WHERE: Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis, Minnesota
SPREAD: Bucs by 2 1/2
WHERE THE VIKINGS STAND:: 0-2 Record. Tied for Last place with the Detroit Lions in the NFC Central Division.
HEAD COACH: Dennis Green (5-5 record vs. Bucs head coach Tony Dungy).
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Sherman Lewis
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Emmitt Thomas
SPECIAL TEAMS COACH: Gary Zauner
MATCHUP TO WATCH: Buccaneers CB Donnie Abraham vs. Vikings WR Randy Moss. Although Moss has been a non-factor in the Vikings' first two games of the season, he is still the most dangerous weapon on Minnesota's offense. Moss has given Abraham a hard time in the past. Moss caught five passes for 118 yards and one touchdown in their first meeting last season. The touchdown came on a 45-yard Culpepper bomb that Abraham had a chance to defend or even intercept, but he mistimed it. In their second meeting, which was in Tampa, Abraham fared much better. Abraham and the Bucs defense contained Moss, holding him to six catches for just 65 yards and one touchdown. While Moss has had some of his best games against the Tampa Bay defense, the same can be said for Abraham. In 1999, Abraham intercepted ex-Vikings QB Jeff George and took the ball to the house for a touchdown. Last season, Abraham picked up a DT Warren Sapp blocked field goal and returned it over 50 yards for a touchdown. In their second meeting last season, Abraham intercepted QB Daunte Culpepper. Both players are playmakers and will certainly need to have big games in order for their respective teams to win.
HOW THE BUCS RANK IN THE NFL:
OFFENSE: OVERALL: 25th RUSHING-26th PASSING: 20th
DEFENSE: OVERALL: 1st RUSHING: 13th PASSING: 1st
HOW THE VIKINGS RANK IN THE NFL:
OFFENSE: OVERALL 9th RUSHING: 16th PASSING: 9th
DEFENSE: OVERALL 11th RUSHING: 4th PASSING: 21st
VIKINGS HURTING WITHOUT SMITH When Pro Bowl RB Robert Smith retired this offseason, Minnesota was thought rookie RB Michael Bennett would step and would not miss a beat. It's time for them to think again. In two games this season, the Vikings rushing attack has been nonexistent. QB Daunte Culpepper is leading the team in rushing with just 99 total yards and against the Bears last Sunday, Bennett was able to manage just 56 yards on 16 carries (3.5 average). Smith's rushing success last season was a big reason why the Vikings were so dominant in the passing game. But even toward the end of last season when teams started to contain Smith, Minnesota's passing game started to struggle. The Vikings will try to get their running game going this Sunday against a Bucs rush defense, which is tied for 13th in the NFL.
VIKINGS NEED A BIGGER BANDAID TO STOP BLEEDING IN THEIR SECONDARY The Vikings secondary has been the team's Achilles heal in the past, but after they lost Pro Bowl SS Robert Griffith to a broken leg on the opening kickoff against the Bears last week, Minnesota may have to put their secondary on life support. Bucs wide receivers Keyshawn Johnson and Jacquez Green took turns toasting the Vikings secondary last season. In their first meeting, Green hauled in 11 catches for 131 yards. In the second game, Johnson caught six passes for 121 yards and one touchdown.
I'M HOME: Actually, QB Brad Johnson has had two homes since he was traded from Minnesota to Washington, but he has not played a game in the Metrodome since he was traded by Vikings in the 1999 offseason. Johnson spent seven seasons (1992-1998) in Minnesota before being traded to Washington. The Buccaneers also have two other Bucs players returning to their former homes and both are Pro Bowlers. Center Jeff Christy and LG Randall McDaniel spent their entire careers playing for the Vikings before signing with Tampa Bay in 2000.
LONG LAYOFF HELPED BUCS HEAL AND PREPARE: Yes, the Buccaneers should be concerned about coming out rusty against the Vikings, but the 20-day layoff in-between games helped the Bucs heal in other ways. Tampa Bay should have all of their players healthy, including C Jeff Christy, who missed the season opener against Dallas with a sprained MCL. Tampa Bay should also have a healthy rookie CB Dwight Smith(sprained ankle). Defensive tackle James Cannida (sprained knee) is out of Sunday's game. The Bucs will also have had almost three weeks to prepare for their game against Minnesota. After further review, it looks like Tampa Bay should benefit more from the long layoff than they will be hurt by it.
SACK BRIGADE: The Buccaneers will have to put pressure on Culpepper in order to leave Minnesota with a win on Sunday. In their two meetings last season, the Bucs defense came up with a total of eight sacks. But sacks will not guarantee victory for the Pewter Pirates. In their first meeting last season, Tampa Bay brought Culpepper down six times, but lost 31-21. Although Tampa Bay only recorded two sacks in their second meeting, DT Warren Sapp's sack caused Culpepper to fumble and eventually led to a Tampa Bay touchdown. Culpepper was also pressured heavily throughout that same afternoon and was forced into throwing an interception to LB Derrick Brooks, who returned it for a touchdown.
BUCS RECORD COMING OFF OF BYE WEEK: Under Dungy, the Buccaneers are 3-2 following their bye week. But this situation is a little different, seeing as Tampa Bay is basically coming off of two bye weeks.
BEWARE OF SCRAMBLING QUARTERBACK Tampa Bay faced an elusive quarterback in Quincy Carter in Week 1, but the Bucs will really have their work cut out for them when they play against Culpepper. After two games this season, Culpepper is leading the team in rushing. Last year, Culpepper rushed 11 times for 70 yards against Tampa Bay's defense. Culpepper possesses a linebacker's body and is very elusive. Culpepper is tough to bring down and that is why Tampa Bay's defense must make tackles on him on their first attempts.
BUCS SOUND OFF ON THEIR UPCOMING OPPONENT
DE Simeon Rice on containing an elusive quarterback like QB Daunte Culpepper: "We're going to do what we need to do to get a victory. "We want to see him (Culpepper) on the ground. The more he's on the ground, the less he's effective."
Head coach Tony Dungy on his team's need to step up to the challenge Minnesota presents:"Now is the time that we know we are going to play 15 weeks in a row. We're going to see if we can focus and zero in on football in that amount of time and that's not easy to do. Championship teams can do it and we'll find if we are one."
WR Keyshawn Johnson on how the offense should be much improved: "Our offense is doing what we're supposed to be doing. We're helping the football team win, but we left about 17 points out on the field the last time we played. We don't want to do that this time. I think we'll put some points on the board. I'm confident that our offense is moving in the right direction."
QB Brad Johnson on returning to Minnesota: "I think two years ago, I might have been a little more emotional. I think there's been so much time removed, it's not as emotional for me. But football is an emotional game and it's an exciting time to play."
RB Warrick Dunn on how the Bucs will be healthy, but could possibly be rusty on Sunday: "I think it will be a combination of both. We're not going to be in game shape. Guys may be a little rusty, a little tentative and a little nervous. But once you get the first hit, that's all over with."
Dunn on the long period of time between games: "We've practiced hard these past two weeks. Now, we just have to wait and see what happens. I think guys are going to be eager to play and it's going to be a good atmosphere to play in. We have to come out and play our game and set a tempo and control the clock. If we can do that, then the game is in our control."
FLYNN'S FINAL: Why do we even bother making predictions? I said before the season started that I thought Tampa Bay was due for a win in Minnesota this season, but never in my wilder dreams did I think the Vikings would be 0-2. So, is this good or bad for the Pewter Pirates?
The Vikings are down, but far from out, however, Tampa Bay could put a few more nails in their coffin this season by escaping Minnesota with a win. Few teams in NFL history have ever made the playoffs after starting the season 0-2, never mind 0-3. The Bucs had several chances to win the game in Minnesota on a Monday night last year, but failed to take advantage of opportunities.
The Vikings are looking for a running game and the Bucs are looking to stop one. Tampa Bay's defense is determined to stop opposing offense's rushing attacks and after watching the Vikings' in the first two games of the season, this doesn't appear to be a difficult task.
I was almost sure WR Randy Moss would have a breakout game against Chicago after only catching one pass in Week 1 against Carolina. I was wrong. Moss and WR Chris Carter and growing impatient with QB Daunte Culpepper's growing pains, but isn't to be expected? After all, he is just a third-year quarterback, and second-year starter.
The Buccaneers are a run-oriented team, but don't be surprised if Tampa Bay comes out throwing against Minnesota's depleted and inconsistent secondary. Tampa Bay did not stretch the field out by throwing deep against Dallas, but you can bet offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen will against Minnesota's defense. If the Bucs can open up their running game with success in the air and cause Culpepper to make rookie-like mistakes, Tampa Bay should escape Minnesota with a win.
FLYNN'S PICK: Buccaneers 23 Vikings 17
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