Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Minnesota Vikings Picks & Preview

Tampa Bay Buccaneers travel to Mall of America Field in Minneapolis to face Minnesota Vikings (8.25pm ET, Thursday).

The visitors are coming off a great performance spurred on by the career days for quarterback Josh Freeman and wide receiver Vincent Jackson. Despite their defense allowing Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints to massacre them for 35 points, Freeman and Jackson combined for 216 yards including a 95 yard touchdown pass that exposed the weak New Orleans secondary. Overall, the Saints did win the game but for the fifth time this season, they lost by seven points or less.

The hometown Vikings on the other hand are coming off a game that they want to quickly erase from their minds. Quarterback Christian Ponder, who has proven to be a reliable starter, definitely had the worst game of his career. He threw for a total of just 58 yards and was unable to hit his best target, tight end Kyle Rudolph, even once in four passes thrown his way. Although Ponder managed just eight completions with one touchdown and two interceptions, the Vikings did manage to win the game and as a result, currently sit at 5-2 on the season.

Who is the Better Quarterback: Josh Freeman or Christian Ponder?

When Freeman and Ponder meet up on Thursday night, it certainly won’t be a match-up of the highest caliber quarterbacks. It won’t be as if Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees or Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are dueling it out. That being said, this doesn’t mean the match-up is of any less significance. While the two quarterbacks may not be pro bowl regulars, they both have a unique skill set and both have shown the ability to be a reliable signal caller in the NFL.

Let’s start with Josh Freeman. In his rookie season with the Bucs, Freeman played in 10 games. He threw for 1,855 yards, ten touchdowns and completed 54.5 percent of his passes. He ran for 161 yards, averaging 5.4 yards per rush. The caveat however was that Freeman threw 18 interceptions and had another six fumbles. He also fumbled the ball four times, losing just one, when he tucked and ran.

In his first full season in the league though, Freeman really broke out. He started all 16 games, had a completion percentage of 61.4, threw for 3,451 yards and had 25 touchdowns to just six interceptions. He also ran the ball for an additional 364 yards averaging 5.4 yards a rush. In doing so, Freeman led the Bucs to a 10-6 record, their best mark since Jeff Garcia led the team to the playoffs in 2007.

After a huge regression in his third year in the league that saw Freeman throw 22 interceptions and just 16 touchdowns and that also saw the Bucs win just four games, the 24-year-old quarterback has rebounded with a strong start to his 2012 season. Part of this no doubt, can be contributed to the Bucs new receiver, two-time pro bowler, Vincent Jackson.

In six games played this season, Freeman has a completion percentage of 55.6, has thrown for 1,538 yards and already has 11 touchdowns to just five interceptions. 27 of Freeman’s 104 completions, slightly over 25 percent, have gone to Jackson. He has also caught five of the 11 TD passes and nearly one-third of the total yards Freeman has on the season. Mike Williams, the three year player out of Syracuse is the next closest receiver to Jackson with 19 receptions, 368 yards and three touchdowns.

NFL Odds at BetOnlineConsistently, Freeman has looked to these two throughout the season and so far, opposing defenses have been unable to stop the passing attack. This could look to change against the Vikings however as they give up just 219.4 passing yards a game which is 11th best in the league. The good news for Freeman though is that Minnesota has just four interceptions on the season, which is 23rd worst in the league.

Opposing Freeman is the two-year vet avoiding the sophomore slump in Florida State alum Christian Ponder. Ponder didn’t really have a great rookie season as he was shrouded in comparisons to the Carolina Panthers’ Cam Newton, who put all rookies to shame in 2011. Ponder played in just 11 games, earning the starting job when Donovan McNabb struggles. Ponder posted a completion percentage just shy of 55 percent, threw for 1,853 yards and had 13 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. With the exception of wide receiver Percy Harvin, Ponder was short on weapons and with running back Adrian Peterson on the IR for most of the season, the Vikings limped to a 3-13 record.

So far in 2012, with the exception of the game against the Saints, Ponder has played up to the level many expected of him when he was drafted. The 24-year-old second year QB has completed 67 percent of his passes in seven games played. He has thrown for 1,492 yards and has nine touchdowns to six interceptions. Ponder has leaned mainly on Harvin who has 53 receptions for 577 yards and two touchdowns and has found a security blanket in tight end, Kyle Rudolph who is also in his sophomore season and who has caught 25 passes for 225 yards and five touchdowns.

The Other Players That Matter

Adrian Peterson (MIN): The Vikings have a secret weapon in Peterson who has medically defied odds this season and who is dazzling the league as one of the candidates for comeback player of the year. With braces on his ankles, Peterson has already run for 652 yards this season and has scored three touchdowns helping to lead the Vikings to the seventh best rushing offense in the league. However, the Bucs rushing defense is one of the best in the league allowing just 76 yards a game. It will provide for an intriguing match-up.

Tampa Bay Defense: They were torched by Brees and the Saints passing attack and could get burned again by Ponder. Although the Vikings have just the 27th ranked passing offense in the league, they are going against a Bucs team that is 31st in passing yards allowed.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Minnesota Vikings Picks

The Vikings are staked to a 6.5 point lead at home and with the way the Tampa passing defense has played, this should be enough.

  • Take the Vikings at home -6.5 points @ odds of -105 to get the win with BetOnline Sportsbook and to cover the spread.

NFL betting lines at BetOnline