The Bucs currently hold the No. 6 seed in the playoff race while the Vikings hold the No. 7 seed. If the Bucs win, they’ll strengthen their grip on the No. 6 seed, but both teams will swap places if they lose.
Then things will certainly get interesting over the last three weeks of the season. But before we start getting all riled up, let’s dive into this week’s game preview.
- All-time series: Minnesota leads the all-time series, 33-22.
- Longest win streak: The Bucs won six in a row from 2001-2012.
- Largest margin of victory: The Vikings slammed the Bucs, 45-13, back in 1986.
- 2020 offensive and defensive rankings: The Bucs are currently 18th in total offense (9th passing, 27th rushing) and seventh in total defense (22nd passing, 1st rushing). The Vikings own the third-best offense (16th passing, 6th rushing) and 23rd-ranked the defense (26th passing, 18th rushing).
What To Watch For
- The Bucs out of the bye: Tampa Bay sorely needed last week’s break. The team was hurting and you could tell teams had a bit of an advantage over them the last few weeks in terms of game planning and play calling. Will they come out of the bye week focused and ready to go or will they come out slow and lethargic like we saw over the last few weeks?
- The Bucs on third down and in the red zone: Minnesota is an elite team on both sides of the ball in the red zone and they are extremely good on both sides of the ball on third down. The Bucs, on the other hand, are about mid-pack. Tampa Bay needs to own it in both regards Sunday.
- Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen: Everyone already knows about Thielen and everyone just about knows Jefferson thanks to his insanely impressive rookie season. Jefferson’s presence has kept the Vikings’ receiving corps in the top-10, even after losing Stefon Diggs in the offseason. Jamel Dean probably won’t play this week, so it’ll be interesting to see how the Bucs handle these two.
- Ronald Jones II vs. Minnesota’s run defense: I mention Jones specifically because Bruce Arians said earlier in the week that the offense “starts with him”. As hard as that is to believe, maybe it means the coaching staff will finally start giving RoJo touches on a consistent basis? If that holds true, RoJo has a very advantageous matchup agains a Vikings run defense that will be without Eric Kendricks, who is one of the best run-stopping linebackers in the NFL. It should be a big day for the Bucs’ running game and RoJo — as long as the staff decides to actually give him the ball.
- Minnesota’s secondary vs. Tampa Bay’s receivers: Minnesota has two rock star safeties in Harrison Smith and Anthony Harris, but cornerback is a different situation. There are two promising rookies in Jeff Gladney and Cameron Dantzler, but they are just that — rookies. Both have been solid as of late, but going against the Bucs’ receiving corps will be their biggest test of the season.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- QB Tom Brady: I’m expecting to see a refreshed Brady who is ready to dominate. He should be able to have success against a questionable Minnesota defense.
- RB Ronald Jones II: Arians said after the loss to the Chiefs that RoJo should receive 20 touches a game and he said earlier this week that the offense starts with RoJo. If BA sticks to his word, then RoJo should have a nice day.
- WR Chris Godwin: Gladney mans the slot position for the Vikings, but he’s a rookie and he’s a bit banged-up. How will he fare against one the league’s best slot receivers?
- DL William Gholston: The Bucs will need to create pressure up front and Gholston is the team’s best pass-rushing defensive lineman. He should be able to take advantage of his matchups today.
- CB Carlton Davis III: Dean’s absence will again place more responsibility on Davis.
- S Antoine Winfield Jr.: He’s making tackles, but he’s not making the splash plays we saw earlier in the season. Hopefully Winfield can get back to his impactful ways against the Vikings.
- QB Kirk Cousins: It’s another typical year for Cousins. Up and down, but overall, quietly solid. Can the Bucs force him off his game this week?
- RB Dalvin Cook: The best running back in the league faces off the best run defense. Tampa Bay has to corral Cook in this game.
- WR Justin Jefferson: Thielen is just as dangerous, but Jefferson is more of an unknown in terms of tape study. Don’t be surprised if you hear his name called a few times.
- DL Ifeadi Odenigbo: The Vikings don’t receive much of a pass rush from the defensive line, but whatever they do get, it’s mostly provided by Odenigbo. Just put it this way: had eight pressures against Jacksonville while the Vikings combined for 10 pressures as a team.
- CB Cameron Dantzler: I mentioned Gladney earlier, but Dantzler has been playing the best out of all of Minnesota’s corners lately. He’s held quarterbacks to an average 59.0 QB rating over the last four games, including a 0.0 rating against the Jags last week.
- S Harrison Smith: He’s still one of the best in the game and he can still do it all. Tampa Bay has to make sure Smith is accounted for on every single play.
- Brady has 28 passing touchdowns this season. He needs one more to pass Jameis Winston (28 in 2016) for second-most and five more to tie Winston (33 in 2019) for the most passing touchdowns in a single season in Buccaneers history.
- Mike Evans has 11 receiving touchdowns this season. He needs one more to tie his own mark (12 in 2014 & 2016) for the most receiving touchdowns in a single season in Buccaneers history.
This is a must-win game, but it doesn’t come with the negative connotation/context that usually comes with the phrase “must-win”.
It’s a must-win in terms of Tampa Bay controlling its destiny and giving itself an easy road to the playoffs. Right now, the Bucs currently have an 84% chance to make the playoffs. If they beat the Vikings, then their chances jump to 96%. If they lose, their chances drop to 62%.
62% is still a strong number, but to fall from 96% to 62% is not something you want to do. That’s wasting over a third of a chance at an opportunity.
This reasoning on top of a post-bye game is why I think Tampa Bay will win this game. The Bucs know what needs to be done, they’ve re-grouped over the bye, and I think they’ll come out swinging against the Vikings.
There are plenty of matchups to exploit against the Vikings, but this also won’t be an easy game by any means. The Vikings have played good teams tough this year (see Titans, Seahawks, and Packers), so they aren’t some scrub you can just look over.
It’ll be a close one, but the Bucs will pull it out and get one game closer to the postseason as they move to 8-5 on the year.