Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Minnesota Vikings Preview and Prediction

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Adrian Peterson and the Vikings host the Bucs at Mall of America Field tonight.

<p> Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Minnesota Vikings Preview and Prediction</p>

Two NFC foes with drastically different 2012 results will meet on Thursday Night Football, when the Minnesota Vikings host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at 8:20 p.m. EST on the NFL Network. The Bucs have struggled to a 2-4 record this season, and they travel to Minnesota coming off a heartbreaking last-second loss to the Saints. Meanwhile, the Vikings have played well during a 5-2 start and have been energized by the healthy return of intrepid running back Adrian Peterson.

When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have the ball:
The Buccaneers have been inconsistent on offense this year, but they have scored four touchdowns in both of their last two games after a Week 5 bye. Quarterback Josh Freeman threw five touchdowns against four interceptions in Tampa’s first four contests, but he has tossed six TD passes and only one pick the last two weeks. The Bucs passing game has been improved greatly by the free agent addition of receiver Vincent Jackson, who already has 586 yards and five scores through six games. Running back Doug Martin has been solid in his rookie campaign, compiling 480 yards on 100 carries.

Minnesota ranks ninth in the NFL in total defense, as well as sixth in points (18.7) allowed. The Vikings rely on getting solid pressure on opposing quarterbacks, and they stand third in the league with 22 sacks this season. The defensive end tandem of Jared Allen and Brian Robison has compiled 10 of those sacks, and they will draw the attention of the Buccaneers game plan tonight. Linebacker Chad Greenway is also having a stellar season, ranking third in the league with 68 tackles.

When the Minnesota Vikings have the ball:
There were many questions around the health of Peterson following his knee injury late last season, but the All-Pro running back has returned to his old form with 652 yards and three touchdowns this year. He did miss practice earlier this week with an ankle issue, but Peterson should be good to go tonight. Quarterback Christian Ponder has been solid enough to win games during his sophomore season, throwing for nine scores against six interceptions. His favorite target has been electric receiver Percy Harvin, who already has 53 catches for 577 yards on the year.

The Bucs defense has been especially stingy against the run this season, ranking third in the league by allowing only 76 yards per game on the ground. However Tampa Bay has struggled mightily versus opposing passing attacks, giving up an alarming 323 yards per game through the air. A major issue has been a lack of pass rush, as the Bucs have totaled only eight sacks this season. They will look for improvement in that area against Ponder, who has already been sacked 16 times this year.

Key Factor:
This NFC battle should come to Peterson versus Tampa’s nasty run defense. If he has any kind of success, it will be a long night for the Bucs. Minnesota should play well with a raucous home crowd, and that factor could be huge in pressuring Freeman. Tampa Bay has won five straight in this series dating back to 2001, but look for the Vikings to ride their current momentum to a close victory tonight.

Prediction:
Vikings 20 Buccaneers 16


---By Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)

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