Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
The struggling Tampa Bay Buccaneers travel to Minnesota to play the "new and improved" Vikings in Thursday night's Week 8 opener.
Tampa Bay is 2-4 and Minnesota 5-2, but it's not the Buccaneers offense that is struggling, and that provides an opportunity for fantasy owners.
Quarterback Josh Freeman is coming off his best game in more than two seasons. Taking advantage of the New Orleans Saints' league-worst defense, Freeman threw for 420 yards and three touchdowns without an interception. That was after a 328-yard, three-touchdown day against Kansas City in Week 5.
However, he won't have it nearly as easy Thursday night in facing the Vikings. Minnesota's pass rush (22 sacks) is much more proficient than New Orleans or Kansas City, and the Vikings are yielding just 219 yards per game through the air. Still, after two solid weeks in a row, we like Freeman to once again put up fantasy-worthy numbers.
The acquisition of wide receiver Vincent Jackson through free agency has been a successful addition for the Bucs. He's hauled in 27 balls for 586 yards and five touchdowns through six games. The veteran's presence has helped Mike Williams rebound from a disappointing 2011 season.
Jackson is a must-start every week, while Williams is a low-end WR3 with three double-digit games this season and a solid fill-in during the bye weeks.
Rookie running back Doug Martin has yet to have a huge breakout game, but he's been pretty consistent with at least 10 fantasy points in four of six games. His fantasy owners could see improvement going forward as Martin may earn additional goal-line carries after backup LeGarrette Blount failed three times last Sunday from inside the 5-yard line.
We even had a Dallas Clark sighting last weekend (5-51-1), though we're not yet ready to recommend putting him in fantasy lineups.
When Minnesota gets the ball, our attention turns to a physical freak of nature - Adrian Peterson. His ability to return from major knee surgery last December and be ready for opening day was nothing short of a miracle. And he wasn't just "there" in Week 1, he was ready to run rushing for 84 yards and two touchdowns. After last Sunday's 153-yard output, "AP" has 652 yards rushing, good for third-best behind only Arian Foster and surprising rookie Alfred Morris. Obviously, Peterson is a must-start.
Despite leading his team to a 5-2 record, Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder has not had many fantasy-worthy games. And he's coming off his worst statistical game of the season passing for just 58 yards against Arizona.
There is hope, however, if the bye week is forcing you to start him. The Bucs' pass defense in ranked next-to-last, yielding 323 ypg. Plus, the Vikings have two reliable receivers - Percy Harvin and tight end Kyle Rudolph.
Harvin does everything in the Vikings offense - running the ball, receiving and returning kicks. And he does them all well. Harvin is averaging 4.3 yards per rush, has 53 receptions for 577 yards and is averaging 35.1 yards on kickoff returns, including a 105-yard TD against Detroit.
Rudolph has surprised fantasy owners with touchdowns in four of the last five games to become a low-end fantasy tight end.
Finally, we're down to the kickers. I almost always recommend kickers when they are inside a dome and this week is no exception. Bucs place-kicker Connor Barth is 10-for-12 this season and the Vikings' Blair Walsh is 16-for-17, including 3-for-3 from 50 yards or more. Both are viable fantasy starters.