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 11 Picks & Power Rankings: Pack climbs to No. 2

Posted by: Mark Craig under Quarterbacks, Vikings, Bears, Lions, NFC, Packers, Adrian Peterson, Percy Harvin Updated: November 16, 2012 - 8:51 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 (8-1)
Last week: No. 4.
Comment: Since their 42-24 loss at home to Green Bay, the Texans are 3-0 with a 30-point win over the Ravens and a grind-it-out victory at Chicago.
 
2. Packers (6-3)
Last week: No. 3.
Comment: Yeah, the Packers beat the No. 1 team by 18 points less than a month ago. But do you really expect NFL Power Rankings to make any sense? The Packers also lost to the Colts. And the Colts lost to the Jaguars. So maybe the Jaguars are the best team, eh?
 
3. Falcons (8-1)
Last week: No. 1.
Comment: Obviously, they aren’t done just because they lost at New Orleans last week. NOBODY wants to play the Saints right now. But the only way this team will be taken seriously is if it finally produces in the playoffs.
 
BOTTOM THREE
30. Eagles (3-6)
Last week: No. 30.
Comment: Andy Reid will be coaching the Browns in about two months. Will he keep Chilly as his offensive coordinator?
 
31. Chiefs (1-8)
Last week: No. 32.
Comment: The Chiefs led a game in regulation! Until they lost – again – in overtime. But, hey, Romeo’s guys showed some life in Pittsburgh. So we’ll bump them up a notch.
 
32. Jaguars (1-8)
Last week: No. 31.
Comment: At least Jacksonville didn’t lose last week. But all good things, including bye weeks, must come to an end.
 
 
NFC NORTH
2. Packers (6-3)
Last week: No. 3.
 
4. Bears (7-2)
Last week: No. 2.
Comment: Thirty takeaways and eight touchdowns defensively. Think about that. Through nine games in 1985, the Bears also had 30 takeaways but only two defensive touchdowns. Wow.
 
15. Vikings (6-4)
Last week: No. 18.
Comment: Win over the Lions saved the season. At least until Dec. 2. To keep the season alive beyond that, the Vikings need to win one of their next three games. That won’t be easy since they play the Bears in Chicago, the Packers in Green Bay and the Bears back home.
 
19. Lions (4-5).
Last week: No. 14.
Comment: We buried the Lions prematurely a few weeks back. But they play the Packers Sunday and the Texans at home on Thanksgiving. That could be a 4-7 hole the Lions won’t climb out of.
 
 
THE REST
 
 
5. Ravens (7-2); 6. Steelers (6-3); 7. 49ers (6-2-1); 8. Patriots (6-3); 9. Broncos (6-3); 10. Saints (4-5); 11. Colts (6-3); 12. Giants (6-4); 13. Buccaneers (5-4); 14. Seahawks (6-4);
16. Cowboys (4-5); 17. Bengals (4-5); 18. Rams (3-5-1); 20. Titans (4-5); 21. Chargers (4-5); 22. Bills (4-6); 23. Dolphins (4-6); 24. Panthers (2-7); 25. Redskins (3-6); 26. Raiders (3-6); 27. Cardinals (4-5); 28. Browns (2-7); 29. Jets (3-6).
 
 
VIKINGS
THREE REASONS FOR OPTIMISM
1, Ponder bounced back: QB Christian Ponder no longer looks like a child who dropped his ice cream cone in the sand. After a four-game personal slump that also helped drag the Vikings from 4-1 to 5-4, Ponder completed 75 percent of his passes to nine people not named Ponder in Sunday’s win over the Lions. He had two touchdowns, no turnovers and his highest passer rating (114.2) since Week 2. To me, Ponder has now had six games in which he has played winning football (the first five games and last Sunday). That’s pretty good considering this is a team that was expected to win six games at most.
 
2, Adrian Peterson is an MVP front-runner: Only 15 running backs have won league MVP. Quarterbacks have won it 35 times. So the odds are against Peterson winning MVP. Of course, the odds against him rushing for a league-leading 1,128 yards and a 5.8-yard average through nine games were even greater when his left knee was blown up last Christmas Eve. This has the feel of a 2,000-yard, MVP-caliber season.
 
3, Healthy roster: While the Packers seem to ship players off to injured reserve every week or so, the Vikings remain amazingly healthy. Of course, the Packers are OK so long as Aaron Rodgers remains healthy. But it is amazing to think that the Vikings will come out of their bye with a 6-4 record and only one opening-day starter (cornerback Chris Cook) unavailable to face the Bears. Receiver Percy Harvin and nose tackle Letroy Guion are expected back next week.
 
THREE REASONS TO GO `UH-OH’
1, The schedule: The Vikings head into their next three games needing to win one to stay above .500. And even if they do that, chances are they’d have to win at least two of their final three games to even have a chance of making the playoffs. Can the Vikings go 3-3 against this schedule?: at Chicago, at Green Bay, home against the Bears, at St. Louis, at Houston, home against the Packers.
 
2, Run defense: Sorry, but holding a woeful Lions running game to 60 yards does not erase the concerns about the run defense. Detroit is the only team in the league without a rush of 20 yards or more. So the Vikings’ run defense wasn’t really tested. But it will when it faces the Bears twice in the next three weeks. That’s when we’ll find out if the Vikings’ run defense is back or whether it’s still the shaky unit that allowed an average of 165.8 yards in the four games leading up to last week’s win over the Lions.
 
3, Turnover margin: Helmets off to the Vikings for being able to win six games with a minus-4 turnover margin. They’re one of only three teams in the bottom 10 in turnover margin to have a winning record. But look out because five of the final six games are against teams that have a positive turnover margin. That includes the Bears (plus-14) twice, the Packers (plus-4) twice and the Texans (plus-10) once.
 
THE PICKS
Vikings off:
 
Record picking Vikings games: 5-3.
 
 
PHI plus-3 ½ at WAS: Redskins by 6.
GB minus-3 ½ at DET: Packers by 7.
ARI plus-10 at ATL: Falcons by 3.
TB minus-1 ½ at CAR: Panthers by 4.
CLE plus-7 ½ at DAL: Browns by 3.
IND plus-9 ½ at NE: Patriots by 10.
JAC plus-15 ½ at HOU: Texans by 10.
CIN minus-3 ½ at KC: Chiefs by 3.
NO minus-5 at OAK: Saints by 14.
SD plus-7 ½ at DEN: Broncos by 3.
BAL plus-3 ½ at PIT: Ravens by 7.
CHI off at SF: 49ers by 7.
 
Overall Record Last Week: 6-5-1. Vs. Spread: 4-8.
 
Record Season: 71-45-1. Vs. Spread: 53-59-3.
 
 
UPSET SPECIAL
NYJ plus-3 ½ at STL:
 
Jets 16, Rams 10 OT: You think the Jets are a circus now? Get a load of them after Tim Tebow comes off the bench to win at game in OT. 
 
Last week: ATL minus-2 ½ at NO. Prediction: Saints 31, Falcons 28. Actual: Saints 31, Falcons 27.
Record: 5-4.

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New Orleans 7:25 PM
Carolina
Tampa Bay 11/2/14 12:00 PM
Cleveland
Arizona 11/2/14 12:00 PM
Dallas
Philadelphia 11/2/14 12:00 PM
Houston
NY Jets 11/2/14 12:00 PM
Kansas City
Jacksonville 11/2/14 12:00 PM
Cincinnati
San Diego 11/2/14 12:00 PM
Miami
Washington 11/2/14 12:00 PM
Minnesota
St. Louis 11/2/14 3:05 PM
San Francisco
Denver 11/2/14 3:25 PM
New England
Oakland 11/2/14 3:25 PM
Seattle
Baltimore 11/2/14 7:30 PM
Pittsburgh
Indianapolis 11/3/14 7:30 PM
NY Giants
Washington 6:00 PM
Orlando
Detroit 7:00 PM
Minnesota
New York 7:00 PM
Cleveland
Utah 7:30 PM
Dallas
Oklahoma City 9:30 PM
LA Clippers
Boston 6:00 PM
Buffalo
Winnipeg 6:00 PM
New Jersey
Los Angeles 6:00 PM
Pittsburgh
Chicago 6:30 PM
Ottawa
Philadelphia 6:30 PM
Tampa Bay
Arizona 6:30 PM
Florida
San Jose 7:00 PM
Minnesota
Anaheim 7:00 PM
St. Louis
NY Islanders 8:00 PM
Colorado
Montreal 9:00 PM
Vancouver
(2) Florida State 6:30 PM
Louisville
Troy 6:30 PM
Ga Southern
Cincinnati 10/31/14 7:00 PM
Tulane
Tulsa 10/31/14 7:02 PM
Memphis
Air Force 11/1/14 10:30 AM
Army
ULM 11/1/14 11:00 AM
Texas A&M
(19) Oklahoma 11/1/14 11:00 AM
Iowa State
Northwestern 11/1/14 11:00 AM
Iowa
(24) Duke 11/1/14 11:00 AM
Pittsburgh
Maryland 11/1/14 11:00 AM
Penn State
Wisconsin 11/1/14 11:00 AM
Rutgers
Rice 11/1/14 11:00 AM
FIU
(21) East Carolina 11/1/14 11:00 AM
Temple
UCF 11/1/14 11:00 AM
Connecticut
Boston College 11/1/14 11:30 AM
Virginia Tech
North Carolina 11/1/14 11:30 AM
Miami-Florida
Washington 11/1/14 12:00 PM
Colorado
Central Mich 11/1/14 12:00 PM
Eastern Mich
Western Mich 11/1/14 1:30 PM
Miami-Ohio
Western Ky 11/1/14 2:00 PM
Louisiana Tech
NC State 11/1/14 2:00 PM
Syracuse
Virginia 11/1/14 2:30 PM
Georgia Tech
Purdue 11/1/14 2:30 PM
(17) Nebraska
BYU 11/1/14 2:30 PM
Middle Tennessee
(10) TCU 11/1/14 2:30 PM
(20) West Virginia
Indiana 11/1/14 2:30 PM
Michigan
Florida 11/1/14 2:30 PM
(9) Georgia
Georgia State 11/1/14 2:30 PM
Appalachian St
Kentucky 11/1/14 3:00 PM
Missouri
Kansas 11/1/14 3:00 PM
(12) Baylor
Texas State 11/1/14 3:00 PM
New Mexico St
Houston 11/1/14 3:00 PM
So Florida
USC 11/1/14 3:30 PM
Washington St
Arkansas State 11/1/14 4:00 PM
Idaho
South Alabama 11/1/14 4:00 PM
Louisiana
New Mexico 11/1/14 4:30 PM
UNLV
UAB 11/1/14 6:00 PM
Fla Atlantic
(4) Auburn 11/1/14 6:00 PM
(7) Ole Miss
Old Dominion 11/1/14 6:00 PM
Vanderbilt
Colorado State 11/1/14 6:00 PM
San Jose St
Arkansas 11/1/14 6:15 PM
(1) Miss State
Stanford 11/1/14 6:30 PM
(5) Oregon
Tennessee 11/1/14 6:30 PM
So Carolina
Texas 11/1/14 6:30 PM
Texas Tech
Southern Miss 11/1/14 7:00 PM
Texas-El Paso
(6) Notre Dame 11/1/14 7:00 PM
Navy
Oklahoma State 11/1/14 7:00 PM
(11) Kansas State
Illinois 11/1/14 7:00 PM
(13) Ohio State
(14) Arizona 11/1/14 9:30 PM
(25) UCLA
California 11/1/14 9:30 PM
Oregon State
San Diego St 11/1/14 9:30 PM
Nevada
Wyoming 11/1/14 9:45 PM
Fresno State
(18) Utah 11/1/14 10:00 PM
(15) Arizona State
Utah State 11/1/14 10:00 PM
Hawaii
Bowling Green 11/4/14 7:00 PM
Akron
Toledo 11/4/14 7:00 PM
Kent State
Buffalo 11/5/14 7:00 PM
Ohio U
Northern Ill 11/5/14 7:00 PM
Ball State
Sporting Kansas City 7:00 PM
Red Bull New York
Hamilton 10/31/14 6:30 PM
Ottawa
Winnipeg 11/1/14 3:00 PM
Calgary
Brt Columbia 11/1/14 6:00 PM
Edmonton
Toronto 11/2/14 11:00 AM
Montreal
Ottawa 11/7/14 6:00 PM
Toronto
Calgary 11/7/14 9:00 PM
Brt Columbia
Montreal 11/8/14 3:00 PM
Hamilton
Edmonton 11/8/14 6:00 PM
Saskatchewan
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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 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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