The Minnesota Vikings travel to Raymond James Stadium on Sunday for a matchup with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Vikings haven’t played in Tampa, Fla., since 2014 when they defeated the Buccaneers 19-13 in overtime and they lead the series 33-22. Mike Zimmer’s squad has won five of their last six contests, while Bruce Arians and company have lost back-to-back games to the Los Angeles Rams and Kansas City Chiefs. Both Minnesota and Tampa Bay are second in its respected divisions.
With four games left, the Vikings control their own destiny with the expanded postseason scenario this season. If the season ended today, Minnesota would be the No. 7 seed in the NFC. It’s been very clear though 12 games that Minnesota plays to the level of its competition. So, the Vikings should have no problem finding the energy to play one of the most hyped teams coming into the 2020-21 season. The Buccaneers roster features a handful of talented players on both sides of the football along with one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever do it in Tom Brady.
Here’s everything you need to know ahead of Sunday’s game, followed by a prediction for the final score.
When and Where
Kickoff is set for 1:00 p.m. EST/10:00 a.m. PST on Sunday, Dec. 13 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla.
Minnesota: TE Hale Hentges (Out), TE Kyle Rudolph (Questionable), RB Alexander Mattison (Out), TE Irv Smith Jr. (Questionable) and LB Eric Kendricks (Questionable)
Tampa Bay: CB Jamel Dean (Questionable), DT Steve McLendon (Questionable), OT Donovan Smith (Questionable), LB Jason Pierre-Paul (Questionable) and WR Mike Evans (Questionable)
Most Concerning Matchup: QB Kirk Cousins vs. Buccaneers Defense
Kirk Cousins and the offense have been hot as of late. The Vikings offense ranks fourth in the NFL (390 yards per game) and Cousins has quietly thrown a league sixth-best 26 touchdowns. He’s also limited the interceptions in his last six games after throwing 10 in the Vikings first six games. But the Buccaneers defense is no joke. They allow a league-best 3.3 yards per run and send blitzes early and often.
Tampa Bay’s front seven features four Pro Bowlers in Ndamukong Suh, Jason Pierre-Paul, Shaq Barrett and Lavonte David. And we can’t forget about leading tackler in Devin White, who is one of the top young linebackers in the league. According to Pro Football Reference, Tampa Bay blitzes 39.3 percent of the time, which ranks seventh highest in the NFL. Cousins needs to be sharp on Sunday and will need to get some help out of his front blockers. Unfortunately, for the Vikings, extra blocking may be an issue with tight ends Kyle Rudolph and Irv Smith Jr. dealing with injuries. Luckily, for Cousins and company, last weeks matchup with Jacksonville’s defense should’ve gotten Minnesota ready for Todd Bowles and the Buccaneers stout defense.
Most Promising Matchup: Vikings Secondary vs. Brady
Defensively, the Vikings have been banged up this season. They’ve held just one opponent to 20 points or fewer this season and have allowed 261.7 passing yards and 121 rushing yards per contest. In the last three games Minnesota has given up an average of 27.3 points per game to Dallas, Carolina and Jacksonville. This isn’t Zimmer’s 2016 or even 2018 defense, however, the Vikings have created turnovers in their last five games.
Eric Kendricks and Harrison Smith have combined for six interceptions in that stretch and Eric Wilson and Cam Dantzler have also made big plays in the second half of this season. This is good news for a Vikings team that is going to face a quarterback that has thrown a handful of interceptable passes the last two weeks. Brady has thrown seven interceptions in his last four games including two in each of his last two contests. Brady is giving opponents secondary’s the opportunities to make plays when he releases the football. This is a matchup I’m looking forward to on Sunday.
Keys to Victory
It’s going to be tough to run the football well against Tampa Bay. At the end of the day, however, offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak needs to let Dalvin Cook loose. The Buccaneers have a tough front seven but Minnesota cannot get tricked into making this a track meet type of game. There’s going to be chances for Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson to make big plays against one-on-one coverage in the secondary. But Cousins needs to be smart and precise when taking those big play shots downfield.
Defensively, Minnesota has to get to Brady. He hasn’t faced a ton of pressure this season. According to Pro Football Reference, Brady’s been pressured just 16.8 percent of the time. One of the reasons he’s thrown multiple interceptions lately is because of pressure from opposing defenses. If Zimmer isn’t shy about sending pressure that could result in opportunities for the Vikings secondary.
The Vikings are one of many teams that don’t have a special teams touchdown this season. That needs to change this week against Tampa Bay. Minnesota has been bad in the special teams area this season and a kick return or punt return can only help a team looking to keep their playoff hopes alive.
Final Score Prediction: Vikings 24 – Buccaneers 17
Brady has never lost three straight games at home in his career. However, I’m a firm believer in the saying, “there’s a first time for everything.” It seems that everything is kind of coming all together for the Vikings. And while, they have not won sexy at times in the last six weeks, they have won football games. I think the team that’s been hot, stays hot and steals one in Tampa on Sunday as a 6.5-point dog.