Thursday Night Football
Tampa Bay @ Minnesota
Adrian Peterson can still score touchdowns. He's still capable. Or at least it appeared that way as Peterson made three sharp cuts to elude defenders on his 13-yard scoring rumble in last week's win over Arizona. Peterson now has 462 yards on his last 83 carries (5.57 YPC), and is just beginning to hit his stride. Tampa Bay's top-three run defense is legitimately stout this year, but keep in mind A.P. touched up the 10th-ranked 49ers for 107 total yards in Week 3, Detroit's 16th-ranked group for 122 in Week 5, and the No. 7-rated Redskins for 129 yards two weeks back. He's matchup-proof when he's rolling. And Peterson is officially rolling. ... Jerome Simpson returned from his leg and back ailments in Week 7 to record one reception for eight yards. He did draw a 29-yard pass interference flag to set up the Peterson score. Simpson has big-play potential, but he's a sideline-running role player in the Vikings' offense and never a strong fantasy option. ... Here is Christian Ponder's 2012 target distribution: Percy Harvin 67, Kyle Rudolph 45, Michael Jenkins 36, Peterson 27, Devin Aromashodu 14, Toby Gerhart 12, Simpson 9. ... Jenkins' target count is deceiving. He got ten of them when Simpson missed Week 6. Jenkins is averaging 3.3 targets a game when Simpson plays this year, and Simpson will be in the starting lineup on Thursday night.
Rudolph's Week 7 goose egg was as disappointing as it is explainable. Ponder completed eight passes and threw for 58 yards all game. Minnesota beat Arizona with Peterson's running and a 31-yard pick-six by rookie SS Harrison Smith. Rudolph entered the game ranked No. 5 in fantasy tight end scoring, and he has been an every-week starter all season. So if you understand the circumstances that contributed to Rudolph's zero, you won't hold it against him in Week 8 fantasy decisions. Rudolph needs to be locked into lineups. ... Missing suspended top cornerback Aqib Talib, the Bucs' obvious weakness is in pass defense, where it ranks 31st in the league. While the Vikings' usage of Ponder as a game manager restricts his fantasy value to two-quarterback leagues and a mid-range QB2 in standard settings, Harvin should stay white hot in this matchup. The Bucs employ Brandon McDonald at slot corner in nickel packages, and that's a mismatch favoring Minnesota's dynamic slot weapon. Harvin enters Week 8 ranked fifth overall in fantasy receiver scoring, behind A.J. Green, Victor Cruz, Vincent Jackson, and Jordy Nelson. Only Wes Welker has caught more passes, and only Welker and Reggie Wayne have more total yards.
Skeptics might chalk it up to facing bad defenses, but the eye in the sky says Doug Martin has been running with way more confidence since the Bucs' Week 5 bye. It's looks as if the light flipped on. Getting downhill in a hurry in last week's 122-yard effort against the Saints, Martin answered questions about his burst on a darting, first-quarter 36-yard touchdown run up the gut and another inside carry for a gain of 12 early in the third. He shot through holes with purpose. Leaving LeGarrette Blount in the dust, every-down back Martin has racked up 189 yards on his last 34 carries (5.56 YPC). Also benefiting from the Bucs' suddenly dangerous vertical passing attack, Martin has earned an RB2/flex start in Thursday night's difficult matchup with Minnesota's No. 12 run defense. ... After Vincent Jackson burned Saints RCB Patrick Robinson for a 95-yard reception last week, Blount got three straight carries from the one-yard line and was stuffed on all three. For a guy regarded as a power back, Blount has to be the softest short-yardage runner in recent memory. He runs like his intention is to take nap on the pileup. Blount didn't get another carry after the goal-line embarrassment, while Martin received a rushing attempt at the Saints' two early in the fourth quarter. Weeded out of the offense, Blount is bench fodder in fantasy leagues.
I expect to learn a lot more about Josh Freeman on Thursday night than the past two games have shown. Freeman didn't play remotely as well as his Week 6 statistics indicated, and his Week 7 career-best box-score game came from a squeaky clean pocket supplemented by numerous New Orleans coverage busts. All that said, Freeman has a power arm and is equipped with two big receivers who can get vertical. Particularly if Martin sustains a rushing attack, there is potential for Freeman to become a second-half fantasy asset. I'd still encourage you to avoid chasing his Weeks 6-7 fantasy points into this game because Minnesota's Cover 2 is capable of taking away what Freeman does best. It's by no mistake that Leslie Frazier's defense allows the NFL's seventh fewest yards per attempt, and only three teams have surrendered fewer pass plays of 20-plus yards. The Vikings shut down vertical passing attacks, forcing quarterbacks to dink and dunk. Dinking and dunking is Josh Freeman's kryptonite. ... Here is Freeman's target distribution on the season: Vincent Jackson 60, Mike Williams 36, Martin 22, Dallas Clark 21, Tiquan Underwood 13. ... I fear Freeman's weaknesses will be exposed on Thursday night, but would still start Jackson with confidence. The Bucs are force feeding him the football to all sections of the field, and he's averaging ten targets per game. ... Williams is playing much more efficient ball than last year, but I'd still think of him as a dicey WR3. He is not heavily targeted in Mike Sullivan's offense. ... Clark has topped 50 yards in 1-of-6 games this season, with two goose eggs. He's waiver-wire material.
Score Prediction: Vikings 20, Bucs 17
Start or Sit: Thursday Night
Kay Adams (@heykayadams) and Matt Stroup (@mattstroup) discuss what to expect from Christian Ponder, Kyle Rudolph, Josh Freeman and others as the Bucs face the Vikings on Thursday night.
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