• Alex Fleming

Tampa returns from bye, looking to clinch playoff spot

7-5 is not good enough for the Tampa Bay faithful this year. A fan base starved from success, is now voicing their unease with a winning record at the week 14 mark of the season. Expectations are high, and losing three of the last four games doesn't help the agenda for Tampa Bay. Fans and locals still have dreams of being the first team in history to play and host a Super Bowl. With each loss cutting this dementia like a Freddy Krueger finger, a pirate's life has been forced to settle for mediocrity.

The Tom Brady experiment is not going as planned. With seven interceptions in his last four games, and a 1-3 record to match, father time is catching up to the six time Super Bowl winner. If you choose to look at the good, Tom Brady has 3,300 passing yards, which is second in the NFL. He has also thrown for 28 touchdowns so far, which is 4th in the NFL. However if you choose to look at the bad, Tom Brady has thrown 11 interceptions this season period he is tied for 29th. Also his current QBR is 69.7; not the same glimmer of hope that fans thought they would have from the former New England quarterback. To be fair, Brady has been sacked eight times out of the last five games. His qbr has fluctuated as high as 90.3 in the win versus the Carolina Panthers, and as low as 5.3 in the humiliating loss against the New Orleans Saints. His passer rating currently sits at 95.1, so there is some optimism to be had. A bye week, is no longer in the equation.

However, it's always darkest before the light. With a favorable schedule to finish the regular season, Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers could finish 11 and 5, and as high as a fifth seed in the NFC playoff race. With only an NFC West competitor to compete for the fifth spot, Tampa holds the easiest road to a date with an NFC East playoff opponent. The road to redemption starts against the Minnesota Vikings.

A team that was buried in dirt in the middle of the season, is now in the playoff hunt. Sitting at 6-6, the Vikings are a dangerous team with a two-game winning streak. Starting the season 1-5, Minnesota has won five of their last six games. If one were to take a closer look at their losses this season, four of their six losses were one possession games. If one would to take the accumulation of points for and against, they've only been out scored by 10 points. Minnesota also plays better on the road; posting a 3-2 record. The Vikings are known for their rushing attack. Averaging nearly 5 yards a rushing play, Tampa has to enforce their will on Dalvin Cook, and the Minnesota Vikings front line. Stopping this rushing attack will be easier said than done. Dalvin Cook has 1,250 yards rushing, and more than 300 yards receiving. The fourth year man out of Florida State is a home run hitter.

The wide receiver core could be an issue for the Tampa Bay secondary as well. Addition by subtraction, the young rookie wide receiver could pose a legitimate threat to whichever corner is stuck on him. Just in Jefferson has already replaced Stefon Diggs, and is currently outshining Adam thielen for the wide receiver #1 role. Justin Jefferson has 61 receptions for 1,039 yd and seven touchdowns so far this season. He is averaging 17 yards a catch. He has 19 receptions of 20+ yards. He has four receptions of 40+ yards; he must be accounted for. Returning back from covid-19 illness, Adam Thielen is still crafty and dangerous. With 57 receptions under his belt and 721 yards receiving, Thielen has 12 touchdowns so far. The 7th year undraftee, is having his best season touchdown wise, and can still reach 1000 yards receiving. While missing only one game this season, he has scored at least one touchdown in eight games. He has scored twice in four; so he isn't end zone shy.

Kirk Cousins has thrown 19 of his 26 touchdown passes to his star wide receivers like Brady, he has thrown over 3000 yards, and is completing 67% of his passes. Cousins got off to a slow start, but has heated up as of late. Minnesota is in the hunt for a wild card spot in the NFC, and is visiting Raymond James stadium in hopes to get over .500.

The defense is the weak link of the Minnesota vikings. They are giving up 121 yards a game on the ground, and 261 yards passing. The defense is allowing almost three touchdowns a game; at nearly a three to one ratio through the passing game. With arguably the best wide receiving core in the league, Tampa can exploit the inexperienced corners of the Minnesota Vikings.

With a favorable schedule upcoming, a running game is a necessity. Also, it would be a great time to get Antonio Brown started as a feature in this offense. The future Hall of Fame wide receiver should be a mismatch for all of the remaining corners the Buccaneers will face. he could have a huge game against the Minnesota Vikings, wreak havoc against the Falcons twice, and embarrass the Detroit Lions secondary. With four games remaining, the Buccaneers will be home against the Vikings and home to close out the regular season. With two road games in between, the Tampa faithful will expect nothing less but W's and cannon fire.

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