NEW YORK (AP) — Considering the short list of surprisingly impressive teams in the NFL this season, the Minnesota Vikings haven't gotten much love. That could change Thursday night.
The Vikings weren't included in many TV plans after they went 3-13 last year and looked like a sure tail-ender in the rugged NFC North in 2012. Instead, they are 5-2, trailing the 5-1 Bears and ahead of — yes, ahead of — the Packers.
Yet their vast improvement hasn't moved the fan and media meter too much; even the Lions, who have been abysmal for much of the season and own the cellar in the division are getting more attention.
So when Minnesota (No. 10 in the AP Pro32) hosts Tampa Bay (No. 26) on the NFL Network showcase game, it's an opportunity for the 6 1/2-point favorite to establish some credibility across the nation.
"It feels good when you're under the radar, you're not really talked about, and then you start winning," star running back Adrian Peterson said. "So that's always good. You've just got to continue to keep the focus. That's what it comes down to.
"It feels good. I'm sure a lot of guys, including myself, will be excited to get out there. It's the only game playing, so people will be tuned in and ready to see some good football."
In Greg Schiano's first season as coach of the Bucs (2-4), the results have been inconsistent. They've produced on offense in half their games, been a dud with the ball in the other three. The defense ranks third in yardage against the run, mainly because Tampa Bay is next-to-last in pass defense.
"Again, we're sitting here, what are we, 2-4 now? And we're saying this old song and dance. That's the way it is," Schiano said. "Until we get it changed, until we find a way to change it, close but no cigar."
The Vikings will be lighting up on Thursday night.
No. 29 Carolina (plus 8) at No. 5 Chicago
Turmoil in Charlotte, relative calm in Chicago.
BEST BET: BEARS, 30-14
No. 11 Seattle (plus 2) at No. 21 Detroit
Rested Seahawks will motor after Matthew Stafford for lots of sacks.
UPSET SPECIAL: SEAHAWKS, 24-20
No. 32 Jacksonville (OFF) at No. 6 Green Bay
Would have been BEST BET if there was a line.
No. 2 New York Giants (minus 1) at No. 15 Dallas
Giants are 3-0 at Jerry's Palace. Riding with the champs.
No. 7 New England (minus 7) vs. No. 23 St. Louis at London
Rams owner also owns EPL's Arsenal, which plays near Wembley. Won't help ...
No. 13 Washington (plus 5) at No. 12 Pittsburgh
Steelers getting healthy, Redskins aren't. RG3 keeps it tight.
No. 1 Atlanta (plus 2) at No. 14 Philadelphia
Andy Reid's teams don't lose after byes (13-0). First defeat for Falcons.
No. 4 San Francisco (minus 7) at No. 19 Arizona, Monday night
Cardinals need to stop their slide now. Couldn't have a worse opponent for doing so.
No. 17 New Orleans (plus 6 1/2) at No. 9 Denver
Drew Brees against Peyton Manning. Go with the team that can play some defense.
No. 16 San Diego (minus 3) at No. 31 Cleveland
About only team Chargers would be road favorite against.
No. 24 Indianapolis (plus 3 1/2) at No. 25 Tennessee
Really like what's going on with Colts. Like what Titans are doing even more.
No. 18 Miami (plus 2) at No. 20 New York Jets
Logic says go with rested Dolphins. With our record against spread, logic doesn't matter.
No. 28 Oakland (plus 1) at No. 31 Kansas City
Oh for the days of the AFL, when both franchises were praiseworthy.
Against spread: 5-7-1 (40-61-3). Straight up: 9-4 (59-45)
Best Bet: 3-3-1 against spread, 6-1 straight up.
Upset special: 4-3 against spread, 3-4 straight up.