After a late bye week, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-5) will be back in action on Sunday at 1 PM, live from Raymond James Stadium (Tampa, Fla.) hosting the Minnesota Vikings (6-6).
A battle between two of the NFC's bottom seeds in the playoff picture, a win for the Bucs would increase the team's playoff chances from 85% to 97%, according to FiveThirtyEight. Inversely, a loss would drop the Bucs' chances to 63%, while providing the Vikings with the head-to-head advantage and the No. 6 seed, while falling to No. 7.
Currently, the Buccaneers are favored by 6.5 points, according to OddsShark. The over/under is set at 53 points. Vegas doesn't think Tampa Bay's playoff odds will take a hit on Sunday, but what about the Sports Illustrated-AllBucs' staff?
Zach Goodall: Buccaneers 31, Vikings 27
The Buccaneers' self-identified biggest issue on offense as of late has been third down conversions and setting up better third down situations. The Vikings, meanwhile, are one of the best third down defenses in the league. Not an all-too enticing matchup, right?
Even so, I'm thinking the Bucs will finally tweak the opening script to utilize running back Ronald Jones II and establish an early run game to extend drives. With a week off to hone in on recent struggles, Tom Brady and the Bucs' high-potential offense should be expected to start playing comfortably once again as we enter the month of December, especially with the playoffs are on the line.
Add in that All-Pro Minnesota linebacker Eric Kendricks won't play with a calf injury, and I'm even more confident.
Minnesota covers the spread, but Tampa ends its three-game home losing streak.
Jason Beede: Buccaneers 38, Vikings 31
This game is, obviously, a must-win for both sides as the playoff race begins to tighten up. With that in mind, I expect both quarterbacks, Tom Brady and Kirk Cousins, to throw multiple touchdowns and bring their A-game on Sunday.
This matchup will come down to who can run the ball better and who will have more success on third downs. We all know the Vikings and the Bucs feature two of the best running backs in the NFL in Dalvin Cook and Ronald Jones respectively. Bucs' defensive coordinator Todd Bowles stressed the importance of returning to the basics on defense and I'm thinking we will see that this week.
While the Vikings have won two straight and the Bucs have lost two in a row of their own, this is a big chance for Tampa Bay to make a statement and show that they can be a contending team in the postseason. I think the Bucs will start out fast and remain strong on defense throughout the full 60 minutes, something we haven't seen recently.
Brady will avoid a fourth-quarter interception, find a way to win late, and Tampa Bay will cover, 38-31 over Minnesota.
Donavon Keiser: Bucs 27, Vikings 17
Coming off of a much-needed bye week, the Buccaneers should be refreshed and recharged heading into their matchup with the Vikings.
Most of Minnesota’s offense will be based around Dalvin Cook, and the Bucs run defense has been phenomenal all year round. The Bucs should be able to limit Cook but will also be tasked with guarding rookie wide receiver Justin Jefferson and his running mate Adam Thielen, with a secondary that may be without Jamel Dean again. The stellar defense that the Bucs have played this season should once again be put on display and will carry the Buccaneers to a victory.
On offense, Bryon Leftwich and Bruce Arians have had two weeks to put in a gameplan for this game, so play calling should be better than it has been throughout the season. Brady and the entire offense will finally have some rest after 13 straight games and should be ready to pop off against a mediocre Vikings defense that is missing all pro and anchor Eric Kendricks.
In a must-win game, the Buccaneers should handle the Vikings to boost their playoff chances even further, winning by 10 points and covering the 6.5 point spread.
Riley Auman: Buccaneers 35, Vikings 28
After two weeks off to reload for the final month of the season, the Buccaneers should be ready for what will be a must-win game against the Vikings. The Buccaneers pass defense was the worst in football during the four games before the bye week, and while Jamel Dean is a likely scratch with a groin injury for Sunday, the key for Tampa will be to limit the output of prolific rookie receiver Justin Jefferson and veteran Adam Thielen.
The Vikings are giving up sacks on 6.3% of their pass plays this year, ranked 21st in the league, and Kirk Cousins was sacked a season-high four times against the Jaguars last week. Especially with a weakened secondary, the game will be decided by how quickly Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaq Barrett will be able to throw off Cousins's rhythm.
The Vikings use 12-personnel as much as just about any team in the league, and with Irv Smith questionable with a back injury and Kyle Rudolph doubtful with a foot injury, the team will have to make some adjustments to their gameplan for Sunday. Tampa Bay will cover but emerge with the win in a tightly-contested bgame and improve their playoff chances greatly following two close losses before the bye week.