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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NY Mets 8 FINAL
Atlanta 2
Philadelphia 3 FINAL
NY Yankees 1
Detroit 5 FINAL
Baltimore 4
Toronto 4 FINAL
Pittsburgh 1
Cincinnati 2 FINAL
Cleveland 4
San Diego 3 FINAL
Seattle 4
Chicago WSox 6 FINAL
Los Angeles 4
Kansas City 13 FINAL
Texas 2
Oakland 9 FINAL
San Francisco 2
Wisc-Milwaukee 0 FINAL
Milwaukee 8
Arizona 6 FINAL
Colorado 3
Univ of Minnesota 1 FINAL
Minnesota 3
New York 82 FINAL
Indiana 105
Phoenix 105 FINAL
Orlando 100
Cleveland 120 FINAL
Toronto 112
Utah 84 FINAL
Boston 85
Charlotte 115 FINAL
Brooklyn 91
Denver 100 FINAL
Minnesota 85
Detroit 85 FINAL
New Orleans 88
LA Lakers 94 FINAL
Miami 100
Philadelphia 118 FINAL
Oklahoma City 123
Memphis 102 FINAL
Houston 100
Sacramento 85 FINAL
San Antonio 112
Milwaukee 93 FINAL
Golden State 102
Portland 98 FINAL
LA Clippers 93
Ottawa 3 FINAL
Winnipeg 1
NY Rangers 1 FINAL(OT)
Detroit 2
Pittsburgh 1 FINAL
Colorado 3
Montreal 1 FINAL
Anaheim 3
Longwood 65 FINAL
Presbyterian 61
Campbell 64 FINAL
Gardner-Webb 72
Liberty 70 FINAL
UNC-Asheville 80
Ohio State 77 FINAL
Penn State 67
Maine 66 FINAL
Albany 83
Duquesne 81 FINAL
Fordham 66
George Washington 67 FINAL
George Mason 51
Tennessee 78 FINAL
LSU 63
Notre Dame 71 FINAL
Louisville 59
SE Missouri St 74 FINAL
Morehead State 79
St Francis-PA 73 FINAL
Mount St Marys 58
Hartford 63 FINAL
New Hampshire 67
Wagner 68 FINAL
Robert Morris 91
Long Island 70 FINAL
St Francis-NY 79
La Salle 50 FINAL
Saint Josephs 55
Providence 79 FINAL
Seton Hall 66
UCF 45 FINAL
South Florida 74
Binghamton 57 FINAL
Stony Brook 62
UMBC 39 FINAL
Vermont 66
Sacred Heart 85 FINAL
Bryant 91
Richmond 56 FINAL
Massachusetts 53
Wake Forest 51 FINAL
Duke 94
Purdue 66 FINAL
Michigan State 72
Miami-Florida 67 FINAL
Pittsburgh 63
St Bonaventure 64 FINAL
Saint Louis 48
New Mexico St 69 FINAL
TX-Pan American 48
Houston 68 FINAL
Tulane 63
Howard 62 FINAL
NJIT 71
TCU 70 FINAL
Oklahoma State 82
Cincinnati 56 FINAL
Tulsa 47
USC 74 FINAL
UCLA 85
Miss State 56 FINAL
Vanderbilt 66
Utah State 53 FINAL
Wyoming 76
St Johns 67 FINAL
Marquette 51
SIU Edwardsville 66 FINAL
Eastern Ill 78
Air Force 66 FINAL
Fresno State 68
Nebraska 57 FINAL
Illinois 69
Colorado State 78 FINAL
Nevada 62
Boise State 68 FINAL
San Jose St 51
San Diego St 60 FINAL
UNLV 58
Oregon 65 FINAL
Oregon State 62
UC Santa Barbara 98 FINAL
Hawaii 90
Toledo 64 FINAL
Northern Ill 68
Wake Forest 69 FINAL
Boston College 53
Eastern Illinois 35 FINAL
UT Martin 68
Austin Peay 69 FINAL
SIU-Edwardsville 72
Virginia Tech 57 FINAL
NC State 56
Massachusetts 55 FINAL
St Bonaventure 49
Auburn 71 FINAL
Florida 49
Penn State 63 FINAL
Indiana 68
Clemson 53 FINAL
Georgia Tech 80
Davidson 63 FINAL
La Salle 74
Loyola-Maryland 46 FINAL
Lafayette 58
Boston U 48 FINAL
Colgate 58
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James Madison 107
Delaware 76 FINAL
Elon 77
Drexel 58 FINAL
Northeastern 42
Hofstra 75 FINAL
UNC-Wilmington 76
Towson 56 FINAL
William & Mary 68
Miami-Ohio 55 FINAL
Akron 67
Ball State 85 FINAL
Central Michigan 69
Buffalo 55 FINAL
Bowling Green 47
Western Mich 65 FINAL
Eastern Michigan 74
Ohio U 69 FINAL
Kent State 56
Youngstown St 62 FINAL
Cleveland State 73
Illinois-Chicago 54 FINAL
Wright State 74
Alabama 56 FINAL
Vanderbilt 66
Detroit 60 FINAL
Milwaukee 56
Purdue 58 FINAL
Wisconsin 56
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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 NoonX34-6
Sep 14 - vs. New England NoonX30-7
Sep 21 - at New Orleans NoonX20-9
Sep 28 - vs. Atlanta 3:25 pmX41-28
Oct 2 - at Green Bay 7:25 pmX42-10
Oct 12 - vs. Detroit NoonX17-3
Oct 19 - at. Buffalo NoonX17-16
Oct 26 - at Tampa Bay NoonX19-13 ot
Nov 2 - vs. Washington NoonX29-26
Nov 9 - Bye
Nov 16 - at Chicago NoonX21-13
Nov. 23 - vs. Green Bay NoonX24-21
Nov. 30 - vs. Carolina NoonX31-13
Dec 7 - vs. NY Jets NoonX30-24 ot
Dec 14 - at Detroit 3:25 pmX16-14
Dec 21 - at Miami NoonX37-35
Dec 28 - vs. Chicago NoonX13-9

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