The Sports Guy’s Thursday NFL Pick

Skunk of the WeekBucs (+5) over VIKINGS

Seven reasons why I worried about laying five points with Minnesota at home against the Bucs tonight …

1. Christian Ponder’s last four games since a seemed-to-be-a-breakout effort against the 49ers: five touchdowns, seven turnovers, under 7.5 yards per pass attempt, 19,521 times a Vikings fan muttered the words “Wait a second, are we really OK long-term with Christian Ponder?”

2. Adrian Peterson ripped his ACL and MCL less than 10 months ago, then miraculously returned for Week 1 of the 2012 season because there’s a decent chance he’s an extraterrestrial. He’s rushed for 652 yards already and looked incredible against Arizona last Sunday (23 carries, 153 yards). Which, by the way, was less than 100 hours ago. Are you really pushing your franchise running back’s surgically repaired knee for 20-plus carries twice in a five-day span? Yeah, if it’s a must-win game … but how is this a must-win game?

3. Tampa’s four losses were by seven to the Giants, six to Dallas, two to Washington, and seven to the Saints. In every game, they had the ball late with a chance to win or force overtime and something went wrong. If you want to blame Greg Schiano for upsetting the Football Karma Gods during the end of that Giants game in Week 2, I won’t stop you — it’s been the kind of season in which they’ve completed game-tying TD passes on the final play of regulation, followed by everyone briefly celebrating before realizing the receiver was ineligible because someone shoved him out of bounds (yes, that happened on Sunday). They’ve even caused my adopted son Bill Barnwell to break out the Pythagorean formula to measure how bad Tampa’s luck has been so far. That’s never a good thing.

4. Minnesota loves rushing the passer (22 sacks), but Tampa has been shockingly competent at protecting Josh Freeman (10 sacks). Minnesota loves rushing the ball (4.5 yards per carry), but Tampa has been shockingly competent at stopping the run (3.1 yards per carry). Maybe this isn’t the greatest matchup for Minnesota other than their special teams advantage — something that can come and go depending on the game?

5. Some actual Christian Ponder headlines from the past few days: Christian Ponder looking for bounce back after lousy fantasy effortWhat Must Christian Ponder Do to Become an Elite NFL QB?Raised Expectations May Be Christian Ponder’s Worst Enemy. Or His Best Friend.Ponder’s recent performance no cause for panicChristian Ponder not holding back VikingsChristian Ponder tries to move past career-worst gameEveryone is pondering Christian Ponder’s progressChristian Ponder confirms he’s dating ESPN’s Samantha Steele. I didn’t even make any of those up.

6. There’s a decent chance that Joe Webb will trend on Twitter tonight without playing a down or texting a dong pic to someone. Just throwing that out there.

7. Remember this: Tampa’s season is done if the Bucs blow this game. They’re not bouncing back from 2-5 with two Atlanta games and road games in Denver and New Orleans left. That makes it a classic Kitchen Sink game for Tampa — in other words, if you have any tricks you need to break out, you’re doing it tonight.

Contrast that with Minnesota’s Milton Berle potential here — in other words, they need to get out of tonight’s game protecting Peterson’s health and Ponder’s psyche (and having pulled out just enough to win). They have a tough road game in Seattle in 10 days, then Detroit at home, then a bye week. After that, it gets grisly: at Chicago, at Green Bay, home for Chicago, at St. Louis, at Houston, home for Green Bay. So tonight, maybe they take it easy with Peterson (15 carries?), have Ponder throw only safe stuff, avoid any and all turnovers, then rely on their defense and special teams (second-best in the NFL) to grind out one of those ugly, low-scoring, unwatchable games that you’ll hate yourself for watching about 35 times over the course of three hours. In other words, it will be just like every other Thursday-night game. Sorry, Tampa Bay, you’ve been sprayed.

The Pick: Minnesota 16, Tampa Bay 14 (Vikings Bucs cover)

Wednesday/Thursday Nights: 2-4-1
Last Week: 6-6-1
Season: 54-47-3

Filed Under: Minnesota Vikings, NFL, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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Bill Simmons is the editor-in-chief of Grantland and the author of the New York Times no. 1 best seller The Book of Basketball. For every Simmons column and podcast, click here.

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