Fans of the Minnesota Vikings were not happy to see Antoine Winfield Jr. head to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the second-round of the 2020 NFL Draft. It wasn’t likely the former Minnesota Golden Gophers safety would be joining the Vikings as the presence of Anthony Harris and even Harrison Smith dropped safety down the list of their needs this past April.
Still, anyone with allegiances to co-located pro and college football teams can understand the desire to see your favorite amateurs join your favorite NFL squad. The same can be said about Tyler Johnson, but again, the drafting of Justin Jefferson and the return of Adam Thielen made wide receiver just a little bit less of a priority as the draft moved forward.
Of course, we can’t talk about Winfield Jr. and the Minnesota Vikings without talking about Antoine Winfield Sr.
The elder Winfield was a first-round draft pick in the 1999 NFL Draft by the Buffalo Bills following a highly successful career in the Ohio State Buckeyes’ football program. Five years later, he found himself playing with the Minnesota Vikings beginning in 2004 and played nine years there wrapping up his career after the 2012 NFL Season.
Winfield made the Pro Bowl in 2008, 2009, and 2010 seasons, and carries quite a fond following among Vikings fans.
In some ways, the son has surpassed the father as Winfield Sr. had to wait until his second season to become a bonafide starter with the Bills. Winfield Jr. has started for the Buccaneers since Week 1 and started off with a bang.
Winfield Jr. racked up 25 tackles, two sacks, and one forced fumble helping his team get out to a 3-1 start. In the second quarter of the year the rookie followed up with nineteen tackles and brought in his first career interception while defending two additional passes, and the Bucs again repeated their 3-1 performance from the previous quarter.
In the third quarter of 2020, Winfield fell off a bit, as did the team. As Tampa Bay went 1-3 in their third section of games Winfield Jr. got back up to 25 tackles but registered no other stat box data.
Now, limping into the final stretch of 2020 it seems Winfield Jr.’s Defensive Rookie of the Year chances have certainly dipped, but the playoff chances of his team are alive and well.
Another 3-1 portion of the season gets the Bucs into the playoffs, and probably raises quite a bit of the waning confidence surrounding the team. 4-0 of course, is the goal, and it starts with 1-0 and getting there against his father’s Minnesota Vikings in Week 14.
The Vikings enter the game with a pretty solid running attack spearheaded by star running back, Dalvin Cook. With each team having played twelve games Cook entered Week 14 as the league’s second-leading rusher at 1,250-yards; 67-yards behind Derrick Henry of the Tennessee Titans.
As impressive as the total number is, however, Cook has gained 680 of those yards over the span of four games. In his other seven games, the Vikings star is averaging right around 81-yards rushing per game and has been held to 65-yards rushing or less on four occasions with his squad losing three of those.
So far in 2020, even without Vita Vea, the Buccaneers defense has yet to surrender even 60-yards to a single rusher.
How will Minnesota look to beat the Bucs then? The way all the other teams have. By stifling Tom Brady and by throwing the ball themselves. That’s right; the best chance the Vikings have is Kirk Cousins, and Bucs fans won’t like that.
In their five games lost this season, the Tampa Bay secondary has allowed an average of 312.2 yards passing per game. In their seven wins, the same unit is surrendering just 250.
Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins is coming into Week 14 after throwing for 292-yards or more in each of the past four games for his team. Minnesota is 3-1 in those four games.
Likewise, it took rookie wide receiver Justin Jefferson three games to break 50-yards of offense for his new team. Since he did, however, he’s been held under that mark just twice.
The last time we saw the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense they were giving up big plays, and often, to Tyreek Hill, Patrick Mahomes II, and the Kansas City Chiefs.
They seemed to have turned it around a bit in the second half of Week 12, but not in time. And even the host of the Locked On Chiefs Podcast who spoke with me following the game doesn’t believe the defending Super Bowl champs let off the gas in the third and fourth quarters as much as some might believe.
If all this is true, then perhaps the Bucs defense turned a corner in the last two-quarters of play we’ve witnessed. Perhaps the whole team has. For this piece though we’re looking at just one guy.
His name is Antoine Winfield Jr. He’s got deep ties to the Minnesota Vikings through his father’s playing career, and then because of his own collegiate career with the Minnesota Golden Gophers.
He’s going to be critical in preventing Cousins, Jefferson, and Adam Thielen from getting big gains, third-down conversions, and red zone scores - something they’re very good at by the way - and for those reasons, he’s our Tampa Bay Buccaneers X-Factor for Week 14 against the Minnesota Vikings.