Matt Vensel is in his first year at the Star Tribune after covering the Ravens for the Baltimore Sun for six years. He is a Pittsburgh native and a Penn State grad. Follow him at @mattvensel.


Mark Craig has covered the NFL for 23 years, and the Vikings since 2003 for the Star Tribune. He is one of 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. Follow him at @markcraignfl.


Master Tesfatsion is the Star Tribune’s digital Vikings writer. He is a 2013 graduate of Arizona State and worked for mlb.com before arriving in Minneapolis. Follow him at @masterstrib.


Week 6 Picks and Power Rankings: Vikings climbing

Posted by: Mark Craig under Quarterbacks, Vikings, Bears, Lions, NFC, Packers, Leslie Frazier, Adrian Peterson, Antoine Winfield, Leslie Frazier, Tarvaris Jackson Updated: October 12, 2012 - 9:40 AM
What else would you rather do on a Friday morning than watch a poor man swing away at his weekly NFL Picks and Power Rankings? We’ll even throw in some extra purple with Three Reasons for Optimism and Three Reasons to Go `Uh-Oh.
 
Power rankings
TOP THREE
1, Texans (5-0)
Last week: No. 1.
Comment: They can pass the ball, stop the pass, run the ball and stop the run. And in a league where pressure on the QB is paramount, Houston’s offense is first in sacks allowed per pass play (three total), while its defense is fourth in sacks per pass play (16). Overcoming the season-ending loss of linebacker Brian Cushing is the next big challenge.
 
2. Falcons (5-0)
Last week: No. 2.
Comment: Their statistics aren’t staggering. Except for one: Plus-10. That’s their turnover margin, thanks to 14 takeaways. Only Chicago, with 17, has more.
 
3. Ravens (4-1)
Last week: No. 6.
Comment: When in doubt about a top-three team, Baltimore is usually a good bet. The Ravens might be the most mentally tough team in the league. They just find a way to beat most of the teams they play, whether they’re having a good day or not (see Sunday’s 9-6 win at K.C.). Their only loss was a one-point setback at Philadelphia in Week 2.
 
BOTTOM THREE
30. Chiefs (1-4)
Last week: No. 30.
Comment: Hey, at least the Chiefs didn’t get obliterated at home last week. (P.S.: Cut Chiefs fans a break for cheering after Matt Cassel was hurt. Fans have been cheering the injuries of struggling quarterbacks for decades. My earliest memory of this was at Cleveland Stadium in the ‘70s when Mike Phipps went down and Brian Sipe came into the game. A small but vocal percentage of fans in every city do it. It’s not the end of the world.)
 
31. Lions (1-3)
Last week: No. 29.
Comment: For the first time in three weeks, the Lions did not give up two returns for touchdowns last week. Of course, they also had a bye. Anyone else need help climbing off the Motown Bandwagon?
 
32. Browns (0-5)
Last week: No. 32.
Comment: Next question.
 
NFC NORTH
6. Vikings (4-1).
Last week: No. 8.
Comment: Remember the seemingly mandatory false start or procedural penalty that used to wreck every opening drive? Well, the Vikings have the fewest pre-snap penalties in the league through five weeks. They’ve got one. So it’s possible to be tough and smart on offense.
 
8. Bears (4-1)
Last week: No. 12.
Comment: Two weeks, four interception returns for touchdowns? Note to Christian Ponder: Do NOT throw the ball near Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman. Overall, the Bears have returned five of their league-high 13 picks for touchdowns.
 
15. Packers (2-3)
Last week: No. 11.
Comment: Amazing what can happen to the league’s best quarterback (Aaron Rodgers) when his protection and his No. 1 receiver (Greg Jennings) aren’t there to help. It’s still a team game. Rodgers is still having an outstanding year. He’s just not having the best regular season by a quarterback ever, like he did last year.
 
31. Lions (1-3)
Last week: No. 29.
Comment: See the three sinking seasons above.
 
 
THE REST
 
4. Patriots (3-2); 5. Giants (3-2); 7. 49ers (4-1); 9. Eagles (3-2); 10. Broncos (2-3); 11. Rams (3-2); 12. Cardinals (4-1); 13. Colts (2-2); 14. Seahawks (3-2); 16. Cowboys (2-2); 17. Saints (1-4); 18. Chargers (3-2); 19. Dolphins (2-3); 20. Bengals (3-2); 21. Titans (2-4); 22. Redskins (2-3); 23. Steelers (2-3); 24. Jets (2-3); 25. Bills (2-3); 26. Buccaneers (1-3); 27. Jaguars (1-4); 28. Panthers (1-4); 29, Raiders (1-3).
 
VIKINGS
THREE REASONS FOR OPTIMISM
1, Ponder’s 5 for 5: I Keep this as the No. 1 reason because, in case you haven’t noticed, the Vikings have yet to play the Bears or Packers. In other words, there’s a possibility that the Purple-clad frolicking in the streets will have the breaks slammed on it come late November when the Vikings’ schedule starts to go like this: at Chicago, at Green Bay, Chicago, at St. Louis, at Houston, Green Bay. So if the bottom starts to fall out, we need to keep the focus on the No. 1 goal of this season all along: Making sure Christian Ponder is the long-term answer at quarterback. On Sunday, he threw his first two picks on back-to-back throws. But then he completed 12 of 13 for 100 yards, two TDs and no more picks. Most of them were short passes, but, like I said earlier this week, if you think short, touch passes are easy, you’ve never seen Tarvaris Jackson try to play the position.
 
2, The offensive line: It’s become obvious that there’s no comparison between last year’s leaky, creaky offensive line and the one that’s manhandling opponents so far this season. Another 31 carries pounded out 175 yards, a 5.6 average and a touchdown on Sunday. And Ponder was sacked once for zero yards. And the best news is the oldest guy up front is 28-year-old Charlie Johnson. These guys could be together a long time.
 
3, Defensive front seven: Four days after he was stuffed for a 1.6-yard average in a 23-point loss at Minnesota, Titans running back Chris Johnson played the Steelers and averaged 4.8 yards in a win. The Vikings’ defensive line is stout, the linebackers are active and the secondary – especially Antoine Winfield, as usual – is sound in run support. That’s why the Vikings rank sixth in the league in run defense and haven’t allowed more than 89 yards rushing in any of their past three games.
  
 
THREE REASONS TO GO `UH-OH’
1, RG III: During their three-game winning streak, the Vikings’ defense has stuffed a lopsided running team (49ers), a lopsided passing team (Lions) and a team that was awful at both (Titans). The Redskins present a significant and equal threat both running and passing. And the rookie QB, Robert Griffin III, leads the league in completion percentage (69.1) while averaging 5.7 yards per carry.
 
2, The looming schedule: At this point, the Vikings have proven to be a team that should be respected by their opponents. So it’s not like they can’t charge into their brutal late-season schedule and keep right on winning. But the Vikings could start 7-1 and still struggle to make the playoffs starting with a trip to Seattle. The last six games – at Chicago, at Green Bay, Chicago, at St. Louis, at Houston, Green Bay – could change the entire perception of this team as quickly as the 4-1 start has.
 
3, Peterson’s ankle: Adrian Peterson says his ankle is fine. And the team wouldn’t put him in harm’s way. But it’s still concerning anytime the face of the franchise steps on the field with an injury that could prevent him from being 100 percent able to protect that reconstructed left knee.
 
 
THE PICKS
Redskins 27, Vikings 21: Following the NFL theory that all highs and lows sway quickly back to the middle, I’m going with the home team. The Redskins have dropped eight straight at home and are 0-2 against Minnesota at home since Leslie Frazier took over the Vikings. The Redskins also present the most balanced offense the Vikings have seen this season. The betting line is off at this point.
 
CIN minus-1 ½ at CLE: Browns by 3.
IND plus-3 ½ at NYJ: Jets by 7.
KC plus-4 at TB: Buccaneers by 7.
OAK plus-9 at ATL: Falcons by 14.
DAL plus-3 ½ at BAL: Ravens by 7.
DET plus-4 at PHI: Eagles by 7.
STL plus-3 ½ at MIA: Dolphins by 6.
NE minus-3 ½ at SEA: Seahawks by 3.
BUF plus-5 at ARI: Cardinals by 7.
GB plus-3 ½ at HOU: Texans by 6.
DEN plus-1 at SD: Broncos by 3.
 
 
Record Last Week: 7-6. Vs. Spread: 5-8.
 
Record Season: 29-25. Vs. Spread: 21-29-2.
 
 
UPSET SPECIAL
NYG plus-6 ½ at SF:
Giants 24, 49ers 21: Give me take Tom Coughlin, Eli Manning and 6 ½ points any day. And I’ll take the win outright as well.
 
 
Last week: ATL minus-3 at WAS. Prediction: Redskins 20, Falcons 28. Actual: Falcons 24, Redskins 17.
Record: 2-2.

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Golden State 99 FINAL
Cleveland 110
Oklahoma City 13 1st Qtr 0:05
Phoenix 25
Vancouver 3 FINAL
Buffalo 6
Arizona 3 FINAL
NY Rangers 4
Montreal 5 FINAL
Columbus 2
Philadelphia 2 FINAL
Toronto 3
Chicago 3 FINAL
Florida 0
St. Louis 2 FINAL(SO)
Winnipeg 1
Minnesota 4 FINAL
Nashville 2
Ottawa 0 1st Prd :16
Los Angeles 0
Detroit 0 2nd Prd
San Jose 1
Northern Ky 78 FINAL
Kennesaw St 53
East Tenn St 73 FINAL
Citadel 74
Winthrop 50 FINAL
Campbell 65
Delaware 58 FINAL
Drexel 44
Jacksonville St 57 FINAL
Eastern Ky 63
Northeastern 65 FINAL
Elon 72
Sacred Heart 90 FINAL
Fair-Dickinson 85
Western Carolina 49 FINAL
Furman 53
Char Southern 81 FINAL
Gardner-Webb 91
Western Ill 66 FINAL
IUPUI 71
Nebraska Omaha 73 FINAL
IUPU-Ft Wayne 67
Radford 69 FINAL
Liberty 80
St Francis-NY 74 FINAL
Long Island 69
Wofford 76 FINAL
Mercer 72
Minnesota 96 FINAL
Michigan State 90
High Point 75 FINAL
UNC-Asheville 71
Samford 67 FINAL
UNC Greensboro 81
Nebraska 57 FINAL
Ohio State 81
Wagner 59 FINAL
Robert Morris 91
Mount St Marys 60 FINAL
St Francis-PA 63
Houston 54 FINAL
Temple 66
Vanderbilt 73 FINAL
Tennessee 65
Chattanooga 86 FINAL
Va Military 82
Milwaukee 61 FINAL
Wright State 58
Coastal Carolina 69 FINAL
Presbyterian 80
Central Conn St 69 FINAL
Bryant 77
Ga Southern 77 FINAL
Appalachian St 58
SIU Edwardsville 61 FINAL
Austin Peay 64
Green Bay 72 FINAL
Ill-Chicago 67
Texas-El Paso 60 FINAL
Louisiana Tech 77
FIU 69 FINAL
Marshall 87
Rider 63 FINAL
Monmouth 60
Eastern Ill 57 FINAL
Murray State 65
Charlotte 65 FINAL
North Texas 81
North Dakota St 58 FINAL
Oral Roberts 74
Old Dominion 63 FINAL
Rice 54
TX-San Antonio 66 FINAL
Southern Miss 70
UT Martin 69 FINAL
Tennessee St 52
Fla Atlantic 68 FINAL
Western Ky 71
Northern Ariz 85 FINAL
North Dakota 75
Grand Canyon 70 FINAL
Chicago State 74
Utah Valley U 50 FINAL
UMKC 69
ULM 75 FINAL
South Alabama 57
Texas-Arlington 80 FINAL
Arkansas State 81
Georgia State 83 FINAL
Ark-Little Rock 92
Troy 61 FINAL
Texas State 67
Arizona 82 FINAL
Colorado 54
SMU 66 FINAL
Memphis 57
Tenn Tech 73 FINAL
Morehead State 86
Rutgers 85 FINAL
Purdue 92
Southern Utah 67 FINAL
Northern Colorado 77
Montana State 68 FINAL
Eastern Wash 92
UC Davis 45 2nd Half 11:30
UC Santa Barbara 51
UC Irvine 52 2nd Half 11:36
Cal Poly 39
Cal State Fullerton 51 2nd Half 12:15
CS-Northridge 46
Montana 36 2nd Half 17:10
Idaho 28
BYU 44 2nd Half 15:27
Portland 45
Pacific 39 2nd Half 11:09
Santa Clara 36
Arizona State 9 1st Half 1:44
Utah 32
San Diego 5 1st Half 15:49
Gonzaga 3
St Marys-CA 15 1st Half 12:56
San Francisco 8
Oregon State 8 1st Half 15:35
Stanford 7
Long Beach State 10:59 PM
Hawaii
Rice 68 FINAL
Old Dominion 83
Manhattan 67 FINAL
Monmouth 84
Georgia Southern 39 FINAL
Appalachian St 66
Marshall 74 FINAL
FIU 50
TX-Arlington 62 FINAL
Arkansas State 67
ULM 45 FINAL
South Alabama 38
Troy 75 FINAL
Texas State 59
Georgia State 39 FINAL
Ark-Little Rock 56
William & Mary 84 FINAL
Coll of Charleston 55
Delaware 68 FINAL
UNC-Wilmington 71
UMBC 41 FINAL
Maine 61
UMass Lowell 72 FINAL
Vermont 64
Albany 65 FINAL
Hartford 50
Stony Brook 68 FINAL
Binghamton 59
Boston College 60 FINAL
(8) Louisville 77
(23) Syracuse 60 FINAL
Clemson 55
(16) Duke 62 FINAL
Georgia Tech 71
Florida 53 FINAL
Alabama 49
NC State 52 FINAL
(9) Florida State 72
Miami-Florida 59 FINAL
Wake Forest 60
LSU 57 FINAL
Ole Miss 58
(11) Miss State 50 FINAL
(2) South Carolina 69
Fairfield 74 FINAL
Iona 62
Marist 58 FINAL
Saint Peters 66
Quinnipiac 91 FINAL
Rider 53
Virginia 70 FINAL
(15) North Carolina 72
Pittsburgh 59 FINAL
(4) Notre Dame 87
Ohio State 88 FINAL
Penn State 70
Massachusetts 60 FINAL
Dayton 69
(22) George Washington 81 FINAL
Richmond 69
Saint Louis 53 FINAL
Rhode Island 68
Wright State 74 FINAL
Detroit 59
Green Bay 70 FINAL
Oakland 55
Western Ky 85 FINAL
Florida Atlantic 74
Indiana 72 FINAL
(5) Maryland 83
North Texas 46 FINAL
Charlotte 71
Central Arkansas 64 FINAL
Sam Houston St 56
SE Louisiana 60 FINAL
Northwestern St 71
Nicholls 63 FINAL
New Orleans 68
Incarnate Word 44 FINAL
Stephen F Austin 58
Denver 68 FINAL
No Dakota State 87
IUPU-Ft Wayne 61 FINAL
Nebraska Omaha 70
IUPUI 53 FINAL
South Dakota 69
Lamar 77 FINAL
McNeese State 98
Western Ill 49 FINAL
South Dakota St 69
Missouri 70 FINAL
(12) Texas A&M 69
(13) Kentucky 56 FINAL
Arkansas 51
(20) Rutgers 60 FINAL
(25) Northwestern 80
Southern Miss 61 FINAL
TX-San Antonio 59
Wisconsin 74 FINAL
(17) Iowa 78
North Dakota 68 FINAL
Northern Ariz 72
Northern Colorado 88 FINAL
Southern Utah 66
Louisiana Tech 0 Postponed
Texas-El Paso 0
Eastern Washington 53 FINAL
Montana State 63
Idaho 68 FINAL
Montana 81
Auburn 70 FINAL
Vanderbilt 58
(6) Tennessee 70 FINAL
Georgia 59
Gonzaga 62 FINAL
San Diego 75
USC 48 FINAL
Washington 60
Portland 63 FINAL
BYU 65
(24) California 74 FINAL
Oregon 59
(19) Stanford 69 FINAL
(7) Oregon State 58
Chicago State 49 FINAL
Grand Canyon 73
UMKC 51 FINAL
Utah Valley U 61
San Francisco 65 FINAL
St Marys-CA 62
UCLA 57 2nd Half 12:12
Washington St 61
Santa Clara 42 2nd Half 12:28
Pacific 56
CS-Northridge 48 2nd Half 11:45
Cal State Fullerton 38
UC Santa Barbara 27 2nd Half 10:40
Cal-Irvine 37
Hawaii 27 2nd Half 13:18
Long Beach St 31
Cal Poly 45 2nd Half 14:19
UC Davis 29

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