The Vikings look to get back on the winning track in the same place they opened the season victoriously – U.S. Bank Stadium. The opponent that night was the New Orleans Saints, and this Sunday the Vikings will welcome another NFC South opponent to the building – the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Here are five storylines to watch this week as the Vikings and Buccaneers prepare for Sunday's battle.
1. Quarterback quandary
After a career night in Week 1 against the New Orleans Saints, quarterback Sam Bradford was unable to play in Week 2 against the Pittsburgh Steelers because of a knee injury. Head coach Mike Zimmer said on Monday that Bradford was feeling better but that his status would remain day-to-day. That leaves the issue as to who will start at quarterback for the Vikings on Sunday up in the air, and it will likely remain that way all the way up to 90 minutes before kickoff, which is when teams are required to announce their inactives. Don't expect an answer to this question any sooner than that. Regardless of who starts at quarterback for the Vikings, it remains important that the play around the quarterback is solid.
2. Former Florida State stars clash in Minnesota
Dalvin Cook, Xavier Rhodes and Jameis Winston are three of the five former Florida State stars who will be on the field at U.S. Bank Stadium this Sunday. Rhodes and Winston were on the team together in 2012 and Cook and Winston were teammates in 2014 and 2015. Rhodes will battle with Winston's favorite target – Mike Evans (more on that later). Cook will try to find the end zone for the first time in his career with a few former college teammates serving as witness. Cook came *thisclose *last week, leaping into the end zone to finish off a 26-yard run only to be ruled down by contact at the 1-yard line. Cook has 191 rushing yards on 34 attempts (5.6 yards/attempt) through his first two weeks and his beginning to look like yet another FSU product who can change games in the NFL, just as Rhodes and Winston have proven capable of in their careers.
3. Another stout defensive front set to challenge Vikings offense
The Vikings offensive line will see one of the best defensive tackles in this business this Sunday, as Gerald McCoy anchors a stout Buccaneers defensive front that also features powerful defensive end William Gholston and explosive pass rusher Noah Spence. This group held the Chicago Bears to just 20 yards rushing on 16 attempts (1.2 yards/attempt) and also paced a defensive effort that netted nine quarterback hits and six tackles for loss.
4. Xavier Rhodes vs. Mike Evans
First it was Michael Thomas. Then it was Antonio Brown. It doesn't get any easier this week with Mike Evans coming to town. Cornerback Xavier Rhodes has been tasked with a tough matchup in each of the first two games and it's likely he'll draw the Evans assignment on Sunday. As good as Rhodes has been against opponents top receivers, don't expect Winston to shy away from Evans. In 2016, Evans ranked first in the NFL in targets (175), first in receptions for 1st downs (81), tied for second in touchdown catches (12), fourth in yards (1,321) and sixth in receptions (96).
5. Vikings look to make hay at home in next month
It's time to get comfortable at U.S. Bank Stadium. The Vikings play four of the next five games at home against Tampa Bay, Detroit, Green Bay and Baltimore, with the only road game in that span coming at Soldier Field on Monday Night Football. After the Ravens matchup, Vikings will have played 63% of their home games for the season and will have only three home dates in the final 10 weeks (nine games) of the season. That means it's time for the Vikings to bulk up on wins in the next five weeks so they can build confidence and cushion for a grueling final half of the season.