WHERE: Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida
SPREAD: Bucs by 7
WHERE THE VIKINGS STAND: The Vikings are 2-5 and they are in a three-way tie with Chicago and Detroit for second place in the NFC North Division.
VIKINGS HEAD COACH: Mike Tice
VIKINGS OFFENSIVE COORINATOR: Scott Linehan
VIKINGS DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Willie Shaw
VIKINGS SPECIAL TEAMS COACH: Jay Hayes
HOW THE BUCS RANK IN THE NFL (2002):
OFFENSE: OVERALL: 24th RUSHING: 26th PASSING: 18th
DEFENSE: OVERALL: 1st RUSHING: 6th PASSING: 1st
HOW THE VIKINGS RANK IN THE NFL (2002):
OFFENSE: OVERALL: 4th RUSHING: 7th PASSING: 9th
DEFENSE: OVERALL: 28th RUSHING: 5th PASSING: 31st
MATCHUP TO WATCHBucs DT Warren Sapp vs. Vikings QB Daunte Culpepper : Culpepper has had mixed outings this season. He's completed 63.1 percent of his passes and thrown for 1,778 yards, eight touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Culpepper hasn't received very good protection from his offensive line this season. He's been sacked 16 times. The constant pressure is one of the reasons why his interception total is so high. The Vikings' offense is run-oriented this season, which means Tampa Bay's defense, which is ranked 6th against the run in the league, will try and stop the run first. If the Bucs are successful doing that, Sapp, who has recorded 7.5 sacks this season, will be able to tee off Minnesota's signal caller. Tampa Bay's defense, which is ranked No. 1 in the league, will respect Culpepper's running ability. He's built like a linebacker, which makes him tough to tackle. Culpepper has rushed 45 times for 217 yards (4.8 avg.). Vikings offensive coordinator Scott Linehan likes to call Culpepper's number in the red zone on draw plays. He's rushed for four touchdowns this season.
DID YOU KNOW…
…the Buccaneers have never lost to the Vikings in Raymond James Stadium (4-0)?
TURNOVER BATTLE WILL BE KEY:
Tampa Bay has a plus-7 turnover ration, which it ranked third-best in the league. Minnesota is last in the league with a minus-12 turnover ratio.
Tampa Bay's defense has intercepted 16 passes this season and they've also forced six fumbles.
Minnesota's defense has intercepted just six passes and forced two fumbles this season.
Turnovers will be a decisive factor in this game and if Tampa Bay is careful with the football and the Bucs' defense can put pressure on QB Daunte Culpepper, the Pewter Pirates should be able to win the turnover battle Sunday.
LOOK FOR BUCS TO ATTACK THROUGH THE AIR:
Tampa Bay's passing attack has been inconsistent this season, but they're going up against Minnesota's secondary Sunday, which is ranked 31st in the league against the pass. The Vikings are allowing teams to throw for an average of 278 yards per game while the Buccaneers are averaging 205.6 yards per game through the air.
The Buccaneers will likely attack Minnesota's secondary first, but don't be surprised if they give the Vikings' defense a heavy dose of FB Mike Alstott after they've established the passing game. But the Bucs won't be able to have success in the passing game if its offensive line can't provide QB ???? with time to throw. The offensive line has allowed 21 sacks in eight games this season.
BARBER HOPES TO TRIM MOSS' PRODUCTION:
The Vikings offense might be run-oriented this season, but WR Randy Moss is still one of the best in the league. He's managed to haul in 49 passes 523 yards and three touchdowns despite getting into some off-the-field trouble. While his numbers suggest he's having a solid season, Moss and Co. have struggled without WR Cris Carter, who retired during the offseason but recently came out of retirement to play with Miami. While Moss has 49 receptions, WR D'Wayne Bates has 19 receptions, which is second-most on the team, but not nearly enough to draw double coverage away from Moss.
Tampa Bay WR Ronde Barber has intercepted one pass and recorded 43 tackles this season. Teams haven't thrown toward Barber as much this season since he intercepted 10 passes last season. Bucs left corner Brian Kelly has stepped up to the challenge and intercepted a career-high three passes this season. Tampa Bay's defense is ranked No. 1 in pass defense and they're only allowing teams to pass for 146 yards per game. They can't eliminate Moss from the game, but the Bucs must contain him and limit his big-play ability, which they've done in previous meetings at Ray-Jay.
Minnesota's offense has switched gears this season. They used to be a pass-happy offense, but they've managed to have success running the football and that's become their strength of attack.
Vikings RB Michael Bennett has rushed 107 times for 442 yards (4.1 avg.). He's scored one touchdown. Minnesota has also mixed in halfback Moe Williams, who has carried the ball 47 times for 214 yards (4.8 avg.). Williams gives Minnesota a power-type back, but his hands are suspect. He's fumbled three times this season. The Vikings like to bang Williams between the guards, especially near the end zone. Williams has scored four touchdowns.
Tampa Bay's defense is ranked 6th against the run. They're allowing opponents to rush for just 91.9 yards per game. With Bennett, Williams and Culpepper being legitimate running threats, the Bucs' linebackers will have to stay disciplined Sunday. If the Bucs can stop the run, they'll stand an excellent chance of winning Sunday.
BUCS SOUND OFF:
Bucs head coach Jon Gruden on whether or not he'll use previous Bucs-Vikings games to game plan for Sunday's match-up:
"We always do. We always look at past performances, especially by some of your individual players. But, at the same time, Minnesota's got a lot of different guys on defense. They've got a different head coach and it doesn't do you much good, honestly, other than if you want to check up on year's past. You can do that, but we're not going to count on last year giving us any juice this year. We're going to get what we deserve and we've got to play a lot better."
Bucs LB Derrick Brooks on Vikings WR Randy Moss:
"He can catch the ball short and run it long too, now. He's a tremendous talent, but we just need to make our plays. If he catches the ball short, everyone should come up and tackle him. If they throw the long ball to him, guys should make a play. You can offset that by doing what we do. Stopping the run and create pressure in the process."
Tampa Bay SS John Lynch on Moss and Vikings QB Daunte Culpepper:
"It's funny, because everyone has talked about their struggles and you look at the statistics this morning and they have the No. 4 offense in the league. They still have #11 and #84, and they have had a lot of plays on offense because I think their defense has been struggling, giving up touchdowns rather quickly. So they have averaged a lot of plays in a game, and they are also converting third downs at nearly 50%. So you need to get off of the field with these guys."
Lynch on containing a mobile quarterback like Culpepper:
"We spent our whole offseason and mini-camp focusing (on mobile quarterbacks). We had a lot of rules that we built into our system where we have the ability to adjust. Some weeks we might use our extra plugger to help out (against) receivers, or just to plug the quarterback and it has worked out well for us. Our defensive line is doing an incredible job of not getting themselves out of rush lanes and staying level with the quarterback, and hunting those guys down. The combination of those things have made us effective. It's a fact of life in this league that quarterbacks (can) not only can throw the ball, but are very effective runners. We've seen Donovan McNabb go for 100 yard games and Michael Vick is tearing it up. Daunte has carried the ball 45 times already. So quarterbacks are running the ball more and that provides a challenge, but it's one we have to prepare for."
Bucs DT Warren Sapp on playing the Vikings:
"You like (playing the Vikings) because they have the white rhino under the center. You don't find a guy like that too many times and you have the galloping gazelle out wide. But we need to have a good game. We need to eliminate the big plays and his scrambling ability, and we should be fine."
Tampa Bay's offense hasn't scored a touchdown in two consecutive games, but after looking at the Bucs' schedule, there is hope because Minnesota is rolling into Tampa Sunday.
The Vikings are allowing an average of 27.4 points per game and its defense is ranked 28th in the league. The Bucs are banged up at the receiver position, but they should still be able to find success throwing the ball. Tampa Bay has had success pounding FB Mike Alstott up the middle of the Vikings' defense in the past, so don't be surprised if they attempt to do the same Sunday.
The Buccaneers are very banged up going into this game, but they should still have enough horses to carry them past the Vikings Sunday. Minnesota has never defeated Tampa Bay in Ray-Jay (0-4) and unless the Bucs have a total meltdown on both sides of the ball, that streak should continue and the Pewter Pirates should improve 7-2 going into a much-needed bye week.
FLYNN'S PICK Buccaneers 27 Vikings 13
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