The Buccaneers will face off with the Minnesota Vikings in a battle of the NFC's sixth and seventh seeds, respectively, on Sunday for Week 14. The Bucs will be coming off their much-needed bye week after playing 12 straight games to face a Minnesota team that has won five of their last six games.
The Vikings also bring to town the league's fourth-best offense, which racks up an average of 389.6 yads per game. Over 145 of those yards are on the ground thanks to running back Dalvin Cook, who is second behind only Tennessee's Derrick Henry in rushing yards this season.
The good news is, the Buccaneers have the league's best rushing defense and some offensive firepower of their own – both through the air and on the ground. Running back Ronald Jones has the fourth-most rushing yards of any player in the league and owns the best yards-per-carry average, edging out the aforementioned Cook 5.06 to 4.98.
And should the Buccaneers decide to go through the air, the Vikings are tied for 26th in passing defense, letting up an average of 261.7 passing yards per game.
Read on for how to watch the high-profile matchup, along with some key facts about the game.
Minnesota Vikings (6-6) vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-5)
All-time record: Vikings lead the all-time series 33-22
Home record: 9-18
Key Matchups (via Scott Smith)
1. Buccaneers WR Mike Evans vs. Vikings CB Cameron Dantzler
The Vikings parted ways with a trio of veteran cornerbacks over the offseason and then spent first and third-round picks on corners Jeff Gladney and Cameron Dantzler. Both Gladney and Dantzler took some lumps early on this season, as is the experience for almost all rookies trying to play one of the game's hardest positions in a league absolutely loaded with highly-talented pass-catchers. The two rookies have clearly progressed as the season has gone on, however, and now they get a test against one of the NFL's toughest wide receiver duos to contain, Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. There could be any combination of those two players going one-on-one at various times Sunday, but Gladney is dealing with a calf injury and Dantzler, at 6-2, is a better size match for Evans than the 5-10 Gladney, so let's focus on Evans-vs.-Dantzler. The rookie corner out of Mississippi State got burned early in the season by some of the NFL's best players (Aaron Rodgers, DK Metcalf, Julio Jones) then suffered a scary-looking neck injury that caused him to miss some time. But he has played quite well since and is coming off his best game yet, with his first career interception and a key forced fumble in the Vikings narrow win over Jacksonville. Against Evans, he'll have several things to worry about, including the Bucs' receiver suddenly running past him down the sideline and the myriad ways Evans wins in the red zone. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Evans had 32 receptions on go routes from 2018 through Week 10 of this season, five more than any other player in the league. The Bucs' receiver also had 42 targets in the end zone in that span, seven more than any other player.
2. Vikings C Garrett Bradbury vs. Buccaneers DL Ndamukong Suh
In his second season, Garrett Bradbury has rapidly developed into one of the NFL's better centers after a difficult start to his rookie campaign. The 18th-overall pick in the 2019 draft, Bradbury is a very good run-blocker but he struggled early in pass protection. This year, he has improved significantly in that latter category and had not been credited with allowing a sack through the first half of the 2020 season. It is that run-blocking category that might be most important in this matchup, however, as the Vikings rely heavily on their ground game and the Buccaneers have been the NFL's best defense against the run for the past two seasons. Ndamukong Suh and the Tampa Bay defense will go into Sunday's game with the idea of slowing down Dalvin Cook right from the beginning so that they can more effectively come after Kirk Cousins with their pass rush. Suh and Bradbury might get some one-on-one battles, particularly when the Bucs are in their sub package with only two down linemen, and Bradbury will likely also be involved in some double-team blocks on Tampa Bay's powerful lineman. The 6-3, 305-pound Bradbury and the 6-4, 313-pound Suh match up well. Both are intelligent players and sound technicians who play with good leverage and continue fighting right up to the whistle. If the Buccaneers can contain Cook early and Suh gets to come after Cousins, Bradbury and company will have to deal with the interior lineman who has more QB pressures since the start of last season than every other player at his position except Aaron Donald and Casey Heyward, according to Next Gen Stats.
3. Buccaneers RB Ronald Jones vs. Vikings S Anthony Harris
The Vikings, who were already heavily invested in perennial Pro Bowl safety Harrison Smith, put the franchise tag on Anthony Harris this offseason after his breakout 2019 campaign. Last year, Harris tied for the NFL lead with six interceptions and was used mostly as a free safety to utilize his outstanding coverage skills. This year, Harris, a sure tackler too, is making more of an impact in run defense; after recording 33 tackles on run plays in 2019 he already has 41 this year with four games left to play. Not only will Harris be involved in trying to contain Bucs RB Ronald Jones, the NFL's fourth-leading rusher, around the line of scrimmage but he could be the last line of defense on the plays when Jones manages to break through the first line of defense or catches a pass in space. Jones has done that frequently lately, most recently with a 34-yard run and a 37-yard touchdown catch against Kansas City in Week 12. The Buccaneers are likely to make an effort to get Jones going early on Sunday, as Head Coach Bruce Arians says that the third-year back is "where we start" on offense and that he wants to get him 20 touches a game down the stretch. Jones is averaging 5.1 yards per carry this season, which would be a new Buccaneer record if maintained, and while he's had his ups and downs as a pass-catcher he showed what he can do in Week 12 when Brady got him the ball with room to run. Jones said earlier in the week that he feels great coming out of the bye week and is ready to handle a heavy load during the playoff stretch run.
4. Vikings WR Adam Thielen vs. Buccaneers CB Carlton Davis
Rookie wideout Justin Jefferson has been a revelation for the Vikings, replacing Stefon Diggs and racking up a team-high 61 catches for 1,039 yards and seven touchdowns, with a 17.0 yards-per-reception average. But Bruce Arians noted earlier in the week that veteran wideout Adam Thielen is "really the go-to guy" for the Vikings, and it is Thielen who leads the team and ranks second in the NFL with 12 touchdown catches. Minnesota has increasingly used Thielen out wide rather than in the slot, where he used to get about half of his snaps, and he more often lines up on the right side of the offense. Thielen runs a lot of out-breaking routes and also works his way up the sideline frequently. Carlton Davis, the Bucs' top corner, has more often worked on the left side of the Bucs' defense, which should put him up against Thielen frequently on Sunday. Davis has good size and has the ability to match receivers' routes with tight coverage for a full 60 minutes, but Thielen is also adapt at winning low-percentage battles on contested catches, and that's particularly true around the end zone. Davis is tied for the NFL lead with 16 passes defensed and has broken up more passes than any other player since the start of last season. After the Chiefs built a big early lead on the Bucs in Week 12 with a series of big plays, Davis and his fellow defensive backs will be looking to make sure Thielen and company don't hit any home runs early in Sunday's game.
Uniform Combination: Red jersey, pewter pants, black socks
Watch on TV:
- Sunday, December 13, 2020
- Kickoff: 1:00 p.m. ET
- Location: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Florida
- Television Network: FOX
- Broadcast Crew: Joe Buck (play by play), Troy Aikman (color), Erin Andrews (reporter)
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The stream is available through Yahoo Sports, the Buccaneers Official App and online at Buccaneers.com.
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