Three nuggets of knowledge about an early installment of Week 8:
Home advantage: These Thursday night turnarounds are tough for both teams, but recent history suggests the Minnesota Vikings will get a big boost by playing this game at the Metrodome. Already, the Vikings are 4-0 at home this season. And over the past two seasons, the home team is 13-3 in Thursday games. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are making a long trip after a physical and disappointing loss last Sunday to the New Orleans Saints. That's probably why the Vikings are a 6.5-point favorite and have been picked to win by 13 of ESPN's 14 football experts. Frankly, the Vikings really need to win this game. Even with the 2-4 Bucs on the list, the Vikings have the NFL's third-toughest schedule (.593 opposing winning percentage) for the rest of the season. They still must play the Chicago Bears (5-1) and Green Bay Packers (4-3) twice, as well as the Houston Texans (6-1).
Offensive matchup: In starting 2-4, the Buccaneers' defense has been really good against the run and had some terrible games against the pass. We haven't yet seen a game where the Vikings couldn't or didn't run the ball, and tailback Adrian Peterson has looked better each week. Will this be the week the Vikings need quarterback Christian Ponder to carry the offense? Opponents are averaging an NFL-low 3.1 yards per carry against the Bucs this season, mostly because defensive tackles Gerald McCoy and Roy Miller are plugging up the middle. On the other hand, the Bucs have given up four 300-yard passing games this season, including 510 yards to the New York Giants' Eli Manning. My guess is the Vikings will do their best to get Peterson rolling before getting too pass-happy.
Veteran threat: Two alternate views of team-building will be on display this evening. Both the Vikings and Bucs entered the offseason needing a veteran downfield threat at receiver. The Bucs signed the NFL's top free agent at the position, Vincent Jackson, to a five-year contract worth $55 million. The Vikings took a flyer on veteran Jerome Simpson. Jackson is averaging 21.7 yards on 27 receptions and has caught five touchdowns. Simpson has five receptions for 58 yards in three games. But are the Bucs better off for having spent that kind of money? It hasn't translated into victories -- at least not yet.