Chip Scoggins is a Star Tribune sports columnist. He has temporarily returned to cover the Minnesota Vikings. He had the beat from 2008-2011 after covering college football for five years. Chip has been with the Star Tribune since January 2000. He can be followed on twitter at @chipscoggins.Find Chip on Facebook.
Mark Craig has covered football and the NFL the past 20 years, including the Browns from 1991-95 and the Vikings and the NFL since 2003. Since 2008, Craig has served as one of the 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. He can be followed on Twitter at @markcraignfl.
BALTIMORE -- Hello from snowy M&T Bank Stadium.
The field is covered with snow as players go through early warmups, making for a cool setting for today's game against the Ravens.
No surprises in the Vikings inactives: quarterback Christian Ponder, cornerback Josh Robinson, offensive guard Jeff Baca, tackle Mike Remmers, tight end Kyle Rudolph, wide receiver Rodney Smith and defensive tackle Chase Baker.
What would you rather do on a Sunday morning than wake up early and read weekly picks and power rankings involving 32 teams that basically are of equal strength and ability to beat, lose to or tie anyone on any given Sunday, Monday, Saturday, Thursday (and some day, when the revenue ceiling needs to be extended to a gazillion bazillion dollars, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday as well)?
CRAIG'S NFL POWER RANKINGS
BEST OF THE BUNCH
1. Seahawks (11-1)
Why: Time for a math test. What do you get when add up the league’s No. 1 pass defense, a top-3 running game, a top-3 passer rating and the second-best turnover ratio? Answer: The best team in the league and soon-to-be No. 1 seed in the NFC.
2. Patriots (9-3); 3. Broncos (10-2); 4. Panthers (9-3); 5. 49ers (8-4); 6. Saints (9-3); 7. Eagles (7-5); 8. Bengals (8-4); 9. Lions (7-5); 10. Chiefs (9-3); 11. Cardinals (7-5); 12. Colts (8-4); 13. Dolphins (6-6); 14. Ravens (6-6); 15. Cowboys (7-5); 16. Giants (5-7); 17. Chargers (5-7); 18. Rams (5-7); 19. Jaguars (4-9); 20. Steelers (5-7); 21. Titans (5-7); 22. Raiders (4-8).
23. Vikings 3-8-1 (Last week: 28): Adrian Peterson is on pace for 1,611 yards rushing. He has 3,305 yards in his past 28 games, an average of 118 per game. The Vikings’ record in those 28 games: 13-14-1. That’s how important it is for the Vikings to find some consistent composure at the quarterback position.
24. Bears (6-6); 25. Jets (5-7); 26. Packers (5-6-1); 27. Falcons (3-9); 28. Buccaneers (3-9); 29. Redskins (3-9); 30. Bills (4-8); 31. Browns (4-8)
WORST OF THE BUNCH
32: Texans (2-11): Cleveland temporarily wrestled this spot away from Houston when it lost at home to the Jaguars last Sunday. But the Texans really stepped up by falling for the 11th straight game at Jacksonville on Thursday. Last Dec. 23, then-Texans coach Gary Kubiak was 12-2 heading into that day’s home game against the Vikings. His next 17 games: 3-14, including a loss to the Vikings. Kubiak’s slide ended with his firing on Friday.
Vikings plus-6 ½ at Ravens. The pick: Ravens 34, Vikings 24.
When you’re old enough to remember Bud Grant coaching pre-1985, it always feels strange saying the Vikings are at a disadvantage outdoors in cold weather. The Ravens aren’t the team that won last season’s Super Bowl. But they’re very good at home and they’re in the playoff chase.
Last week: Bears plus-1 at Vikings: The pick: Vikings 28, Bears 17. The final: Vikings 23, Bears 20 OT. Record: 7-4-1, 6-6 vs. the spread.
Chiefs minus-3 at Redskins. The pick: Redskins 28, Chiefs 23.
Why?: Kansas City’s 9-0 start has become a confidence-shaking 0-3 slide. The collars are probably getting a little snug in K.C.
Last week: Saints plus-4 ½ at Seahawks: The pick: Saints 38, Seahawks 35. The final: Seahawks 34, Saints 7. Record: 4-9.
Browns plus-11 ½ at Patriots: Patriots by 7.
Raiders plus-2 ½ at Jets: Jets by 3.
Colts plus-6 ½ at Bengals: Bengals by 7.
Panthers plus-3 at Saints: Saints by 7.
Lions plus-2 ½ at Eagles: Eagles by 7.
Dolphins plus-3 at Steelers: Steelers by 6.
Bills plus-2 ½ at Buccaneers: Buccaneers by 3.
Titans plus-12 at Broncos: Broncos by 14.
Rams plus-6 ½ at Cardinals: Cardinals by 3.
Giants plus-3 at Chargers: Chargers by 7.
Seahawks plus-2 ½ at 49ers: 49ers by 3.
Falcons plus-3 at Packers: Packers by 7.
Cowboys pick at Bears: Cowboys by 7.
Record: Last week: 8-5; 6-7 vs. the spread. Overall: 101-76-1; 79-94-4 vs. the spread.
Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder did not pass the NFL concussion protocol this week. He did not practice again on Friday and will be out of Sunday's contest against the Vikings.
Running back Adrian Peterson is listed as questionable (groin) after limited participation on Friday. Coach Leslie Frazier said Peterson wasn't running at full speed, but he was ramping up his activity for Sunday.
"No real need to burst or go 100 miles per hour today," Fraizer said. "But just something to make him feel comfortable about Sunday."
Ravens linebacker Elvis Dumervil (ankle) did not practice this week and listed as doubtful, but head coach John Harbaugh said he will be a game-time decision.
"Earlier in the week, we felt he was going to make it," Harbaugh said. "He’s not a guy that has to practice to play, so if he goes out there and feels like he can go, he will. If he doesn’t, he won't."
For this week’s edition of “Behind Enemy Lines,” we reached out to Aaron Wilson, Ravens beat writer for the Baltimore Sun. Here are five questions we posed to Wilson in advance of Sunday’s Vikings-Ravens game at M&T Stadium.
1. What’s been the biggest issue with Baltimore’s ground attack (gaining 81.1 yards a game, tied for 29th in the NFL, after averaging 118.8 last season)?
AW: They really miss [center] Matt Birk. Matt was a mainstay on the line and now Gino Gradkowski has to learn on the job, and he doesn’t get as much push as Matt did and doesn’t know the line calls as well. He’s a more inexperienced player going from a six-time Pro Bowler.
[Running back] Ray Rice, he hasn’t been as explosive this year. He doesn’t break many tackles, doesn’t elude many tackles. He had one good game against a suspect run defense [Bears] where he had 131 yards, but he’s struggled mostly this year and doesn’t look the same. He had a strained hip flexor earlier in the season, and they haven’t got a lot out of the backup running back Bernard Pierce. He’s had some nagging injuries too; nothing serious but enough to slow him down.
2. With an inconsistent run offense, the Ravens have relied more on quarterback Joe Flacco. How has he looked after a Super Bowl MVP and a 120.6 million contract in the offseason (highest-paid player in NFL history)?
AW: Since Jacoby Jones got healthy the last couple of weeks, they’ve had two deep threats with him and Torrey Smith, which I think has opened things up for Joe. They run it enough for people to respect the run, and they play action a lot. They still run about 25 times a game, so people will have to take it serious enough where they just can’t stay back and play the pass.
He’s had an up-and-down year. He had one terrible game where he was forcing the ball into traffic and throwing off his back foot against Buffalo. He threw five picks. The biggest problem he had is he didn’t adjust well to not having [wide receiver] Anquan Boldin and [tight end] Dennis Pitta. I think that affected his confidence. He used to have a bunch of contested catches that Anquan and Dennis would make a play. Just throw it up and they’d come down with it, and he really doesn’t have that without those guys. The pass protection took a step back this year too.
3. Pitta is on injured reserve with designation to return (hip) and has practiced over the last two weeks. Will he play on Sunday?
AW: He looks to be on schedule on Sunday in a limited role. They still have to activate him, but I think they will this Saturday. We don’t see much, but I’ve seen him run some routes before and after practice and he looks pretty sharp. He doesn’t have any real difficulty planting and cutting. He seems to catch the ball cleanly. I think it’s just a matter of the unanswerable question: Can he take a hit? This was the first week he did team drills, and I’ve heard it’s been positive.
4. Without safety Ed Reed and linebacker Ray Lewis, how has the Ravens’ defense improved statistically (10th in NFL allowing 329 yards a game compared to 350.9 yards last season)?
AW: They’re better without those guys. I don’t think everyone anticipated that but this is a younger, faster defense. I think two pass rushers in [linebackers] Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs really makes things difficult for people. They have a good front seven. …They’re not the stoutest group ever [against the run] but the stats are pretty good and they do a solid job overall. (The Ravens allow 122.8 rushing yards a game, 20th in the NFL).
5. The Ravens are 6-6 and two games behind the Bengals in the AFC North. Could they catch Cincinnati and win the division?
AW: I don’t think winning the division is realistic. I don’t think Cincinnati will collapse. I think the Wild Card is down to them and Miami. They still have to play Detroit, New England and Cincinnati. Is it conceivable they could win this game and lose a couple more and not win the Wild Card? Yeah I think that is, but they really can’t take anything for granted. They lost to Chicago, which Minnesota just beat them.
I pick them to win, but I don’t feel like it’s anything where, ‘Oh, they’ll definitely win.’ They usually win at home. …I think they have a good chance to if they contain [Vikings running back Adrian] Peterson.
Prediction: Ravens 23, Vikings 13
Vikings running back Adrian Peterson was held out of Thursday's practice due to a lingering groin injury. Head coach Leslie Frazier said Peterson is expected to practice on Friday after missing consecutive practices.
Peterson has had issues with his hamstring and groin all season, but he leads the NFL with 1,208 rushing yards.
"It just tells you how amazing he is," Frazier said. "Not only does he play, but he plays extremely well. It's just incredible when you think what those injuries could for any position, less someone at running back."
Quarterback Christian Ponder still hasn't passed the NFL concussion protocol and Frazier said he will likely not have a role Sunday against the Ravens.
Wide receiever Greg Childs practiced again on Thursday, marking the first time he's participated in consecutive days. Frazier hopes Childs can practice again on Friday. The Vikings must make a decision by next week to either activate, release or place Childs on injured reserve.
"Childs has looked pretty good; he's made a lot of progress," Frazier said.
Frazier said tight end Kyle Rudolph (broken foot) hasn't progressed as fast as the team hoped. Rudolph was expected to miss 4-6 weeks. He will miss his fifth game on Sunday after suffering the injury against the Cowboys on Nov. 3.
Linebacker Larry Dean (knee) missed practice again. Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd (illness) was also limited in practice.
VIKINGS-RAVENS INJURY REPORT
Vikings: RB Adrian Peterson (groin), LB Larry Dean (knee), QB Christian Ponder (concussion), CB Josh Robinson (chest), TE Kyle Rudolph (foot) and S Jamarca Sanford (ankle) did not practice Thursday. DE Jared Allen (finger) and LB Chad Greenway (wrist) were limited.
Ravens: LB Elvis Dumervil (ankle), S Brynden Trawick (ankle) and CB Asa Jackson (thigh) did not practice. DE Chris Canty (shoulder), WR Brandon Stokley (knee) and CB Lardarius Webb (abdomen) were limited.
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