-leading rush defense will have their hands full with Vikings running back Dalvin Cook. Since Week 8, Cook is averaging 26.5 carries per game and 127 yards on the ground but the Buccaneers have allowed the least amount of rushing yards this season and will have to play like that team Sunday.
This could be one of Brady’s standout games offensively as the Vikings have allowed the sixth most passing yards and seventh most touchdowns in the NFL this year. In addition, for the past couple of weeks, rumors have been swirling about his relationship with Bruce Arians. Brady is the best at ignoring the noise but he isn’t with the Patriots anymore and Arians isn’t Belichick. Brady will have to do what he does best and ignore any negative energy even from his coach and prove on the field he still has it. With a big day from Brady likely comes a big Sunday for at least one of Antonio Brown, Chris Godwin, Rob Gronkowski, and Mike Evans. Evans, the Bucs Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee, has been dealing with a lingering injury but should be on the field against the Vikings. With or without a 100 percent healthy Evans should have success down the field.
Overall, this is a must-win for both teams. The Bucs don’t want to fall to seventh in the NFC which is the last wildcard playoff spot. For the Vikings, they don’t want to fall out of the playoff race completely and that could happen if they lose Sunday. It’s a big game for both teams but there is far more for pressure on Tampa who came into the season with Super Bowl aspirations and, in some cases, expectations.