There’s no denying that the credibility of Thursday Night Football is up for grabs most weeks. Critics cite the fact that it dangerously gives players too little rest time following a Sunday (or worse, Monday) game, whilst fans have questioned some of the choices of games being broadcasts.
This week’s edition sees Minnesota (5-2, 4-0 home) host Tampa Bay (2-4, 0-2 road). Looking at the schedule early in the season, there would have been a lot of eyebrows raised, after all, the Vikings and Buccaneers was hardly must see TV.
But as luck would have it, this topsy-turvy season has made even this benign encounter intriguing, not least because of Minnesota’s unexpected strong start to the season.
Whilst the Vikings have been ruffling feathers in the NFC North, Tampa Bay has been stinking up a storm in the NFC South. Well, that’s what the team’s record states, but in all honesty that’s a long way from the truth. The Buccaneers may have lost four games this year, but it has only lost one by more than a touchdown – a humiliating 38-10 loss to Kansas City at home – which means these have for the most part been close games.
Thursday’s clash between the two side might not be the prettiest of encounters, but it’s one worth watching, something nobody would have predicted preseason.
Tampa Bay’s pass defense has been horrible this season. The Bucs are giving up 323.0 yards per game through the air, which puts the team second from last in the league. Fortunately for the Florida side, Minnesota has a far from prolific passing game. The Vikings are averaging just 203.4 yards through the air (27th in the league).
Minnesota’s strength has been running the football, with Adrian Peterson impressing having returned from ACL and MCL surgeries. The Vikings are averaging 132.3 YPG on the ground, good enough for seventh in the league. However, as poor as Tampa Bay’s pass defense has been, the team’s run defense has been exquisite. The Buccaneers are third in the league, giving up just 76.0 YPG on the ground. If Minnesota is to win, it could be necessary to throw the ball.
Offensively, Tampa Bay is very much a middle of the pack side. Averaging 244.8 passing yards (16th) and 101.8 rushing yards (17th) per game, the Buccaneers are neither one thing nor another. They’ll be up against a defense that ranks just outside the top ten in both passing and rushing. As with Minnesota, yards and points could be hard to come by.
Looking for an Edge
Minnesota opened as 5½-point favorites, a number that has risen to seven over the past week. The over/under is 42½, having risen one point in that span.
Over recent years, Tampa Bay holds the edge in the head-to-head series, winning five straight games against the Vikings, including a 24-20 victory last season. Minnesota however leads the all-time series 31-21, and has gone 9-4 over the past 13 home games.
Bettors looking for a jump on the spread should consider that Tampa Bay has gone 5-11 ATS over the last 16 games and 2-4 ATS during the last six road games. That being said, the Buccaneers have posted a 4-2 record ATS this season. Meanwhile, Minnesota is 3-3-1 ATS this season, making predicting the team’s success that much trickier.
The total has gone under in five of the last six Minnesota games but over in four of the last five Tampa Bay games. This could be a toss-up, but as we’ve seen above, points may be at a premium in Minneapolis on Thursday night.
With the teams difficult to separate, Thursday Night Football itself may nudge you in one direction or another. This season, only two teams have entered Thursday night as favorites and beat the spread (Green Bay in Week 2 and the New York Giants in Week 3). The remaining games have seen three upsets and two games where the underdog lost but beat the spread. Thursday Night Football has been harboring surprise results all season, making the Buccaneers look like an intriguing pick.
That being said, last week’s slate of games saw just one upset – a rarity in this strangest of seasons – which might suggest normal business is about to resume in the NFL.
Finally, the good news for Tampa Bay fans is that the Bucs will not be wearing throwback jerseys again this week. Tampa Bay hardly won wearing those uniforms first time around, and lost again this past weekend whilst donning those orange delights. That makes the team 1-3 since embarking on the once-a-year tradition in 2009.