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 9 Picks and Power Rankings: Vikings No. 17

Posted by: Mark Craig under On the road, Vikings, Bears, Lions, NFC, Packers, Super Bowl, Adrian Peterson, Percy Harvin, Phil Loadholt Updated: November 2, 2012 - 10:15 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, Falcons (7-0)
Last week: No. 1.
Comment: They’re not overwhelming in any one category and have no shot of going 16-0, even though seven of their final nine games are against teams that currently have a losing record. But the Falcons are steady. They rank third in third-down conversions and third in fewest giveaways (seven).
 
2. Giants (6-2)
Last week: No. 2.
Comment: Doesn’t it feel like a Manning vs. Manning Super Bowl is destined? Pick a Manning and I’ll take the other one and be happy. But let’s not forget the players around Archie’s boys. The Giants rank first in sacks allowed per pass play and are tied with the Bears for most interceptions on defense (16).
 
3. Bears (6-1)
Last week: No. 3.
Comment: No. 1 against the run AND six interception returns for touchdowns? What’s an opposing offense to do? Well, the Vikings will find out when they have to play the Bears twice in 14 days later this month and early next month.
 
BOTTOM THREE
30. Panthers (1-6)
Last week: No. 28.
Comment: Five of Carolina’s six losses have been by fewer than seven points. But the Panthers keep losing. And losing. And Cam Newton and that offense keeps regressing.
 
31. Jaguars (1-6)
Last week: No. 31.
Comment: You know you stink when people are patting you on the back after losing by only nine points. Jacksonville’s somewhat competitive 24-15 loss at Green Bay doesn’t lift it from its No. 31 spot. The Jags rank last in seven of the league’s main offensive categories, including scoring.
 
32. Chiefs (1-6)
Last week: No. 32.
Comment: I’m guessing that Romeo Crennel won’t be NFL Coach of the Year? Seven games, six losses and not a single second with a lead in regulation.
 
 
NFC NORTH
3. Bears (6-1)
Last week: No. 3.
Comment: Chicago should be able to win at Tennessee on Sunday, but then things get interesting with consecutive games against Houston at home and the 49ers in San Francisco.
 
4. Packers (5-3)
Last week: No. 4.
Comment: Even with the Packers having to play at Soldier Field next month, the Bears can’t feel too comfortable with that 1 ½-game lead on Green Bay. Not the way Aaron Rodgers plays regardless of who’s on the receiving end of his passes.
 
17. Vikings (5-3).
Last week: No. 17.
Comment: Can the Vikings weather this 1-2 stretch and stay competitive during a brutal second half of the season? Or will they be this year’s version of last year’s Buffalo Bills. Like the Bills, the Vikings shocked the league by starting 4-1. Like the 2011 Bills, the Vikings lost their eighth game to fall to 5-3. That’s where the Vikings have to hope the comparison ends. The Bills lost their next six games en route to a 6-10 finish.
 
19. Lions (3-4)
Last week: No. 27.
Comment:  The Lions are 1-3 on the road, but should be able to win at Jacksonville. That would put them back at .500 heading to Minnesota.
 
 
THE REST
 
5.    Texans (6-1); 6. 49ers (6-2); 7. Ravens (5-2); 8. Patriots (5-3); 9. Broncos (4-3); 10. Steelers (4-3); 11. Dolphins (4-3); 12. Seahawks (4-4); 13. Colts (4-3); 14. Buccaneers (3-4); 15. Redskins (3-5); 16. Cowboys (3-4); 18. Raiders (3-4); 20. Chargers (3-4); 21. Titans (3-5); 22. Bills (3-4); 23. Eagles (3-4); 24. Bengals (3-4); 25. Cardinals (4-4); 26. Rams (3-5); 27.     Saints (2-5); 28. Browns (2-6); 29. Jets (3-5).
 
VIKINGS
THREE REASONS FOR OPTIMISM
1, Peterson seems unstoppable: Defenses line up essentially in a 5-2 front with an outside linebacker as a stand-up end. They sneak safeties into the box. Their linebacker blitz on running downs and distances because they want to clog lanes to stop Adrian Peterson. And yet, with very little help from the passing game, Peterson leads the NFL in rushing at the midway point of a season in which he’s coming off a knee reconstruction. That 300-yard game he keeps talking about? It could happen if opponents ever had to respect the Vikings’ passing game.
 
2, The `no-respect’ factor: This is a classic NFL bounce-back scenario. Team A plays a horrendous game and loses at home to a 2-4 team on a short week. Team A is written off by essentially everybody. With extra time to rest and prepare, Team A explodes in a prideful performance. Then Team A stands in the locker room and belittles everybody who picked against them, forgetting that those same people picked them the week before when they played like complete mutts. The Vikings have the added incentive of being told daily that playing in Seattle is like spotting the Seahawks 21 points and letting them play with 15 starters on each side of the ball. I’m taking Seattle, but I can feel the, “Nobody gave us a chance” interviews coming.  
 
3, Seattle’s third-down woes: Yes, Tampa Bay was 30th in third-down conversions when they came into the Metrodome and converted five straight during a back-breaking 16-play, 87-yard drive in the fourth quarter. Seattle ranks 25th (32.7 percent). Rookie QB Russell Wilson is calm beyond his years and experience, but he’s also completing only 50.8 percent of his third-down passes. He also ranks 21st in third-down passer rating (76.2)
 
 
THREE REASONS TO GO `UH-OH’
1, Gap control on defense: Maybe the Vikings are right and they’ll suddenly correct their many mistakes in run defense. Everybody will man their gap and all the cracks will be sealed. But three straight games of poor run defense suggests a trend. Perhaps guys are out of their gaps because the fellas on the other side are knocking them out of their gaps once in a while. It’s hard to accept the run-stopping rhetoric coming from Winter Park when Marshawn Lynch is coming up on Sunday.
 
2, Ponder is (still) stacking the stinkers: He hasn’t played another game since last week’s Picks and Power Rankings. But we’ve had seven more days to dissect the Bucs fiasco and Ponder was, well, terrible. The opinion here is Ponder played five “winning” caliber games to start the season. But he’s now played three straight that weren’t. The Bucs loss was hardly his fault alone. The protection was terrible and the route running did him no favors either. But Ponder missed some easy throws, forced a deep pass to Jerome Simpson when Percy Harvin was open right in front of him and failed to pull the trigger and throw to a wide-open Kyle Rudolph over the middle against an all-out blitz. Ponder needs to get better, but it’s hard to picture that happening at Seattle.
 
3, Offensive line regressing:
Overall, the offensive line has been an improvement over last season. But the line was confused and overmatched against Tampa Bay. And it wasn’t just the blitz that caused Ponder problems. The Vikings had problems with four-man rushes and even gave up a sack on a three-man rush late in the game. Rookie left tackle Matt Kalil had trouble when the Bucs overloaded to his side. Right tackle Phil Loadholt got beat too often. And one particular play against a four-man rush left Ponder running for safety because both Loadholt and right guard Brandon Fusco whiffed on their men.
 
 
THE PICKS
Seahawks 24, Vikings 13: Yeah, @stribDW and I might be standing in CenturyLink Field on Sunday evening, dumbfounded once again by a Vikings’ outcome. Like the Bucs game last week, this one seems pretty clear-cut. Unfortunately for those of us attempting to pick NFL games, the clear-cut choice that time was the Vikings. A no-doubter, at least heading into the first of those three straight three-and-outs. And we all know how that one turned out from there. The Vikings are 1-2 on the road and I just don’t see them being able to handle the noise and chaos that comes with CenturyLink Field, where the Seahawks are 3-0.
 
Record picking Vikings games: 3-3.
 
Overall Record Last Week: 7-6. Vs. Spread: 7-6.
 
Record Season: 54-38. Vs. Spread: 40-47-3.
 
DEN minus-3 ½ at CIN: Broncos by 3.
ARI plus-11 at GB: Packers by 7.
MIA minus-2 at IND: Colts by 3.
BAL minus-3 ½ at CLE: Browns by 3.
BUF plus-10 at HOU: Texans by 14.
DET minus-4 at JAC: Lions by 6.
CHI minus-3 ½ at TEN: Bears by 7.
TB plus-1 ½ at OAK: Buccaneers by 3.
PIT plus-3 ½ at NYG: Giants by 7.
DAL plus-4 at ATL: Falcons by 7.
PHI plus-3 at NO: Saints by 7.
 
UPSET SPECIAL
CAR plus-3 ½ at WAS.
 
Panthers 27, Redskins 23:  The Panthers’ last four losses have come by a combined 12 points to the undefeated Falcons in Atlanta, Seattle, Dallas and the 6-1 Bears in Chicago. The Redskins have lost two straight and are still only 1-2 at home. Time for Cam to steal a few highlights from RG3.
 
 
Last week: NO plus-6 at DEN. Prediction: Saints 33, Broncos 30. Actual: Broncos 34, Saints 14.
Record: 3-4.

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