Buccaneers try to solidify hold on playoff spot vs. Vikings
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers can bolster their NFC playoff chances with a win on Sunday over the visiting Minnesota Vikings, while Minnesota can help its own cause with a victory.
The Bucs (7-5) hold the sixth spot in the NFC while the Vikings (6-6) are clinging to the seventh and last spot, ahead of the Arizona Cardinals via tiebreaker. Tampa Bay limped into its bye last week with three losses in its last four games — two by three points each to the Los Angeles Rams and Kansas City Chiefs — but got the advantage of a late-season week off to rest and heal going into a home game.
That’s important time off for veteran quarterback Tom Brady, who has the Bucs in control of their own postseason destiny. But slow starts to games have hurt Tampa Bay of late. The Bucs been outscored 52-7 in the first quarter of the past four games.
“It was a good rest for (Brady), but also going back and looking at a lot of different things,” head coach Bruce Arians told the Tampa Bay Times. “Looking at the way this team plays and the way we’ve played teams like (the Vikings). It’s still a work in progress … but again, I feel very comfortable that everybody’s on the same page right now.”
Arians said Tuesday that the catalyst on offense is running back Ronald Jones, who he feels should get 20 touches in games. But the Bucs have had to battle back from big deficits, which makes it tough to run the ball with Jones as much as they’d like.
Jones is fourth in the NFL in rushing yards with 820 on 162 carries. He could figure larger in the offense if the Bucs are without wide receivers Chris Godwin (didn’t practice Wednesday, finger) and Mike Evans (limited, hamstring).
The Vikings’ Dalvin Cook is the No. 2 rusher in the league (251 carries, 1,250 yards) and the leader in rushing touchdowns with 13. He had 38 touches (32 rushes, 6 catches) in Minnesota’s 27-24 overtime win over the Jacksonville Jaguars last week.
The Vikings have won five of their last six games to get into playoff position, with Cook averaging more than 30 touches per game in that span.
“I feel good. I’ve got a good system that I’ve got set up for me to get ready to go on Sundays. That starts right after the game,” Cook told the Minneapolis Star Tribune on Wednesday. “The clock starts to get my body ready to go for the next Sunday. I’m here to do whatever my team asks upon me. If it’s 38, 40, 44 (touches), whatever it is, I’m willing to do it. I’m just going to keep fighting, keep chipping away with my teammates and having fun. That’s what this thing is about.”
Cook will face the Buccaneers’ run defense, which is allowing just 3.3 yards per carry and 74.2 rush yards per game. Both are No. 1 in the league.
The Vikings have a tough road to get into the playoffs, with their four remaining opponents combining for a 27-21 record, including the New Orleans Saints (10-2), who visit the Vikings on Christmas Day.
–Field Level Media