A refreshed Tampa Bay Buccaneers team coming off their bye hosts the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday. These two teams have not faced off since 2017 when Minnesota doubled up the Bucs 34-17. Case Keenum out-dueled Jameis Winston in that game as the two quarterbacks combined for five touchdown passes. Of course one of the differences in the contest was Winston's three interceptions.
This season, Minnesota (6-6) has won two straight games although they didn't look that great in either of them. The Vikings needed overtime at home to overcome the one-win Jaguars 27-24. Kirk Cousins attempted 43 passes, racking up 305 yards and three touchdowns while a "banged-up" Dalvin Cook had 32 carries. Cousins has now gone over the 300-yard mark in three straight contests as the Vikings currently sit in the final wild-card spot in the NFC by virtue of an earlier head-to-head win over Arizona.
The bye came at a great time for Tampa Bay (7-5), who has lost three of four. The once-vaunted defense has allowed 20-plus points in six straight games, including losses to the Saints, Rams and Chiefs in that span. We'll see what the time off did for Tom Brady, who has thrown seven interceptions over the last four weeks. He's on pace for a whopping 632 pass attempts, which would be the second-most in his career. The Buccaneers are just a game ahead of Minnesota in the wild-card standings.
Minnesota at Tampa Bay
Kickoff: Sunday, Dec. 13 at 1 p.m. ET
Spread: Buccaneers -6.5
Three Things to Watch
The Vikings just finished up three straight games at home and will be on the road for three of their final four. They got fat and happy beating up on the lower rung of NFL teams, but will now see the Buccaneers, Bears, Saints, and Lions. The last home game of the season is next week against the Bears, but I don't think focus will be an issue with the playoffs on Minnesota's mind. As mentioned above, the Bucs are coming off their bye, and before that, they were home for two straight so this is a friendly schedule stretch. They will be on the road the next two weeks (at Falcons, Lions) before hosting Atlanta in Week 17. Even though it's not official, Tampa knows it's wild card or bust with New Orleans on the verge of clinching another NFC South title.
2. You like that?
Kirk Cousins has thrown for 1,438 yards over his last five games with 14 touchdowns to two interceptions. The addition of first-round pick Justin Jefferson has done wonders for Cousins, as well as fellow wide receiver Adam Thielen and the offense as a whole. Cousins needs to continue to keep teams honest because two weeks ago coaches were talking about workhorse running back Dalvin Cook being not 100 percent healthy. Even though backup Alexander Mattison was sidelined last week, Cook went out and logged 32 carries for 120 yards in the close win against Jacksonville. Tampa Bay is No. 1 against the run in the NFL, allowing 74.2 rushing yards per contest. The Buccaneers and the Saints (76.1 ypg) are about 20 yards clear of the next team on the list, the Rams. But while running the ball may be a tough task, teams have been able to throw on Tampa, who is 22nd in passing defense (255.8 ypg, 23 TDs, 14 INTs). Cousins will have to continue to be on point if the Vikings hope to win.
3. Bye week do the body good?
Some of the discussion the past two weeks has been about Tom Brady and his fit in a Bruce Arians offense. Arians wants to throw the ball deep and spread the field out, but the former New England quarterback has been absolutely miserable throwing those passes. At one point this year he had missed 22 straight deep passes which was the longest such streak since 2017. Minnesota has fared even worse than the Buccaneers against the pass, as injuries have ravaged that side of the ball. The Vikings are 27th in the NFL at 261.7 passing yards per game allowed, along with 24 touchdowns with 11 interceptions. If Brady can find his rhythm, he definitely has the weapons to exploit this defense, even if Mike Evans can't go because of a hamstring injury.
Quite simply, I think vintage Tom Brady shows up and all is right in Tampa once again. The Buccaneers' defense finds its form and Kirk Cousins has a pair of turnovers leading to an easy win for the home team.
Prediction: Buccaneers 34, Vikings 21
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.
(Top photo courtesy of buccaneers.com)