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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Philadelphia 21 4th Qtr 10:27
Washington 24
San Diego 7:25 PM
San Francisco
Minnesota 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Miami
Baltimore 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Houston
Detroit 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Chicago
Cleveland 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Carolina
Atlanta 12/21/14 12:00 PM
New Orleans
Green Bay 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Kansas City 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Pittsburgh
New England 12/21/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
NY Giants 12/21/14 3:05 PM
St. Louis
Buffalo 12/21/14 3:25 PM
Oakland
Indianapolis 12/21/14 3:25 PM
Dallas
Seattle 12/21/14 7:30 PM
Arizona
Denver 12/22/14 7:30 PM
Cincinnati
Phoenix 99 FINAL
New York 90
Portland 6:00 PM
New Orleans
Utah 6:00 PM
Charlotte
Atlanta 7:00 PM
Houston
San Antonio 7:30 PM
Dallas
Indiana 8:00 PM
Denver
Milwaukee 9:30 PM
LA Clippers
Arizona 2 FINAL
Los Angeles 4
Colorado 6:00 PM
Buffalo
Philadelphia 6:00 PM
Toronto
Ottawa 6:00 PM
Montreal
Washington 6:00 PM
New Jersey
Tampa Bay 6:00 PM
NY Islanders
Florida 6:00 PM
Pittsburgh
NY Rangers 6:00 PM
Carolina
Chicago 6:00 PM
Columbus
Nashville 7:00 PM
Minnesota
Calgary 9:00 PM
Vancouver
St. Louis 9:30 PM
San Jose
VA Commonwealth 68 FINAL
Cincinnati 47
Charlotte 78 FINAL
Georgetown 81
SMU 62 FINAL
Michigan 51
Louisville 76 FINAL
Western Ky 67
Mount St Marys 45 FINAL
American Univ 46
Abilene Christian 33 FINAL
Boise State 77
UMass Lowell 63 FINAL
Duquesne 79
South Alabama 65 FINAL
IUPUI 71
Ohio State 74 FINAL
North Carolina 82
Massachusetts 65 FINAL
Providence 85
Syracuse 77 FINAL
Villanova 82
Citadel 61 FINAL
Virginia Tech 64
Belmont 73 FINAL
Fairfield 61
St Bonaventure 69 FINAL
Binghamton 51
Montreat 64 FINAL
Campbell 90
Delaware 74 FINAL
Fair-Dickinson 76
South Florida 62 FINAL
Florida State 75
Vanderbilt 60 FINAL
Georgia Tech 65
SC State 71 FINAL
Houston 63
Missouri 59 FINAL
Illinois 62
Truett-McConnell 55 FINAL
Jacksonville 84
Toledo 83 FINAL
McNeese State 69
Elon 71 FINAL
UNC Greensboro 64
Drexel 68 FINAL
Penn State 73
St Francis-PA 73 FINAL
Rutgers 68
Albany 64 FINAL
Yale 60
PSU-Beaver 74 FINAL
Longwood 106
Eastern Ill 60 FINAL
Indiana State 56
Indiana 82 FINAL
Butler 73
Marshall 58 FINAL
Arkansas State 67
Lafayette 69 FINAL
Kansas 96
Oral Roberts 63 FINAL
Memphis 78
Western Mich 61 FINAL
Northwestern 67
Delaware State 70 FINAL
Oregon 83
Fla Atlantic 56 FINAL
St Francis-NY 61
Arkansas Tech 57 FINAL
Stephen F Austin 94
Howard Payne 50 FINAL
Texas-Arlington 89
UMBC 66 FINAL
Kennesaw St 53
St Josephs (IN) 54 FINAL
Chicago State 77
Eastern Mich 77 FINAL
Missouri State 65
UCLA 42 FINAL
Kentucky 83
UC Davis 81 FINAL
Air Force 75
Houston Baptist 67 FINAL
UC Riverside 78
Davidson 80 FINAL
Coll of Charleston 68
USC Upstate 53 FINAL
Miss State 51
NC Central 94 FINAL
Miss Valley St 60
Illinois State 77 FINAL
Murray State 89
Louisiana 85 FINAL
Northwestern St 89
Oakland 77 FINAL
Pittsburgh 81
Detroit 55 FINAL
Rhode Island 69
Presbyterian 60 FINAL
UT Martin 77
Monmouth 74 FINAL
Wagner 66
Southern U 39 FINAL
Wyoming 57
Iowa State 83 FINAL
Drake 54
Wake Forest 49 2nd Half 4:20
Florida 54
High Point 76 2nd Half 0:49
James Madison 67
Texas Southern 55 2nd Half 0:29
Michigan State 54
New Hampshire 60 FINAL
Sacred Heart 73
Northeastern 78 FINAL
Santa Clara 72
Huston-Tillotson 56 2nd Half 0:26
Texas State 90
Purdue 51 2nd Half 10:44
Notre Dame 63
Prairie View 26 2nd Half 12:01
Sam Houston St 45
Xavier 38 2nd Half
Auburn 25
Bluffton 6:00 PM
Akron
NJIT 6:00 PM
Central Conn St
Hofstra 6:00 PM
Columbia
Boston Univ 6:00 PM
Dayton
Iona 6:00 PM
George Mason
Valparaiso 6:00 PM
IUPU-Ft Wayne
Texas A&M 6:00 PM
Kansas State
Morgan State 6:00 PM
Manhattan
Saint Josephs 6:00 PM
Marist
East Carolina 6:00 PM
UNC-Wilmington
Richmond 6:00 PM
Pepperdine
La Salle 6:00 PM
Towson
Incarnate Word 6:05 PM
UMKC
CS-Bakersfield 6:30 PM
Idaho State
Iowa 6:30 PM
Northern Iowa
Milwaukee 6:30 PM
SIU Edwardsville
Long Beach State 7:00 PM
Texas
TX-San Antonio 7:00 PM
TCU
SE Missouri St 7:30 PM
Arkansas
Lehigh 8:00 PM
Arizona State
New Mexico 8:00 PM
New Mexico St
Oklahoma 8:00 PM
Washington
Utah Valley U 8:00 PM
Weber State
Jacksonville St 8:00 PM
Northern Colorado
St Edwards 8:00 PM
Grand Canyon
NC State 8:30 PM
West Virginia
TX A&M-CC 9:00 PM
CS-Northridge
Cal Poly 9:00 PM
Gonzaga
Fresno State 9:00 PM
Pacific
Montana State 9:00 PM
Portland
Ball State 9:00 PM
San Diego St
South Dakota St 9:05 PM
Utah State
Stanford 10:00 PM
BYU
Utah 10:30 PM
UNLV
Nevada 3 FINAL
Louisiana 16
Utah State 21 FINAL
Texas-El Paso 6
(23) Utah 45 4th Qtr 5:45
Colorado State 10
Western Mich 10 2nd Qtr 8:31
Air Force 13
South Alabama 8:15 PM
Bowling Green
BYU 12/22/14 1:00 PM
Memphis
Marshall 12/23/14 5:00 PM
Northern Ill
Navy 12/23/14 8:30 PM
San Diego St
Central Mich 12/24/14 11:00 AM
Western Ky
Fresno State 12/24/14 7:00 PM
Rice
Illinois 12/26/14 12:00 PM
Louisiana Tech
Rutgers 12/26/14 3:30 PM
North Carolina
NC State 12/26/14 7:00 PM
UCF
Cincinnati 12/27/14 12:00 PM
Virginia Tech
Duke 12/27/14 1:10 PM
(15) Arizona State
Miami-Florida 12/27/14 3:00 PM
So Carolina
Boston College 12/27/14 3:30 PM
Penn State
(25) Nebraska 12/27/14 7:00 PM
(24) USC
Livingstone 77 FINAL
UNC Greensboro 81
Loyola-Chicago 58 FINAL
Dartmouth 70
Georgia Tech 65 FINAL
St Francis-NY 59
Auburn 49 FINAL
St Johns 56
East Tenn St 56 FINAL
Jacksonville St 57
Western Mich 71 FINAL
Detroit 57
Cal-Irvine 42 FINAL
Wright State 80
Gardner-Webb 47 FINAL
Kennesaw St 50
(7) Stanford 40 FINAL
(11) Tennessee 59
Alabama A&M 47 FINAL
Ole Miss 71
Central Michigan 45 FINAL
(1) South Carolina 80
Nebraska Omaha 50 FINAL
Creighton 67
FIU 69 FINAL
Western Carolina 83
Houston 65 FINAL
Nicholls 47
St Thomas Aquinas 45 FINAL
Army 70
St Bonaventure 72 FINAL
Niagara 60
Texas State 57 FINAL
Stetson 75
George Mason 65 FINAL
ULM 53
Grambling 38 FINAL
Kansas State 61
Missouri 79 FINAL
Wake Forest 64
Robert Morris 59 FINAL
Cornell 70
Air Force 44 FINAL
Abilene Christian 80
Hampton 53 FINAL
James Madison 85
American Univ 64 FINAL
MD-Eastern Shore 52
Texas Southern 63 FINAL
TX A&M-CC 68
Tenn Tech 49 FINAL
NC A&T 54
Presbyterian 45 FINAL
NC Central 33
Penn 58 FINAL
Drexel 67
Lipscomb 38 FINAL
Xavier 62
Vermont 40 FINAL
Green Bay 60
Charleston Southern 70 FINAL
UNC-Wilmington 80
Ohio Christian 62 FINAL
Akron 97
Jacksonville 62 FINAL
Murray State 80
(17) Rutgers 66 FINAL
Iona 58
Indiana 88 FINAL
Oakland 61
Indiana State 64 FINAL
SMU 55
Denver 51 FINAL
Purdue 65
TX-San Antonio 48 FINAL
Texas Tech 64
UCF 57 FINAL
Middle Tennessee 79
Campbell 66 FINAL
Bethune-Cookman 55
Florida A&M 67 FINAL
SE Louisiana 69
Northwestern St 61 FINAL
Jackson State 62
Lehigh 61 FINAL
Arizona State 81
Valparaiso 65 FINAL
SIU-Edwardsville 77
Liberty 60 FINAL
Minnesota 74
Wofford 60 FINAL
North Florida 68
Montana State 61 FINAL
Washington St 82
Marshall 56 FINAL
(22) West Virginia 69
Morgan State 40 FINAL
Chattanooga 55
Northeastern 65 FINAL
Harvard 67
Furman 51 FINAL
(15) Georgia 58
(18) Michigan State 65 FINAL
(9) Baylor 84
Ohio U 52 FINAL
Massachusetts 59
Prairie View 48 FINAL
Texas-El Paso 86
Toledo 64 FINAL
Southern Ill 48
High Point 57 FINAL
(12) Nebraska 83
Winthrop 20 FINAL
Wichita State 66
William Jewell 59 FINAL
UMKC 51
Louisiana Tech 52 FINAL
Utah 67
Southern Utah 51 FINAL
Gonzaga 70
Saint Peters 49 FINAL
Loyola-Maryland 59
Hawaii 76 2nd Half 1:06
Loyola Marymount 70
San Jose St 62 2nd Half 0:51
San Francisco 77
CS-Northridge 57 2nd Half 2:57
San Diego State 46
Norfolk State 34 2nd Half 1:53
East Carolina 56
Northwestern 44 FINAL
Eastern Illinois 92
Arizona 37 2nd Half 11:07
Stephen F Austin 42
Oral Roberts 27 2nd Half
Wisconsin 38
Florida Atlantic 23 2nd Half 19:05
New Mexico St 34
La Salle 21 1st Half 11:53
Georgia State 12
(16) Oregon State 20 1st Half 12:40
Nevada 12
Sacred Heart 6:00 PM
Villanova
Delaware 6:00 PM
Cincinnati
Troy 6:00 PM
Tennessee St
Saint Louis 6:30 PM
Utah Valley U
Washington 7:00 PM
UC-Riverside
Pacific 7:00 PM
Long Beach St
Old Dominion 7:00 PM
Miami-Ohio
Austin Peay 9:00 PM
Montana
Lewis-Clark State 9:00 PM
Idaho
(21) Miss State 9:30 PM
Illinois-Chicago

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