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 13 Picks & Power Rankings: December nears, so Pats get top spot

Posted by: Mark Craig under On the road, Vikings, AFC, Bears, Lions, NFC, Packers, Adrian Peterson, Brett Favre, Percy Harvin Updated: November 30, 2012 - 10:35 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, Patriots (8-3)
Last week: No. 1.
Comment: On the eve of December, let’s just go ahead and put the Patriots where they always are heading into the playoffs. They’ve won five straight, and their three losses have come by a combined FOUR points. Tom Brady ranks second in passing with a 105.0 rating. The running game is ranked sixth. And the defense always seems to do whatever is necessary to win.
 
2. Texans (10-1)
Last week: No. 1.
Comment: Houston didn’t look all that impressive at Detroit on Thanksgiving. And, heck, they would have lost if not for an ill-conceived rule that negates reviewing scoring plays when a challenge flag is thrown. Still a very good team. Just not as polished this time of year as New England.
 
3. Ravens (9-2)
Last week: No. 4.
Comment: There’s just a certain toughness about this team that’s hard to keep out of the top three once December arrives. All eyes were on how the Ravens would respond when they lost by 30 points to Houston on Oct. 21. They’ve won four straight and should bury Pittsburgh in the rugged AFC North on Sunday.
 
BOTTOM THREE
30. Jaguars (4-7)
Last week: No. 27.
Comment: Hard to believe this is the same team that opened with wins over Seattle and the Patriots in New England. Hard to believe they were 4-0 at one point. Just another lesson for the next desperate team that hitches its future to an overrated quarterback such as Kevin Kolb.
 
31. Eagles (3-8)
Last week: No. 31.
Comment: Hard to believe this is the same team that beat the Giants to start the season 3-1. The end probably can’t come soon enough for Andy Reid. He has to be overdue for a fresh start. Ditto for the Eagles.
32. Chiefs (1-10)
Last week: No. 32.
Comment: Beyond awful. The only team in the league without a win at home (0-6).
 
NFC NORTH
8. Bears (8-3)
Last week: No. 9.
Comment: We’d like to go Denny and say, “The Bears are who we thought they were,” but we have no idea what to think of them. One week, the block and coach like a Pop Warner team in a 32-7 loss at San Francisco. The next week, they devise a game plan that covers their massive pass protection flaws in a 28-10 rout of the Vikings. With Jay Cutler, they’re a contender for the NFC title. Without him, they’re a pink slip in waiting for offensive coordinator Mike Tice.
 
9. Packers (7-4)
Last week: No. 2.
Comment: A few Purple Lovers took offense to the Packers’ No. 2 ranking last week. Of course, they piped up the morning after the 38-10 loss at the Giants. They claimed to say it was “obvious” the Packers weren’t any good even before the Giants loss. To which one could respond, “Uh, ya mean the same team that had won five straight, three on the road and thrashed the now-10-1 Texans in Houston?” I wouldn’t dismiss Aaron Rodgers quite yet.
 
17. Vikings (6-4)
Last week: No. 15.
Comment: All the analysis, over-analysis, self-analysis, hyper-analysis and my-goodness-get-a-life analysis of the Vikings overlooks very one important element: They just ain’t as good as the Packers and the Bears. But they’re closer than they were last year.
 
20. Lions (4-7).
Last week: No. 19.
Comment: If Jason Hanson had Ndamukong Suh’s accuracy on kicks, the Lions would be 5-6.
 
 
THE REST
 
4. Falcons (11-1); 5. 49ers (8-2-1); 6. Broncos (8-3); 7. Giants (7-4); 10. Colts (7-4); 11. Bengals (6-5); 12. Redskins (5-6); 13. Buccaneers (6-5); 14. Dolphins (5-6); 15. Steelers (6-5); 16. Seahawks (6-5); 18. Saints (5-7); 19. Bills (4-7); 20. Lions (4-7); 21. Cowboys (5-6); 22. Titans (4-7); 23. Panthers (3-8); 24. Rams (4-6-1); 25. Browns (3-8); 26. Chargers (4-7); 27. Jaguars (2-9); 28. Jets (4-7); 29. Raiders (3-8).
 
 
VIKINGS
THREE REASONS FOR OPTIMISM
1, Rudolph in the passing game: It was refreshing to see the Vikings use the Bears’ aggressive approach to stopping Adrian Peterson against them. Faking to Peterson one way, rolling the other and hitting a wide-open tight end Kyle Rudolph led to gains of 25 and 13 yards. It also led to a touchdown. Obviously, the Vikings can’t go to that well too often because now teams will be looking for it. But the few times it was used in Chicago at least provided a sense that this offense can do something besides turn and hand the ball to Peterson or throw bubble screens to Percy Harvin when he’s healthy.
 
2, They are 6-5, you know: Yeah, yeah. I know we’re supposed to treat every game like it’s our first born child. Yeah, yeah, we’re supposed to declare the season over after each loss. However … A week ago at this time, I felt the Vikings needed to win one of their next three to stay in the playoff picture heading to St. Louis. In other words, don’t burn your Christian Ponder jersey if the Vikings lose back-to-back games at Chicago and Green Bay. If they beat the Bears at home next week, they’d be 7-6 heading to St. Louis. The NFL is too unpredictable and evenly-matched to bank on last week’s loss in Chicago being duplicated at the Metrodome next week.
 
3, Look down the road, folks: Here’s why a 1-2 trip through the Chicago-Green Bay-Chicago meat grinder wouldn’t be cause for panic: St. Louis is on the other end. Not only are the Rams closer to the Vikings in terms of development, they also got whacked by the JETS by 14 points at home recently. Would you take 8-6 heading to Houston to play a Texans team that probably will start resting starters that week? In other words, don’t panic until the Vikings go 0-3 in their Chicago-Green Bay-Chicago test.
 
THREE REASONS TO GO `UH-OH’
1, Bounce back factor, Take 2: Just like the Bears weren’t going to duplicate their 32-7 loss at San Francisco, the Packers aren’t going to duplicate their 38-10 loss at the Giants last week. Home games after blowout road losses tend to go the opposite way for good teams. The Bears and Packers are good teams, and the Vikings have the misfortune of playing them at home after those teams have been humiliated on the road.
 
2, Peterson’s fumbles: It’s been a long time since Adrian Peterson has had to discuss his fumbling to this extent. He fumbled 19 times in his first 46 regular-season NFL games. Then he rid himself of that problem and went the next 30 games with only two fumbles. Now, he has three this season, including two in the past five games. And it probably should be three in the past five games. Ponder got credited with one last Sunday, but it probably should have been given to Peterson.
 
3, Harvin’s health Take 2: It’s never good when your team’s Scottie Pippen – or second Michael Jordan, depending on whom you ask – is out with an injury. Percy Harvin has missed the past two games and seems likely to miss a third straight game on Sunday. The way he’s running, one has to question whether he’ll be even close to his old self when the Bears visit next week. It’s very possible that the Vikings will be out of the playoff hunt before their second-best player is able to perform like their second-best player.
 
THE PICKS
Packers 31, Vikings 17: Not buying the Packers being vulnerable at home after a 28-point loss at the Giants. Aaron Rodgers is great against the rest of the league and even greater when facing the Vikings without Brett Favre in full revenge mode (see: 2009). Too much Rodgers. Too many receivers. And based on last week’s effort in Chicago, not enough pass rush from the Vikings.
 
Record picking Vikings games: 6-3.
 
VIK plus-8 ½ at GB: Packers by 14.
SEA plus 3 ½ at CHI: Bears by 7.
ARI plus 4 ½ at NYJ: Jets by 7.
CAR minus-3 at KC: Panthers by 7.
IND plus-4 ½ at DET: Lions by 3.
JAC plus-6 at BUF: Bills by 3.
NE minus-7 ½ at MIA: Patriots by 14.
HOU minus-6 at TEN: Texans by 3.
TB plus-7 at DEN: Broncos by 10.
PIT off at BAL: Ravens by 10.
CLE off at OAK: Browns by 3.
CIN minus-2 at SD: Chargers by 3.
PHI plus-10 at DAL: Cowboys by 7.
NYG minus-2 ½ at WAS: Redskins by 7.
 
 
Overall Record Last Week: 8-5. Vs. Spread: 7-6.
 
Record Season: 89-53-1. Vs. Spread: 71-67-3.
 
 
UPSET SPECIAL
SF minus-7 at STL:
 
Rams 27, 49ers 24: Every time the 49ers are about to be crowned, they lose. Or they tie the Rams at home, like they did three weeks ago. This time, the Rams win at home as the Colin Kaepernick-Alex Smith issue enters its really-fun-to-watch phase.
 
Last week: SF minus-1 at NO. Prediction: Saints 31, 49ers 28.  Actual: 49ers 31, Saints 21.
Record: 6-5.

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