The Tampa Bay Buccaneers return from their bye week to find their Week 14 contest against the visiting Minnesota Vikings to have grown significantly in importance to the NFC playoff race. The Vikings' five wins in six weeks, including last Sunday's overtime thriller against the Jacksonville Jaguars, has turned what was previously a team at drift at 1-5 into a legitimate postseason contender. Meanwhile, a pair of identical 27-24 decisions against the contending Rams and Chiefs, neither of which went in the Buccaneers' favor, has dropped the Bucs from a solid 7-3 to 7-5 and made their postseason ledge a bit more precarious.
Put those two streaks together and you have the sixth and seventh seeds in the NFC playoff hunt meeting to decide who will be in that sixth spot after the weekend. Tampa Bay will finish its regular season and chase its first playoff spot in 13 years against four teams that are all at .500 or worse, but that run starts with what is clearly a challenging opponent in Dalvin Cook and the surging Vikings.
The Bucs will be finishing up a three-game home stand sandwiched around a bye week. The first two of those games came against the first and third-ranked offenses in the NFL in the Chiefs and Rams, respectively. There's no let-up in this one, as the Vikings bring the NFL's fourth-ranked offense to town, with an average of nearly 390 yards per game. Minnesota has done it with a powerful rushing attack led by Cook mixed with big plays in the passing attack, where the Vikings rank 16th in yards per game but second in yards per play. Even after shipping Stefon Diggs out in an offseason trade, Kirk Cousins and the Vikings haven't missed a beat thanks to the oversized contributions of rookie wideout Justin Jefferson.
Minnesota had quite a bit of turnover on defense between 2019 and 2020, particularly along the front and in the secondary. That surely has contributed to the Vikings not having their customarily strong rankings under defensive-minded Head Coach Mike Zimmer. The Vikings have thus been involved in a lot of close and high-scoring games, such as their aforementioned overtime win in Jacksonville that came right after a last-minute 28-27 victory over the Panthers. That win against Carolina was the third Minnesota game decided by a single point this season, and the seventh that has been decided by six points or fewer. Minnesota has scored 319 points this season and given up 329.
The Vikings set a record in the spring by drafting 15 players, the most any team has selected in a single draft since it was shortened to seven rounds in 1994. That big haul is part of the team's turnover on defense, as such well-known Viking veterans as Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, Alexander Mackensie, Everson Griffen and Linval Joseph have all departed. Meanwhile, outstanding edge rusher Danielle Hunter hasn't played all season due to a neck injury, star linebacker Anthony Barr is on injured reserve and fellow linebacker Eric Kendricks missed last week's game with a calf injury.
The Vikings also made a bold move before the season to trade for defensive end Yannick Ngakoue but then turned around at midseason and traded Ngakoue away to the Ravens, possibly thinking the playoffs were a long shot. Without Griffen, Hunter and Ngakoue the Vikings have only generated 21 sacks on defense, and the Buccaneers will hope they can continue that trend and give Tom Brady time to work against the Vikings' young secondary on Sunday. Brady has been sacked only one time in each of the Bucs' last three games and the front line should be stronger after a week to rest, particularly in regards to the injured ankle of left tackle Donovan Smith.
Brady's counterpart, Cousins, has quietly had a strong season, with a passer rating of 103.9 built on excellent completion rate (67.8) and yards per attempt (8.5 numbers). The question is how Tampa Bay's defense will handle the Vikings combination of a strong ground game and a big-play passing attack. The Bucs always try to make their opponent one-dimensional by taking the run game away early, and they have usually succeeded, with the NFL's top-ranked run defense for the second year in a row. However, the Rams and Chiefs put up big numbers against a pass defense that started the season strong but has had some trouble in recent games. That defense will be severely tested by Cousins, Jefferson (who has already surpassed 1,000 yards) and fellow wideout Adam Thielen (who has 12 touchdown catches in 12 games).
The Buccaneers and Vikings used to be division mates in the old NFC Central, and when Tampa Bay turned its fortunes around in the mid-'90s it began a stretch of very entertaining and closely-contested games between two strong teams. But the two teams haven't met in a high-stakes December game since the end of the 1999 season. That year, a top-heavy Central had playoff contenders in the Bucs, Vikings, Lions and Packers, the first two of which met on December 6 with identical 7-4 records. Behind rookie quarterback Shawn King in his first NFL start and in front of a national Monday Night Football audience, the Buccaneers won 24-17 and went on to take the division title.
This time around the quarterbacks are much higher profile and the teams are in different divisions. But the stakes are just as high and the winner will be in a much better position to finish out the playoff chase over the last three weeks.
GAME AND BROADCAST DETAILS
Minnesota Vikings (6-6) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-5)
Sunday, December 13, 1:00 p.m. ET
Raymond James Stadium (capacity: 65,618…roughly 25% capacity will be in attendance)
TV Broadcast Team: Joe Buck (play-by-play), Troy Aikman (analyst), Erin Andrews (reporter)
Radio: 98Rock (WXTB, 97.9 FM), Flagship Station
Radio Broadcast Team: Gene Deckerhoff (play-by-play), Dave Moore (analyst), T.J. Rives (reporter)
View some of the top photos from Buccaneers Week 14 practice at the AdventHealth Training Center.
ALL-TIME HEAD-TO-HEAD SERIES
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have played the Minnesota Vikings 55 times overly nearly 50 years, but the Buccaneers have definitely enjoyed the last quarter century of the rivalry a lot more than the first two decades.
Overall, Minnesota owns a 33-22 edge in the head-to-head series with Tampa Bay, but the momentum may have swung when Tony Dungy left the Vikings to take over the Bucs' head coaching job in 1996. Dungy's first victory at the helm was memorably over the Vikings, and beginning with that contest Tampa Bay has won 11 of the last 19 meetings between the two teams. That included a six-game winning streak from 2001– the year before Tampa Bay left Minnesota and the old NFC Central behind to join the new NFC South – and 2012. However, the Vikings have recently reasserted control with wins in 2014 and 2017.
Since the 2002 realignment that put the Buccaneers in a new division, Tampa Bay and Minnesota have essentially only met every three years as part of the usual rotating divisional matchups, which means they have almost never finished in the same spots in their respective divisions in the same year. The exception was an extra game in 2012 that the Buccaneers won, 36-17, powered by rookie running back Doug Martin's first 100-yard game and three Josh Freeman touchdown passes.
The most recent contest went to the Vikings, 34-17, in 2017 as Case Keenum threw for 369 yards and three touchdowns, two of them to Stefon Diggs. Dalvin Cook, then a rookie playing in just his second game, ran for 97 yards and a score. The Buccaneers' six-game winning streak prior to the last two meetings including a number of high-scoring affairs, including decisions by scores of 41-14, 38-24 and 36-17.
The Buccaneers have a chance to even up their all-time record at home against the Vikings, with Minnesota currently up 14-13. The Vikings took that lead with a 19-13 decision in Tampa in 2014, an overtime game that lasted all of one play in the extra period. Tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins fumbled after a 10-yard catch and Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr returned it 27 yards for the game-winning score. In an odd note, however, the Bucs have more overtime wins over Minnesota than any other team in their history, owning a 3-2 mark in such games. All three of the Bucs' overtime wins over Minnesota occurred between 1990 and 1996.
· Buccaneers Assistant Coach Tom Moore, who is in his 41st season as an NFL coach, spent four of those years as the assistant head coach/offensive coordinator of the Vikings from 1990-93 under Head Coaches Jerry Burns and Dennis Green for two seasons each.
· After a 14-year playing career in the NFL and a handful of years coaching high school football, Buccaneers Cornerbacks Coach Kevin Ross first broke into the NFL coaching ranks with the Vikings in 2003. He spent three seasons as Minnesota's secondary coach on Head Coach Mike Tice's staff.
· Andrew Janocko, the Vikings' wide receivers coach, got his first job in the NFL in Tampa as an offensive assistant on Head Coach Greg Schiano's staff in 2012-13.
· Buccaneers S Antoine Winfield, Jr., who played his college ball at the University of Minnesota along with fellow Bucs rookie WR Tyler Johnson, is the son of former NFL cornerback Antoine Winfield, Sr. The elder Winfield played 14 seasons in the NFL, the last nine of them with the Vikings.
· Minnesota long-snapper Andrew DePaola performed the same job for the Buccaneers in his first three NFL seasons, 2014-16.
· Linebacker Hardy Nickerson, who is on the Vikings' practice squad, is the son of the former Buccaneers linebacker by the same name, who played for the team from 1993-99. The elder Nickerson also served on the Buccaneers' coaching staff during the 2014-15 seasons.
SENIOR COACHING STAFFS
· Tampa Bay:
· Head Coach Bruce Arians
· Assistant Head Coach/Run Game Coordinator Harold Goodwin
· Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles
· Offensive Coordinator Byron Leftwich
· Special Teams Coordinator Keith Armstrong
· Head Coach Mike Zimmer
· Offensive Coordinator/Assistant Head Coach Gary Kubiak
· Co-Defensive Coordinator/Defensive Line Coach Andre Patterson
· Co-Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers Coach Adam Zimmer
· Special Teams Coordinator Marwan Maalouf
KEY 2020 ROSTER ADDITIONS
· QB Tom Brady(UFA)
· WR Antonio Brown (FA)
· RB Leonard Fournette (FA)
· TE Rob Gronkowski (T-NE)
· T Joe Haeg (UFA)
· WR Tyler Johnson (5th-round draft pick)
· RB LeSean McCoy (FA)
· DT Steve McLendon (T-NYJ)
· C A.Q. Shipley (FA)
· K Ryan Succop (FA)
· RB Ke'Shawn Vaughn (3rd-round draft pick)
· S Antoine Winfield, Jr. (2nd-round draft pick)
· T Tristan Wirfs (1st-round draft pick)
· G Ezra Cleveland (2nd-round draft pick)
· CB Cameron Dantzler (3rd-round draft pick)
· LB Troy Dye (4th-round draft pick)
· CB Jeff Gladney (1st-round draft pick)
· CB Harrison Hand (5th-round draft pick)
· WR Justin Jefferson (1st-round draft pick)
· DE James Lynch (4th-round draft pick)
· WR Tajae Sharpe (UFA)
· DE D.J. Wonnum (4th-round draft pick)
ADDITIONAL 2020 CHANGES OF NOTE
· Though it is noted in the "Roster Additions" section above, it's worth further elaborating on the extremely dramatic change the Buccaneers made at the game's most important position. After five seasons, the team moved on from Jameis Winston, the first-overall pick in the 2015 draft, and filled the starting quarterback spot with the man many consider the G.O.A.T., former Patriot Tom Brady. Brady brings 20 years of experience and six Super Bowl championship rings to Tampa in one of the most notable free agent signings in NFL history. Brady's move to the Buccaneers also prompted former Patriots star tight end Rob Gronkowski to come out of retirement and he was promptly traded to Tampa Bay for a fourth-round draft pick. Another former teammate of Brady's, albeit for just one game, arrived in late October when the Buccaneers signed WR Antonio Brown.
· Tampa Bay debuted new uniforms in Week One in New Orleans. The uniforms are largely inspired by the ones the team wore during its Super Bowl era and overall from 1997 through 2013. Some elements of the uniforms introduced in 2014 remain, such as the sharper, more detailed skull-and-crossed-swords logo and the larger flag on the helmet (though not as large as before). The uniforms debuting in 2020 also include an all-pewter version that is completely unique in team and NFL history and was worn for the first time in Denver in Week Three.
· The Buccaneers have two new additions to their coaching staff in 2020: Defensive/Special Teams Assistant Keith Tandy and Assistant Strength & Conditioning Coach Cory Bichey. Tandy worked at the high school and college levels in 2019, the latter at his alma mater of West Virginia, but he begins his NFL coaching career with the same team that drafted him in 2012. Tandy spent six seasons in Tampa as a safety and special teams standout before finishing his playing career in Atlanta in 2018. Bichey comes to the Buccaneers from Mississippi State University, where he previously worked under current Buccaneers Head Strength & Conditioning Coach Anthony Piroli.
· The Buccaneers used their franchise tag during the 2020 offseason for the first time in eight years. That tag was employed to retain outside linebacker Shaq Barrett, who went from a rotational reserve in Denver to the NFL's 2019 sack leader after signing with the Bucs as an unrestricted free agent. Barrett's 19.5 sacks in his first year with the Buccaneers broke Warren Sapp's single-season franchise record and made him one of the team's top priorities in the offseason. Barrett and the Bucs were unable to reach agreement on a long-term deal during the 2020 offseason, in part due to the uncertainties caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, so Barrett will play on the tag's one-year contract this fall.
· The Buccaneers lost one of their key defensive players in Week Five when third-year defensive lineman Vita Vea suffered a broken leg and was placed on injured reserve, ending his season. Vea recorded 2.0 sacks through the first five games and was a key member of the team's league-leading run defense.
· The Vikings broke up their extremely productive wide receiver duo in the offseason, trading wide receiver Stefon Diggs and a seventh-round draft pick to the Buffalo Bills for first, fourth (in 2021), fifth and sixth-round selections. Diggs had averaged 73 receptions for 925 yards and six touchdowns in his five seasons as a Viking. The Vikings used the first-rounder they got from Buffalo to draft Diggs' replacement, former LSU standout Justin Jefferson. So far, it seems to be working out well for both teams. Diggs is second in the NFL with 80 receptions while Jefferson leads the Vikings and is eighth in the NFL with 918 receiving yards.
· The extra picks Minnesota gained in the Diggs trade and some other draft-weekend maneuvers led to the Vikings drafting a 15-player class, the most players ever selected by one team in a seven-round draft. Many of those newcomers have stepped directly into prominent roles. Other than the Diggs-Jefferson switch, the biggest change for the Vikings has been in the secondary, specifically at cornerback, where the team moved on from the veteran trio of Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes and Alexander Mackensie, all of whom had been first or second-round draft picks by the team. Rhodes was released in March while the other two signed elsewhere as unrestricted free agents. Rookies Jeff Gladney and Cameron Dantzler, chosen in the first and third rounds, respectively, are now the Vikings' starting cornerbacks.
· The Vikings also do not have most of their starting defensive line from the previous season. Long-time Minnesota standout Everson Griffen was not asked to re-sign after becoming a free agent, defensive tackle Linval Joseph was let go in March and star edge rusher Danielle Hunter hasn't played this season due to a neck injury. The Vikings also traded for disgruntled Jaguars pass rusher Yannick Ngakoue just before the start of the season, but then subsequently shipped Ngakoue back out to the Ravens in another trade on October 22.
· Minnesota had an opening at offensive coordinator after Kevin Stefanski, who had held that position for the past two seasons, was hired by the Browns as their new head coach in January. The Vikings responded by giving that job to Gary Kubiak, who had returned to the NFL after a two-year absence in 2019 to serve as Minnesota's assistant head coach and offensive advisor. The Vikings offense in 2020 has emphasized the running game and big plays in the passing attack, ranking fourth in the NFL in rushing yards per game and second in yards per pass play.
· The Vikings also have a new defensive coordinator in 2020…or two of them, to be exact. The team did not re-sign George Edwards, who had been in that position since 2014, when his contract expired in January. Instead, the team promoted both assistant defensive line coach Andre Patterson and linebackers coach Adam Zimmer to serve as co-defensive coordinators. The Vikings also have a few newcomers to their coaching staff in 2020 in Defensive Backs Coach Daronte Jones and Assistant Offensive Line Coach Phil Rauscher.
View pictures of the cleats and foundations represented by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during week 14.