The Minnesota Vikings might be the most surprising team of the 2012 NFL season.
After finishing 3-13 in 2011, many expected much of the same from the Vikings. Before the season started, Las Vegas oddsmakers listed Minnesota as heavy favorites to finish in last place in the NFC North, once again.
Entering Week 8, the Vikings have surpassed expectations. At 5-2, they’re just a half game out of first place. Minnesota is ahead of both Green Bay and Detroit, who both made the playoffs last year.
The Vikings look to stay in the postseason hunt, as they host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Thursday Night Football. The game is set to air nationally on the NFL Network at 8:20 p.m. ET. You can watch a free live stream online at nfl.com, as the site provides live look-ins throughout the contest.
The betting line has the Buccaneers as five-point underdogs. A win for Tampa Bay would signify a first for both teams. Minnesota has yet to lose at home, while Tampa Bay hasn’t won a game on the road all year.
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Despite the Buccaneer’s 2-4 record, they’ve had a chance to win every game. They haven’t lost by more than seven points.
It should be an interesting matchup, as each team is designed to neutralize their opponent’s strength. Tampa Bay has the third-best run defense in the league, allowing just 76 yards on the ground per game. Minnesota sports the seventh-best rushing attack, at 132.2 yards per contest.
Even after tearing his ACL and MCL last season, Adrian Peterson has been among the top running backs in 2012. He has 652 rushing yards on 4.8 yards per carry.
Thanks to Peterson and solid defense, Christian Ponder hasn’t been asked to carry the team. His 213 yards per game have been good enough to lead the Vikings to five wins. He’s been very efficient, completing 67 percent of his throws, good for sixth in the NFL.
Josh Freeman will look to continue his strong play in the past couple of games. He’s thrown for an average of 349 yards in the last three contests.
Prediction: The Buccaneers have been able to keep every game close, so this shouldn’t be a blowout. Freeman has played well lately, and the Vikings have yet to be tested by a very good quarterback. Still, Tampa Bay has yet to prove it can win on the road, and will be susceptible to some long passes by Ponder. They might cover the point spread, but it will be hard for them to pick up the victory.
Predicted Score: Minnesota 24, Tampa Bay 20