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 5 Picks and Power Rankings: Vikings go to 4-1

Posted by: Mark Craig under Vikings, Bears, Lions, NFC, Packers, Super Bowl, Percy Harvin Updated: October 5, 2012 - 1:02 PM
What else would you rather do on a Friday 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 (4-0)
Last week: No. 1.
Comment: Opponents have converted a league-low 25 percent of their third downs (12 of 48) against Wade Phillips’ bunch. That’s probably why they’re only scoring 14 a game against Bum’s boy.
 
2. Falcons (4-0)
Last week: No. 2.
Comment: Sometimes, it looks like Tony Gonzalez could play forever. The future Hall of Fame tight end continues to help Matt Ryan and the Falcons’ ball-control, quick-strike offense convert third downs at a 46.9 percent clip. Only Pittsburgh (56.3) has been more efficient on third downs.
 
3. Chargers (3-1)
Last week: No. 4.
Comment: Strange to see the Chargers rank higher in scoring defense (sixth) than scoring offense (14th). It’s good to have better balance, but it’s also still a concern that Philip Rivers put up only three points against the Falcons in Week 3.
 
BOTTOM THREE
30. Chiefs (1-3)
Last week: No. 25.
Comment: 0-2 at home and hosting the Ravens this week. Baltimore is fifth in scoring. The Chiefs are 31st in scoring defense and last in turnover margin (minus-13).
 
31. Saints (0-4)
Last week: No. 31.
Comment: At least the Saints are consistent. Who knows, if the fiasco continues, they might even be able to overtake the Browns’ stranglehold on No. 32. The defense doesn’t seem willing to stand in the way. It’s 31st in the NFL in first downs allowed (102). Only Tennessee (104) is worse.
 
32. Browns (0-4)
Last week: No. 32.
Comment: So what’s worse than starting 0-4 with a one-point loss to the Eagles, two tough division losses and a beatdown by Buffalo? A Week 5 road trip to play a Giants team coming off a loss.
 
NFC NORTH
8. Vikings (3-1).
Last week: No. 11.
Comment: @StribDW believes this lofty ranking is somehow connected to the gas fumes that pour into the Sid Hartman Media Center on daily basis at Winter Park. Perhaps. Or it could be the fact the Vikings have just dominated the line of scrimmage in back-to-back upsets that included a game in which they beat up a 49ers team that beat up the Packers in Lambeau. 
 
11. Packers (2-2)
Last week: No. 14.
Comment: The replacement officials weren’t the only ones from the NFL to hose the Packers. The schedule-maker got his licks in, too. A Thursday night game in Week 2. A Monday nighter at Seattle in Week 3. And now a three-game road trip. Houston is the only other team that has three consecutive road games on its schedule.  
 
12. Bears (3-1)
Last week: No. 16.
Comment: Jay Cutler and Mike Tice can’t get along during a 16-point prime-time victory at Dallas? Heaven help the Bears if this thing starts to unravel. Cutler did, however, have perhaps the best game of his career. So Tice is doing something right.
 
29. Lions (1-3)
Last week: No. 22.
Comment: The Lions are who we used to think they were. Did someone say 6-10? Or 5-11?
 
 
THE REST
4. Cardinals (4-1); 5. Eagles (3-1); 6. Ravens (3-1); 7. Bengals (3-1); 9. 49ers (3-1); 10. Broncos (2-2); 13. Rams (2-2); 14. Patriots (2-2); 15. Seahawks (2-2); 16. Cowboys (2-2); 17. Giants (2-2); 18. Redskins (2-2); 19. Jets (2-2); 20. Bills (2-2); 21. Buccaneers (1-3); 22. Jaguars (1-3); 23. Titans (1-3); 24. Steelers (1-2); 25. Colts (1-2); 26. Panthers (1-3); 27. Dolphins (1-3); 28, Raiders (1-3).
 
VIKINGS
THREE REASONS FOR OPTIMISM
1, Ponder’s 4 for 4: Like we said last week, we’ll keep this No. 1 until quarterback Christian Ponder puts up a clunker. Part of his impressive development in Year 2 is his full understanding of his team’s power-running identity. Power-running teams don’t sling the ball with hopes that the reward will miraculously outweigh the risk. Ponder’s understanding of that was on display during a win at Detroit in which he threw for only 111 yards and a 71.2 passer rating. To me, those lousy numbers are overshadowed by the fact he’s the only starting QB in the league without an interception. His streak of passes without a pick is 124, including 123 this year.
 
2, Those eight plays in the second half: The Lions trailed 20-6 and knew the Vikings were going to run the ball late in the third quarter and into the fourth quarter. They put eight and nine men in the box. Yet the Vikings still ran the ball eight consecutive times for 38 yards and three first downs. As Ponder likes to say, “That’s huge!” If the Lions could do that, they’d win a Super Bowl with their passing attack. It would have been the perfect pound-it-out-with-a-lead drive had Blair Walsh not missed the 46-yard field goal attempt at the end of it.
 
3, Depth: We all thought the secondary was doomed when Jamarca Sanford had to start at strong safety for the injured Mistral Raymond last week. We all thought the nickel defense was doomed when Jasper Brinkley had to take over for the injured Erin Henderson the past two weeks. We all thought Marvin Mitchell couldn’t start for Henderson in back-to-back games in the base defense. Well, we were wrong. Sanford teamed with Harrison Smith last week to showcase the best safety play the Vikings have had in years. If Sanford keeps it up, Raymond is out of a starting job. As for Brinkley, he played so well that, for now, Henderson has lost his job in the nickel.  
 
THREE REASONS TO GO `UH-OH’
1, Favored by 5 1/2: A team’s expectations can’t change any more dramatically in four weeks than they have for the Vikings since the start of the season. Four weeks ago, they were a rebuilding team looking to 2013 while the bullies of the NFC North fought amongst themselves. Today, with three of their next four games at home, the Vikings are expected to head into November still atop the division. But what happens when a team that’s grabbed the league’s attention with consecutive upsets is the favored one.
 
2, Bracketing Percy: Until last week, it seemed as though Percy Harvin essentially was unstoppable. Even if the Vikings had to throw the ball to him five yards behind the line of scrimmage, Harvin was going to get his yards after the catch and move the chains. But the Lions slapped a bracket on him that took him out of the offense. Even the linemen were looking for those quick passes down the line of scrimmage. As teams look to duplicate the Lions’ approach, the pressure will mount on Ponder and Jerome Simpson to connect deep down the field. And that will open the Vikings up to more turnovers.
 
3, Inconsistent tight end production: This is a tight end-friendly offense with one of the best young tight ends in Kyle Rudolph and the team’s prized free-agent acquisition in John Carlson. One week, Rudolph looks like the league’s breakout player of the year. The next week, like last week, he goes long stretches without being targeted and ends up with two catches for 8 yards. Carlson, meanwhile, has been a huge disappointment. He’s been targeted three times and has one catch for minus-1 yard. If teams are able to take Harvin out of the game, the Vikings need consistent production and first downs out of their tight ends.  
 
 
THE PICKS
Vikings 24, Titans 17: The Vikings have shown the past two weeks that they can run the ball when two of the league’s better defensive fronts know they’re going to run the ball. Tennessee doesn’t have near the strength up front, ranking 27th against the run. This is a game the Vikings should control. Then again, this spot is on a three-game losing streak when it comes to predicting what the Purple will do. The Vikings are favored by 5 ½.
 
 
PHI plus-3 ½ at PIT: Steelers by 7.
GB minus-7 at IND: Packers by 10.
CLE plus-9 at NYG: Giants by 3.
MIA plus-3 ½ at CIN: Bengals by 10.
BAL minus-6 at KC: Ravens by 3.
SEA plus-3 at CAR: Panthers by 7.
CHI minus-4 ½ at JAC: Jaguars by 6.
DEN plus-6 ½ at NE: Patriots by 7.
BUF plus-9 ½ at SF: 49ers by 10.
SD plus-3 ½ at NO: Saints by 3 (Hey, they gotta win sometime, right?).
HOU minus-8 at NYJ: Texans by 10.
 
Record Last Week: 9-4. Vs. Spread: 5-8.
 
Record Season: 22-19. Vs. Spread: 16-21-2.
 
 
UPSET SPECIAL
ATL minus-3 at WAS:
Redskins 30, Falcons 28: RGIII goes Matty Ice with a last-minute drive as the NFC loses its last undefeated team. If that and everything else above happens (which, of course, it won’t), the Vikings, Falcons, Cardinals and 49ers would be tied atop the conference with 4-1 records. Just like we all figured after five weeks, eh?
 
 
Last week: NO plus-7 at GB. Prediction: Saints 31, Packers 28. Actual: Packers 28, Saints 27.
Record: 2-1.

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NY Yankees 0 Top 2nd Inning
Toronto 2
Detroit 3 Bottom 1st Inning
Chicago WSox 0
Chicago Cubs - F. Doubront 1:15 PM
St. Louis - J. Masterson
Cincinnati - A. Simon 3:05 PM
Pittsburgh - V. Worley
Minnesota - K. Gibson 6:05 PM
Baltimore - C. Tillman
Philadelphia - J. Williams 6:10 PM
NY Mets - B. Colon
Miami - J. Cosart 6:10 PM
Atlanta - A. Harang
Boston - A. Webster 6:10 PM
Tampa Bay - J. Odorizzi
Cleveland - T. Bauer 6:10 PM
Kansas City - J. Shields
Detroit - K. Ryan 6:10 PM
Chicago WSox - C. Bassitt
Texas - R. Ross Jr. 6:10 PM
Houston - S. Feldman
Colorado - T. Matzek 7:10 PM
Arizona - V. Nuno
Chicago Cubs - T. Wada 7:15 PM
St. Louis - M. Gonzales
Los Angeles - Z. Greinke 7:40 PM
San Diego - I. Kennedy
Milwaukee - M. Fiers 8:05 PM
San Francisco - J. Peavy
Oakland - J. Samardzija 8:05 PM
LA Angels - C. Rasmus
Washington - S. Strasburg 8:10 PM
Seattle - R. Elias
Green Bay 9/4/14 7:30 PM
Seattle
(21) Texas A&M 52 FINAL
(9) So Carolina 28
Wake Forest 10 FINAL
ULM 17
Boise State 13 FINAL
(18) Ole Miss 35
Tulane 31 FINAL
Tulsa 38
Rutgers 41 FINAL
Washington St 38
Weber State 14 FINAL
(19) Arizona State 45
Temple 37 FINAL
Vanderbilt 7
BYU 35 FINAL
Connecticut 10
(6) Jacksonville St 7 FINAL
(8) Michigan State 45
Bowling Green 31 FINAL
Western Ky 59
TX-San Antonio 27 FINAL
Houston 7
Colorado State 31 FINAL
Colorado 17
UNLV 13 FINAL
Arizona 58
Penn State 26 FINAL
UCF 24
Troy 7 2nd Qtr 3:07
UAB 24
(7) UCLA 21 2nd Qtr 1:10
Virginia 3
Western Mich 14 2nd Qtr 5:16
Purdue 20
(5) Ohio State 6 2nd Qtr 1:20
Navy 7
Appalachian St 0 2nd Qtr 1:06
Michigan 28
Ga Southern 10 2nd Qtr 8:18
NC State 3
Boston College 2:00 PM
Massachusetts
West Virginia 2:30 PM
(2) Alabama
Rice 2:30 PM
(17) Notre Dame
(10) South Dakota St 2:30 PM
(24) Missouri
Fla Atlantic 2:30 PM
(22) Nebraska
California 2:30 PM
Northwestern
Marshall 2:30 PM
Miami-Ohio
UC Davis 3:00 PM
(11) Stanford
Arkansas 3:00 PM
(6) Auburn
(16) Clemson 4:30 PM
(12) Georgia
Liberty 5:00 PM
(23) North Carolina
Ohio U 5:00 PM
Kent State
Louisiana Tech 6:00 PM
(4) Oklahoma
Idaho 6:00 PM
Florida
Stephen F Austin 6:10 PM
(20) Kansas State
Fresno State 6:30 PM
(15) USC
Southern Miss 6:30 PM
Miss State
Texas-El Paso 7:00 PM
New Mexico
North Texas 7:00 PM
Texas
(1) Florida State 7:00 PM
Oklahoma State
(14) Wisconsin 8:00 PM
(13) LSU
South Dakota 9:30 PM
(3) Oregon
(25) Washington 9:30 PM
Hawaii
Utah State 8/31/14 6:00 PM
Tennessee
SMU 8/31/14 6:30 PM
(10) Baylor
Miami-Florida 9/1/14 7:00 PM
Louisville
Arizona 9/4/14 7:00 PM
TX-San Antonio
Pittsburgh 9/5/14 6:00 PM
Boston College
Washington St 9/5/14 9:30 PM
Nevada
Colorado 3:00 PM
Seattle
New England 4:00 PM
Toronto FC
Columbus 6:30 PM
Montreal
FC Dallas 7:30 PM
Chicago
Real Salt Lake 9:30 PM
San Jose
Portland 9:30 PM
Vancouver FC
Ottawa 10 FINAL
Montreal 20
Winnipeg 8/31/14 3:00 PM
Saskatchewan
Toronto 9/1/14 12:00 PM
Hamilton
Edmonton 9/1/14 3:30 PM
Calgary
Brt Columbia 9/5/14 6:30 PM
Ottawa
Calgary 9/6/14 6:00 PM
Edmonton
Hamilton 9/7/14 12:00 PM
Montreal
Saskatchewan 9/7/14 3:00 PM
Winnipeg
Chicago 6:00 PM
Indiana
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Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 preseason     
Aug 8 - vs. Oakland 7 pmX10-6
Aug 16 - vs. Arizona 7:30 pmX30-28
Aug 23 - at Kansas City 7 pmX30-12
Aug 28 - at Tennessee 7 pmX19-3
2014 regular season     
Sep 7 - at St. Louis Noon
Sep 14 - vs. New England Noon
Sep 21 - at New Orleans Noon
Sep 28 - vs. Atlanta 3:25 pm
Oct 2 - at Green Bay 7:25 pm
Oct 12 - vs. Detroit Noon
Oct 19 - at. Buffalo Noon
Oct 26 - at Tampa Bay Noon
Nov 2 - vs. Washington Noon
Nov 9 - Bye
Nov 16 - at Chicago Noon
Nov. 23 - vs. Green Bay Noon
Nov. 30 - vs. Carolina Noon
Dec 7 - vs. NY Jets Noon
Dec 14 - at Detroit Noon
Dec 21 - at Miami Noon
Dec 28 - vs. Chicago Noon

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