TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (1-0) AT MINNESOTA VIKINGS (1-1)
KICKOFF: Sunday, noon, U. S. Bank Stadium. TV: FOX, Thom Brennaman, Chris Spielman, Peter Schrager (field reporter).
SERIES HISTORY: 55th regular-season meeting. Vikings lead series, 32-22. The Vikings won the last meeting in 2014 in Tampa Bay, but the Buccaneers had won six straight before that. This is the first meeting at Minnesota’s 2-year-old stadium.
KEYS TO THE GAME: With uncertainty at the quarterback position, the Vikings will have to bank on riding a dominant defense that can reach a higher level when there’s home-field advantage. If Sam Bradford plays, the Vikings have a better chance of trading blows with Jameis Winston, the first QB in NFL history to start a career with consecutive 4,000-yard seasons. If Case Keenum starts, the Vikings will need a more conservative approach and rely on rookie running back Dalvin Cook to continue playing with quickness, strength and the kind of speed that makes him a threat to score every time he slips through a whole or beats the defense to the corner.
The Bucs had a great defensive performance in the season opener against the Bears. But as coach Dirk Koetter has said, they can’t count on getting four turnovers in the first half every Sunday.
The Vikings are a pretty disciplined team under Mike Zimmer. Tampa Bay has to prepare as if Bradford will be at quarterback Sunday, even though he missed last week’s game in Pittsburgh and is nursing a knee injury.
Getting pressure on Bradford will be the key. He’s not that mobile to begin with after two ACL surgeries and now swelling. He played lights out in the season opener against the Saints. But Bradford will try to rely more on Cook.
The Bucs played the run extremely well last week, limiting the Bears to only 20 yards on the ground. They also jumped into a 3-4 at times.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
–Vikings C Pat Elflein vs. Bucs DT Gerald McCoy. Elflein, a rookie third-round draft pick, has been outstanding. He was part of the line that dominated the Saints in Week 1. In Week 2 at Pittsburgh, he was the only lineman not to be penalized. McCoy is a force inside. He had four QB pressures against the Bears last week.
–Bucs QB Jameis Winston vs. Vikings S Andrew Sendejo. When the Vikings use free safety Harrison Smith closer to the line of scrimmage and put Sendejo in a single-high look, quarterbacks and receivers look to take advantage of Sendejo’s lack of ideal speed and shallow sets. If the Vikings get pressure on Winston, this won’t matter. If the Bucs can protect long enough, Winston could find receivers getting past cornerback Trae Waynes while Sendejo is out of position.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Vikings CB Xavier Rhodes. Rhodes shut down Antonio Brown last week in Pittsburgh. With Rhodes shadowing him, Brown only caught three balls for 28 yards. Against the few zone looks the Vikings showed, Brown had two more catches for 34 yards, including a 26-yarder on a busted coverage. The Bucs throw a lot of different skill sets at receiver with the small, shifty, speedy DeSean Jackson and the bigger, stronger Mike Evans.
FAST FACTS: Buccaneers QB Jameis Winston opened his season last week by throwing for 204 yards and a TD, good for a 91.5 QB rating, and has compiled a QB rating of at least 85 in five of the last six road games. … Buccaneers LB LaVonte David bagged nine tackles and a fumble recovery last week. When Tampa Bay last played Minnesota in 2014, David finished with 14 stops and three TFLs. … Vikings WR Stefon Diggs has caught three TD passes in the last three games, and has at least five catches in six of his last seven games. … Vikings DE Everson Griffen registered two sacks last week, the ninth multi-sack game of his career.
PREDICTION: The Vikings are a lot more dangerous with Sam Bradford under center than Case Keenum. If Bradford is unable to play, that puts a lot of pressure on a defense that tends to play better at home. But the Buccaneers can give a defense a lot to think about, and their superiority on offense makes the difference.
OUR PICK: Buccaneers, 23-20.
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