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 8 Picks and Power Rankings: Vikings drop to No. 17

Posted by: Mark Craig under On the road, Vikings, Bears, Lions, NFC, Packers, Vikings fans, Adrian Peterson, Chris Kluwe, Percy Harvin Updated: October 26, 2012 - 10:34 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 (6-0)
Last week: No. 1.
Comment: The Falcons have had a bye week to flush an ugly come-from-behind win over the Raiders at home. But they travel to Philadelphia, which also is coming off a bye and the firing of its defensive coordinator. Does anyone else smell an upset by the home team?
 
2. Giants (5-2)
Last week: No. 2.
Comment: Eli or Peyton? Peyton or Eli? I’d take either. But at this stage in their careers, give me Eli’s arm strength, the comfort level in his offense and, oh yeah, the team and the coach that’s around him.
 
3. Bears (5-1)
Last week: No. 5.
Comment: Will the Bears join the Chargers and Ravens as No. 3 teams to get clobbered and thereby embarrass the author of this highly-original idea to form an online NFL Power Ranking? Not if they play defense against visiting Carolina the way they manhandled the kitties from Detroit on Monday night. Charles Tillman, Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs are a combined 312 years old, but they’re playing some great football.
 
BOTTOM THREE
30. Browns (1-6)
Last week: No. 29.
Comment: Speaking from experience as a season-ticket holder during the Browns’ 3-13 season in 1990, Cleveland’s season-ticket holders are NOT happy about having five home games in an open-air stadium on the shores of Lake Erie in the final nine weeks of the season. Perhaps bags over the face will provide some warmth.
 
31. Jaguars (1-5)
Last week: No. 31.
Comment: With one eye on the opportunity to wrest the No. 32 spot from KC, the Jags ride a three-game losing streak into a slaught ..., er, game at Green Bay.
 
32. Chiefs (1-5)
Last week: No. 32.
Comment: For the Chiefs to hold off the Jaguars, they must dig shallow, stay unfocused and play every snap like it’s nowhere near their last. Losing to Oakland at home will take everything the Chiefs don’t have and less.
 
NFC NORTH
4. Packers (4-3)
Last week: No. 4.
Comment: Dear Packer fans: A, Why are you reading this? B, I don’t have anything against Green Bay. I spent a wonderful month there one weekend last year. C, I’m back on board. For the first time since Week 5, I’m picking them to win. D, You probably don’t like that either since they lost at Indianapolis in Week 5.
 
3. Bears (5-1)
Last week: No. 5.
Comment: Is it me or did Brandon Marshall get taller the moment Chris Cook broke his wrist last night?
 
17. Vikings (5-3).
Last week: No. 14.
Comment: The five wins are more than any of us expected while being baked daily by the Mankato sun. But, sorry, a loss at home to the Bucs on a short week is inexcusable and alarming. Be afraid, Vikings fans. Be very afraid. Then again, can’t you see us standing out in Seattle in nine days saying, “Duh, yup, who’da thunk they’d beat the Seahawks in Seattle? (Insert video clip of Sid Hartman saying "Crazy league!") This team is really going places. They get Detroit at home next week, so that’s 7-3. And then they go to Chicago. That’s tough, but, ya know, Chicago got beat at home by Carolina today, so the Bears aren’t who we thought they were ...”  
 
27. Lions (2-3)
Last week: No. 20.
Comment: Bye-bye Detroit.
 
 
THE REST
 
5.    Texans (6-1); 6. 49ers (5-2); 7. Ravens (5-2); 8. Patriots (4-3); 9. Broncos (3-3); 10. Seahawks (4-3); 11. Dolphins (3-3); 12.     Saints (2-4); 13. Colts (3-3); 14. Redskins (3-4); 15. Cowboys (3-3); 16. Buccaneers (3-4); 18. Titans (3-4); 19. Steelers (3-3); 20. Rams (3-4); 21. Eagles (3-3); 22. Jets (3-4); 23. Bills (3-4); 24. Cardinals (4-3); 25. Chargers (3-3); 26. Raiders (2-4); 28. Panthers (1-5); 29. Bengals (3-4).
 
 
VIKINGS
THREE REASONS FOR OPTIMISM
1, Peterson is back, so stop asking!: Maybe it’s a conversation filler during awkward lulls in the weekly group interview session with Adrian Peterson. Maybe some reporter just wants to hear his or her own voice. Maybe it’s time to STOP ASKING ADRIAN PETERSON IF HE’S BACK! Sheesh. He might be the first guy in NFL history who’s on pace for 1,550 yards at the halfway point who has to answer that question every time he looks into a camera. If I were Ross Perot circa. 1992, I'd put up a pie chart and say, "Folks, here's the deal. There was an injury. There was a surgery. There was a rehab. Then there was Adrian Peterson doing what Adrian Peterson does. And that’s a great thing for a team that’s built around Adrian Peterson."
 
2, Percy makes bad football good: This team is going to struggle now and then, especially as quarterback Christian Ponder figures this NFL thing out. But one constant that won’t change no matter who or where the Vikings play is Percy Harvin’s talent. After three straight three-and-outs and a turnover, the Vikings finally scored on Thursday. It wasn’t because of anything offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave or Ponder did. It was entirely because Harvin essentially said, “Enough’s enough,” took the ball and ran down the field like the fast kid no one could catch while playing the probably now-politically incorrect game, "Kill the Man with the Ball" at recess. (Reference understood by only those of you old enough to remember when adults didn't micromanage, well, everything). The Vikings went 80 yards in five plays. Fifteen of those yards were the result of a personal foul on the Bucs. Fifty of the 65 yards the Vikings earned came when Harvin took a simple bubble screen 32 yards and then ran under an 18-yard touchdown pass, catching it over his right shoulder. As long as Harvin and Peterson are healthy, the Vikings have a chance. If the Vikings are lucky, they’ll stay healthy long enough for the team to draft a prototypical star outside receiver.
 
3, Smith will keep getting better: Yes, the Vikings missed a lot of tackles. Yes, rookie safety Harrison Smith missed his share as well. It’s never a good sign for your safeties when a running back takes a dump pass and runs 64 yards for a touchdown. But Smith isn’t some stopgap measure at safety. He’s a first-rounder who is still a candidate for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. He had 13 tackles on Thursday and still has the instinctive, physical style of play the Vikings haven’t had on the back end in years. And he’ll keep getting better, which could help the Vikings weather the loss of cornerback Chris Cook (broken wrist).
 
 
THREE REASONS TO GO `UH-OH’
1, Cook’s wrist and `If this can happen at home, …’: If there is such a thing in the NFL, the Vikings’ “easy” part of the schedule just ended with them getting embarrassed 36-17 at home on a short week by a 2-4 Bucs team. Not good. Being 5-3 is good. But five of the final eight are on the road, including games at Chicago (5-1), Green Bay (4-3), Seattle (4-3) and Houston (6-1). Throw in the fact that it appears the team could be taking on the likes of Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler without cornerback Chris Cook (broken wrist) and, well, hold on, folks. Three more wins and a .500 record could be hard to come by.
 
2, Ponder is stacking the stinkers: We started the season by saying the Vikings’ No. 1 goal this season was to prove beyond any doubt that Christian Ponder is the quarterback of the future. By the estimation here, he went 5-for-5 in doing just that in his first five games. Yes, there was a loss in there, but I loved how he persevered at Indianapolis and led the Vikings to a game-tying touchdown late. He also started started his three-week stretch of multiple turnovers against Tennessee in Week 5, but I gave him that game because of how impressive he was after throwing picks on back-to-back plays. But he’s now on a three-game slide. It’s not all his fault. Since the Redskins game three weeks ago, he’s been blitzed out of his mind. The Vikings need to do a better job protecting him. But handling the chaos of things breaking down ranks as highly as any other trait that a franchise QB must have. At least Ponder stopped turning the ball over in his half of the field on Thursday night. His pick came in the closing seconds. But his leadership was lacking, especially early in the game when the Vikings started with three three-and-outs.
 
3, Field position:
Other than not punting away from Reggie Bush in New Orleans a few years back, does anyone ever remember punter Chris Kluwe hurting the team like he did Thursday night? He’s still the best punter in franchise history, but two of his poor punts, including a 20-yard shank, helped hand the Bucs a 10-0 lead. A team that’s built like the Vikings needs a great punter to make it all fit together. It’s only one bad game, but it did come on a national prime-time stage. Right or wrong, Kluwe is going face questions about whether he created too much pressure for himself by choosing to be such a widely-exposed political activist. Then there becomes the risk of him pressing. And that’s not good for a punter.  
 
 
 
THE PICKS
Vikings: Wait. On second thought, I think I’ll take the Bucs. Traveling on a short week to play a prime-time game against a team with a better record in a claustrophobic dome is soooooo overrated. Oops. Too late.
 
Record picking Vikings games: 3-3 (Didn’t officially pick the Vikings this week since they were the Thursday night stinker, er, game. But, unofficially, that was a whiff on what should have been a win for the home team).
 
Overall Record Last Week: 8-4. Vs. Spread: 5-6-1.
 
Record Season: 47-32. Vs. Spread: 33-41-3.
 
STL plus-7 at NE: Patriots by 10.
IND plus-3 ½ at TEN: Titans by 6.
JAC plus 15 ½ at GB: Packers by 14.
SD minus-2 ½ at CLE: Chargers by 7.
ATL plus-2 at PHI: Eagles by 3.
SEA plus-1 ½ at DET: Seahawks by 7.
MIA plus-2 at NYJ: Jets by 3.
CAR plus-7 ½ at CHI: Bears by 3.
WAS plus-4 ½ at PIT: Steelers by 7.
OAK plus-1 at KC: Raiders by 3.
NYG plus-1 ½ at DAL: Giants by 10.
ARI plus 6 ½ at SF: 49ers by 14.
 
UPSET SPECIAL
NO plus-6 at DEN:
 
Saints 33, Broncos 30:  Years ago, I remember setting the VCR for a prime-time game between Joe Montana (Chiefs) and John Elway (Broncos) in the twilight of Montana’s career. It was a classic that was both a great game and a cool keepsake. This promises to be the same with two legends – Drew Brees and Peyton Manning – bringing their teams back to form. Yeah, I know what a lot of you are saying: “Duh, dude, what’s a VCR?”  
 
 
Last week: GB minus-5 ½ at STL. Prediction: Rams 27, Packers 24. Actual: Packers 30, Rams 20.
Record: 3-3.

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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 Noon
Dec 28 - vs. Chicago Noon

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