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Week 8: Bucs-Vikings preview

The SportsXchange

Tampa Bay at Minnesota

Thursday, 8:20 p.m. ET, at Mall of America Field, Minneapolis, Minn. - TV: NFL Network

*TV announcers: Brad Nessler, Mike Mayock, Alex Flanagan

*Keys to the game: The assignment of traveling for a Thursday game after playing Sunday has been a massive disadvantage in 2012. QB Christian Ponder's efficiency has waned of late with six interceptions in the past three games. The Buccaneers will key on stopping the Vikings from running the ball between the tackles. Ponder isn't asked to win the game by himself and rarely throws downfield. Teams are adjusting their schemes to clamp down on the high-percentage underneath routes. RB Adrian Peterson and WR Percy Harvin are a contrast in styles, dangerous in their own way, and scored touchdowns in the red zone -- which has been a weakness for Minnesota -- last week. Head coach Greg Schiano is learning the Bucs need to throw the ball to create running lanes for a system deeply rooted in power running principles. With good size all across the line, Schiano believes Tampa's physicality at the second level can make its running game dominant. QB Josh Freeman can slip away from most arm tackles, but DE Jared Allen closes quickly and isn't easily thrown off the scent with play-action fakes.

*Matchup to watch - Vikings CB Antoine Winfield vs. Bucs WR Vincent Jackson: Winfield is having one of his better seasons in a contract year after injuries held him down in 2011. He's quick to read the action in front of him, but gives up a wealth of size in jump-ball situations to the 6-5, 230-pound Jackson, who has thrived as Freeman's go-to receiver.

*Player spotlight - Bucs OG Carl Nicks: A 6-5, 349-pound road-grader signed to a $37.5 million contract in free agency, Nicks is picking up his play despite a serious toe injury that limits his practice time. How he responds on short rest this week is critical to Tampa's ball-control game plan.

*Fast facts: The Vikings have 13 touchdowns in 24 red-zone possessions this season. ... Bucs DB Ronde Barber set the team record with his 205th consecutive start last week, breaking Derrick Brooks' mark.

WHO WILL WIN AND WHY

The home team is 5-1 in Thursday games this season, and the turnaround won't be easy for the Bucs. Vikings RB Adrian Peterson is willing to carry the offense, but how fresh will he be coming off of a heavy workload Sunday (23 carries for 153 yards)?

Our pick: Vikings 24-20
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