TAMPA BUCCANEERS (2-4)
at MINNESOTA VIKINGS (5-2)
Kickoff: Thursday, 8:20 p.m. EDT
Line: Minnesota -6.5, Total: 42
The Vikings try to improve to 5-0 at home this season when they host the pesky Buccaneers on Thursday night.
Minnesota has tightened up its play this year, but its offense is still finding its way. The Vikings had just 209 yards of offense in last week’s win over Arizona, the second time in four weeks they’ve won while gaining less than 230 yards. Tampa Bay hasn't won SU on the road since beating Minnesota last September (nine straight losses, 3-6 ATS) but has covered in both of its 2012 road games. Bucs QB Josh Freeman has thrown for 349 YPG, 7 TD and only 2 INT over his past three games. The Bucs pulled off a comeback, 24-20 win in Minnesota a year ago, driving 61 yards for the winning touchdown with 31 seconds left.
Can the Buccaneers hand Minnesota its first home loss of 2012? For the answer, connect to The Platinum Sheet for all the StatFox Experts picks for every NFL game throughout the 2012 season and playoffs.
The Bucs are 4-2 ATS this season, having not lost a game by more than seven points. They nearly tied last week's game with New Orleans in the closing seconds, but two apparent touchdown passes were overruled in the final minute of a 35-28 loss. Freeman's recent surge has a lot to do with WR Vincent Jackson, who has 382 receiving yards and 4 TD over his past three games. Freeman targeted Jackson 14 times last week, resulting in seven catches for 216 yards. In last year's game in Minnesota, he completed 22-of-31 passes for 243 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT. Tampa's running game has been lacking for most of the 2012 season, as the team has gained less than 100 rushing yards in four of the past five contests. Rookie RB Doug Martin has been a workhorse with 100 carries, but has just 408 yards and 2 TD with that heavy workload. The good news for Martin is that although the Vikings allow just 100 rushing YPG (12th in the NFL), they have given up 309 yards on the ground over the past two contests. The Buccaneers have turned the ball over seven times in the past five games, while Minnesota has forced nine miscues in its past five contests. The Vikings racked up seven sacks in last week's win, but Tampa Bay has a great offensive line that has surrendered just nine sacks all season.
Vikings QB Christian Ponder is coming off a terrible outing against the Cardinals, completing just 8-of-17 passes for 58 yards (3.4 YPA), 1 TD and 2 INT. After starting the season with no interceptions in his first four games, Ponder has thrown two picks in each of the past three contests. But he should be able to bounce back facing a Tampa Bay pass defense allowing the second-most yards in the league this year (323 passing YPG). Ponder should have plenty of time to throw, considering the Bucs have generated just one sack over the past three games. It also helps Ponder to have a running game anchored by Adrian Peterson, who is coming off a season-high 153 yards versus the Cardinals. Peterson destroyed Tampa Bay last year with 141 total yards and a pair of touchdowns, but the Bucs' run-stop unit has been much more fierce under first-year head coach Greg Schiano, ranking third in the NFL with a mere 76 rushing YPG allowed.