-The implications of Sunday's game relating to the postseason can't be overlooked. The Buccaneers, at 7-5, are currently the sixth seed in the NFC. Right behind them? The Minnesota Vikings at 6-6. But the good news for the Bucs is that Minnesota presents a somewhat favorable matchup when looking at the strengths of these two teams. For instance, the Vikings have the sixth-ranked rushing offense led by Dalvin Cook, averaging 145.7 yards per game. In turn, the Buccaneers have the league's best rushing defense, letting up just 74.2 yards per game on average.
"You prepare for it, but at the same time, they have a great passing game," Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles said of the Vikings' run game. "They mix it up very well and you don't get the runs when you think you're going to get them. We've got to be ready at all times for both and we're preparing to get ourselves better and clean up our mistakes. Then we'll worry about the Vikings on Sunday. I think when we just come out and play our game, do the things we're supposed to do and not beat ourselves, we're fine. It's a big game for us [and] it's a big game for them, so it's exciting [and] we're looking forward to it."
Minnesota has quite a few weapons on the offensive side of the ball, including receiving Adam Thielen and breakout rookie star Justin Jefferson, who leads the team in receptions and ranks fourth in the NFL in receiving yards this season with 1,039. Luckily, the Buccaneers have their own offensive arsenal that will also test the Minnesota defense – a Mike Zimmer-coached unit who Offensive Coordinator Byron Leftwich is pretty familiar with.
"I think they're well-coached," said Leftwich of the Vikings' defense. "I think Coach [Mike Zimmer] does a great job of putting these guys in position [and] I think they have a great system. [I] have played against these guys before – they do a lot of good things [and] a lot of different things. Being in the division with Zimmer when he was in Cincinnati [and] I was in Pittsburgh, it's very similar. Knowing him, knowing that they're well-coached [and] knowing that he's probably harping on third down and red zones, because those are things where you can win or lose football games – those two situational plays. I break it down to those guys being well coached [and] those guys having an understanding of what they're trying to do on third down and in the red zone. We have to be prepared and ready to roll."
The Buccaneers are looking to roll right on into the postseason for the first time in 12 years. And how they play in these last four games will be crucial to their success, not just from a record standpoint – but from a momentum standpoint. Just take it from a guy that's been there a time or two before:
"I think the reality is you're battling to improve every week," said quarterback Tom Brady, who has been to the postseason in 16 of his last 20 seasons in the NFL. "Let's say you have a great record to this point – it's not a big deal. I've been on a lot of teams where we were 10-0 and we finished 12-4. You lose four of your last six and don't play well going into the playoffs – you finished 12-4, which is pretty good, but at the end of the day you're not playing very well going into an important time because you didn't improve or maybe you lost ground from where you were earlier in the year. I've been 5-5. The first time I was on a championship team we were 5-5 through 10 games and then played really well down the stretch. What you've got to do is you've got to have competitive stamina. You've got to have the ability to compete every day through whatever the situation might be. No one feels good about losing football games. That's not why we're here – we're here to win games. But you've got to learn from the losses so that you can put yourself in a better position as you move forward. We've had a lot of learning that has gone on this year. I know we all wish we were 12-0 at this point, [but] it's not the reality. We haven't deserved it. We haven't played to that level. But what we have had is an opportunity to learn about each other, what things we're productive at [and] what we haven't been productive at. Hopefully now, having a week off and understanding how we need to approach these things going forward it, we can really play our best football. That's what December is all about so we can continue to improve. Wherever that takes us, it takes us. It will be up to us to earn it. No one is going to give you anything in the NFL – it's too competitive, it's too tough. Every week is a challenge. Every week presents different challenges for you as a team, whether it's on offense, defense, special teams [or] all of it combined. The better teams you play, the less margin of error you have. We're still working to improve as I would say most teams are. If any team thinks they've got it figured out, then we'll see where they are at the end. At the end of the year, there is only going to be one team that's happy with the way the season ends. There is a lot of time between now and that time of the year and I think for us, it's just focusing on having a good day of practice and putting ourselves in a good position to be able to compete this particular week."
-Wide receiver Mike Evans was nominated for the Walter Payton Man of the Year on Thursday. Since entering the league, Evans has been a beacon of selflessness and an asset to both the Tampa community and in his hometown of Galveston, Texas. I'm not sure you'll find a guy with a bigger heart who does for others not for the recognition or accolades, but simply because he wants to help people. During his media availability, he was even wearing a shirt that said 'humble' on it, as he almost uncomfortably accepted praised and congratulations on his nomination.
"It's the utmost honor to be recognized for this prestigious award," said Evans. "I never would've thought that I would be a candidate or a nominee for Walter Payton Man of the Year, but it's definitely a blessing. That's how I view my life – I've been very blessed and highly favored. I just feel like it's my job to help when I can. When I was a kid, I'd always tell myself [that] if I ever grew up to have money, I'd help even more people than I did when I didn't have any money. God blessed me with this opportunity and I'm just trying to pay it forward while I can."
And his teammates are paying it forward by using '#WPMOYChallenge Evans' on social media. Every hashtag and every retweet counts as a vote and the winner of the challenge will get $25,000 to go toward the charity of their choice. Evans and his wife, Ashli, have their Mike Evans Family Foundation whose goal is to support, empower, encourage and motivate today's youth with an understanding that NO goal is unattainable. To date, the Foundation has sent numerous kids to college thanks to scholarship grants, hosts holiday events for underserved children and Evans himself has donated to countless families and individuals who have experienced hardships in their lives throughout the years.
So, if you're reading this, go ahead and tweet with the hashtag #WPMOYChallenge and 'Evans' to help the Mike Evans Family Foundation now. Seriously. Right now. Mike deserves it.
Bucs Tweet of the Day: