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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Pittsburgh 0 Top 9th Inning
Cincinnati 4
Tampa Bay 0 Top 7th Inning
Baltimore 3
Chicago Cubs 0 Bottom 6th Inning
NY Yankees 3
St. Louis 1 Top 6th Inning
Milwaukee 4
NY Mets - D. Gee 2:40 PM
Arizona - B. McCarthy
Atlanta - J. Teheran 6:05 PM
Philadelphia - C. Lee
Chicago Cubs - T. Wood 6:05 PM
NY Yankees - M. Pineda
Cleveland - Z. McAllister 6:08 PM
Detroit - A. Sanchez
Washington - T. Roark 6:10 PM
Miami - J. Fernandez
Seattle - F. Hernandez 7:05 PM
Texas - Y. Darvish
Boston - C. Buchholz 7:10 PM
Chicago WSox - J. Danks
Kansas City - J. Guthrie 7:10 PM
Houston - D. Keuchel
Toronto 0 Postponed
Minnesota 0
Oakland - T. Milone 9:05 PM
LA Angels - T. Skaggs
Colorado - J. De La Rosa 9:10 PM
San Diego - A. Cashner
Los Angeles - P. Maholm 9:15 PM
San Francisco - R. Vogelsong
Chicago 6:00 PM
Charlotte
Indiana 6:00 PM
Orlando
Atlanta 7:00 PM
Milwaukee
Dallas 7:00 PM
Memphis
Detroit 7:00 PM
Oklahoma City
Houston 7:00 PM
New Orleans
LA Lakers 7:00 PM
San Antonio
Brooklyn 7:00 PM
Cleveland
Philadelphia 7:00 PM
Miami
Utah 7:00 PM
Minnesota
Washington 7:00 PM
Boston
Toronto 7:00 PM
New York
Golden State 9:30 PM
Denver
LA Clippers 9:30 PM
Portland
Phoenix 9:30 PM
Sacramento
Montreal 6:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Columbus 6:30 PM
Pittsburgh
Dallas 9:00 PM
Anaheim
Philadelphia 6:30 PM
Red Bull New York
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Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2013 preseason     
Aug 9 - vs. Houston 7 pmX27-13
Aug 16 - at Buffalo 6 pmX20-16
Aug 25 - at San Francisco 7 pmX34-14
Aug 29 - vs. Tennessee 7 pmX24-23
2013 regular season     
Sep 8 - at Detroit NoonX34-24
Sep 15 - at Chicago NoonX31-30
Sep 22 - vs. Cleveland NoonX31-27
Sep 29 - vs. Pittsburgh (in London) NoonX34-27
Oct 6 - Bye
Oct 13 - vs. Carolina NoonX35-10
Oct 21 - at. NY Giants 7:40 pmX23-7
Oct 27 - vs. Green Bay 7:30 pmX44-31
Nov 3 - at Dallas NoonX27-23
Nov 7 - vs. Washington 7:25 pmX34-27
Nov 17 - at Seattle 3:25 pmX41-20
Nov. 24 - at Green Bay Noon26-26
Dec 1 - vs. Chicago NoonX23-20
Dec 8 - at Baltimore NoonX29-26
Dec 15 - vs. Philadelphia NoonX48-30
Dec 22 - at Cincinnati NoonX42-14
Dec 29 - vs. Detroit NoonX14-13

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