Originally posted on Football Nation  |  Last updated 10/25/12
Every year is full of surprising teams, some young, some otherwise.In 2010, the Bucs were that team, going 10-6.  Since then, they are 6-16, completely failing to repeat their success.  Freeman hasn’t been the QB he was in his sophomore year, and the team is trying to rebuild after firing their head coach.Meanwhile, the Vikings were worse than the Bucs with an abysmal 3-13 record, and suddenly look ready to win the division at 5-2.  They may finally have their franchise QB in Christian Ponder rather than aging stopgap like Brett Favre or Donovan McNabb.This week, the winner shouldn’t be a surprise.  The Vikings are far and away the better team, and should pick up the home win this week.  Final score- 24-13.However, this won’t be as easy as it would be for a true contender.  The Vikings have had a strong ground game since they drafted Adrian Peterson in 2007, and the defense is usually effective (except last year, when they were 21st in the league, allowing 358.2 yards per game).  What the Vikings have been searching for is the high-powered passing offense they had when they nearly reached the Super Bowl, in 2009 with Brett Favre and in 1999 with Daunte Culpepper, Randy Moss, and Cris Carter.Christian Ponder, Percy Harvin, and Kyle Rudolph started the year looking like they would make a run at matching those years.  However, the last three weeks Ponder’s inexperience has cost them, resulting in 6 interceptions after not throwing any in the previous weeks.  His passer rating last week was 35.5 (out of 158.3), and it hasn’t been higher than 90 since Week 3, while his “Total QBR” as determined by ESPN was a mere 18.9 (out of 100).The Buccaneers play a zone defense, but it isn’t some soft “just don’t let them score” type of zone.  Tampa Bay defenders spend their time looking to jump routes and tip balls away, or even outright intercept passes.  They have nine interceptions and a whopping 39 pass deflections.  Ponder’s issues will return this week, and he will throw for 4 picks for the first time in his career.That same aggressive zone defense leaves open space, usually underneath to running backs on swing or screen passes, and sometimes to big tight ends on short patterns.  However, the Bucs are also aggressive when playing the run (40 tackles for a loss through six games), which begs for misdirection.  Peterson can create plays on his own, but this time he will really be a setup man. The Vikings will reach 100 rushing yards, but Percy Harvin will have at least 40 of those yards on trick plays.  The focus of the Vikings ground game could still be Adrian Peterson, but only if Harvin can make big plays on reverses, etc., and force Tampa to sit back instead of trying to break through the offensive line.The Buccaneers' biggest advantage this year is a solid offensive line, anchored by the offseason acquisition of the Saints’ Pro Bowl guard Carl Nicks.  Josh Freeman is also a bigger and more mobile QB, 240 pounds and Freeman has yet to be sacked more than twice this year.  However, the Vikings defense is very strong.  Standard practice for them is to send four defensive linemen after the quarterback and let the other positions play man coverage, and it’s been effective- the Vikings have 22 sacks so far this year (Xth in the league).  The Vikings will get 5 sacks in this game.
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