MINNEAPOLIS — One hundred and ninety-eight players were selected in the 2000 NFL Draft before perhaps the greatest quarterback to ever play the game was selected in the sixth round by New England. Tom Brady has spent a career making those teams pay, including the Minnesota Vikings, who never have had much success against him.
Here are five things to look for in Sunday's Minnesota-Tampa Bay matchup:
While it was with another team, one simple fact stands in Minnesota's way on Sunday: the Vikings have never beaten Tom Brady. Minnesota and New England were not frequent opponents during the quarterback's 20 years with the Patriots, but he is 5-0 when playing the Vikings. But whether its age or a new system, Brady has shown some vulnerabilities in 2020. Minnesota must take full advantage of the GOAT's infrequent lapses to stand a chance.
Another step forward
After a rather easy schedule the past few weeks, Minnesota's rapidly improving secondary faces its toughest test since Aaron Rodgers and the Packers in Week 8. Winning five out of the last six games have the Vikings in control of the final playoff spot, but Brady is the kind of quarterback who can pick apart young cornerbacks. It doesn't help that Jeff Gladney (calf) has been hampered by injury. Can Gladney, Cam Dantzler and Chris Jones hold up on the outside, and can veteran safties Harrison Smith and Anthony Harris provide enough help?
A huge blow to the Vikings defense would be a second consecutive game without middle linebacker Eric Kendricks. Todd Davis filled in for Kendricks last week and played every snap, and his performance was adequate. But Kendricks has proven to be the defensive MVP, and his pass coverage skills would be sorely missed against Tampa Bay's elite tight end trio of Rob Gronkowski, Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard.
Strength vs. strength
Vikings running back Dalvin Cook had a down week against Jacksonville — at least by his standards. It will not get any easier against the Buccaneers, who lead the league in rushing defense. Offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak leans hard into the screen passing game, so look for him to get Cook cooking through the air.
Keep Kirk clean
Tampa Bay's front seven defenders aren't just good against the run. The Vikings offensive line will have their hands full with edge rushers Shaquil Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul bearing down from the outside, and familiar foe Ndomukong Suh in the middle. Linebacker Devin White is also frequently called on to blitz, and former Minnesota Gopher Antoine Winfield Jr. has multiple sacks as a safety. The Vikings will need help from fullback C.J. Ham and the tight ends and running backs to give quarterback Kirk Cousins enough time to make plays.