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 14 Picks & Power Rankings: Bears vulnerable at the Dome

Posted by: Mark Craig under On the road, Vikings, AFC, Bears, Lions, NFC, Packers, Adrian Peterson, Percy Harvin Updated: December 7, 2012 - 9:37 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, Patriots (9-3)
Last week: No. 1.
Comment: The running game ranks eighth and Tom Brady has a league-high 120.6 passer rating on third downs. That’s tough to beat. Brady is completing 67.3 percent of his third-down passes with 11 touchdowns and one interception.
 
2. Texans (11-1)
Last week: No. 2.
Comment: The feeling here is New England is the better team. Of course, the feeling here -- like everywhere else when it comes to the NFL – isn’t always right. But we’ll get a better feel Monday night when the Texans play at New England.
 
3. Falcons (11-1)
Last week: No. 4.
Comment: Atlanta has only one loss despite ranking 29th in yards per carry (3.8) and yards allowed per carry (4.8). Something to keep an eye on for a team and a quarterback that has yet to prove they have what it takes to win in the post-season.  
 
 
BOTTOM THREE
30. Raiders (3-10)
Last week: No. 29.
Comment: Wonder how Cincinnati looks to Carson Palmer now.
 
31. Cardinals (4-8)
Last week: No. 30.
Comment: How low can they go? Well, they just lost 7-6 to the guy who backs up Mark Sanchez’s backup.
 
32. Eagles (3-9)
Last week: No. 31.
Comment: How low can Andy Reid go? Well, he can’t even beat Tony Romo in December anymore.
 
 
NFC NORTH
10. Packers (8-4)
Last week: No. 8.
Comment: If not for the “Fail Mary” in Seattle 11 weeks ago, the Packers would be holding the No. 2 seed in the NFC right now. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that the league’s decision to put replacement officials on the field for the first three weeks of the season affected the integrity of the game. Remember that the next time the league talks about the need for players to protect the NFL’s sacred “shield.”
 
12. Bears (8-4)
Last week: No. 10.
Comment: Chicago’s playoff hopes are directly attached to its massively flawed pass protection. We’ll see if it can hold up in the Metrodome on Sunday. Look for a lot of short, quick passes to Brandon Marshall, just like two weeks ago.
 
18. Vikings (6-6)
Last week: No. 17.
Comment: Christian Ponder is lingering in that danger zone for young NFL QBs and the teams they play for. He’s nearing the end of Year 2 with a game that’s not good enough to trust and not bad enough to give up on.
 
24. Lions (4-8).
Last week: No. 20.
Comment: The Lions play in Green Bay on Monday night. Why bother? They haven’t won there since 1991.
 
 
THE REST
 
4. Broncos (10-3); 5. Steelers (7-5); 6. Ravens (9-3); 7. Redskins (6-6); 8. 49ers (8-3-1); 9. Giants (7-5); 11. Seahawks (7-5); 13. Colts (8-4); 14. Bengals (7-5); 15. Rams (5-6-1); 16. Cowboys (6-6); 17. Buccaneers (6-6); 19. Dolphins (5-7); 20. Saints (5-7); 21. Bills (5-7); 22. Browns (4-8); 23. Jets (5-7); 25. Titans (4-8); 26. Chiefs (2-10); 27. Chargers (4-8); 28. Panthers (3-9); 29. Jaguars (2-10).
 
 
VIKINGS
THREE REASONS FOR OPTIMISM
1, Home-field advantage: The Vikings just got trounced by this team less than two weeks ago. But this is the NFL, so that doesn’t matter. Home-field advantage is that important. Since 1982, the Vikings have the third highest differential (.224) between their home and road winning percentages. Only the Chiefs and Broncos have a higher differential. The Vikings have lost five straight and 11 of 12 on the road against the Bears. But they’re 7-3 against them in their past 10 meetings in Minnesota.
 
2, Road games not looking as daunting: The Vikings’ two-game road trip to St. Louis and Houston might not be as tough as expected. The Texans are 11-1 and have a chance to clinch the AFC South, a bye and home-field advantage before facing the Vikings on Dec. 23. Considering how this team went into the playoffs last year without Matt Schaub, the Vikings could be facing Houston’s JV squad. Of course, the Vikings would have to win their next two games for that Houston game to mean anything to the Vikings.
 
3, There was that one drive, ya know: For roughly 39 minutes of game clock, Ponder couldn’t complete a pass to anyone. But there was that one rare NFL-caliber offensive possession he directed in the first half. He completed 5 of 5 passes for 36 yards. He ran for six yards. He overcame a sack in the red zone to throw a 7-yard touchdown to Kyle Rudolph. In other words, he did what he was supposed to do, which is complement Adrian Peterson. The drive went 71 yards in 14 plays. Peterson ran the ball seven times for 33 yards. The Vikings just need to figure out how to do this more consistently.
 
 
THREE REASONS TO GO `UH-OH’
1, No more Harvin: The Vikings went into the season light years behind their NFC North opponents when it came to the quarterback position. But the one thing the Vikings had going for them was one-of-a-kind talent in Adrian Peterson and Percy Harvin. And now Harvin is out for the season with an ankle injury. The results without him have been predictable against the top teams in the division: 263 yards passing and 24 points in back-to-back losses at Chicago and Green Bay.
 
2, Ponder’s problems: The No. 1 priority for this season was forgotten when the Vikings began the season 4-1. But this is still a young team that’s being built to win in the near future. That’s why the No. 1 priority was and should remain identifying whether Ponder is the long-term answer at quarterback. Through 12 games, it’s split down the middle, at least by the judgement here. He’s had six games (including the loss at Indy) in which he’s shown signs of being the guy. But he’s also had six games (including the win over Arizona) in which he hasn’t looked like the guy at all. Ruining the team’s chances of an upset at Green Bay by throwing two awful interceptions in the third quarter is a major reason for concern as one is trying to judge Ponder on his first full season as a starter.
 
3, Run defense: Lost in last week’s loss to Green Bay was the fact the Packers ran for 152 yards and a rare rushing touchdown on 36 carries (4.2). Green Bay’s ground game is average at best, but it looked strong against the Vikings. And that, of course, enabled Aaron Rodgers to do what he does, which is pick through the Vikings’ defense (27 of 35) while not having to deal with many third-and-long situations.
 
THE PICKS
Vikings 23, Bears 21: The Vikings and their fans will treat this like a playoff game, which is essentially what it is. A loss and the competitive portion of the Vikings’ season is over. The Bears’ passing game, particularly the protection, will have a much more difficult time at the Metrodome, especially as Adrian Peterson has another big game.
 
Record picking Vikings games: 7-3.
 
CHI minus-3 at VIK: Vikings by 2.
BAL plus-2 ½ at WAS: Redskins by 3.
KC plus-6 ½ at CLE: Browns by 3.
SD off at PIT: Steelers by 7.
TEN plus-5 ½ at IND: Colts by 7.
NYJ minus-2 ½ at JAC: Jaguars by 3.
PHI plus-7 ½ at TB: Buccaneers by 10.
STL plus-3 at BUF: Bills by 6.
DAL plus-3 at CIN: Bengals by 4.
MIA plus-10 at SF: 49ers by 14.
NO plus-5 at NYG: Giants by 10.
ARI plus-10 at SEA: Seahawks by 7.
DET plus-7 at GB: Packers by 14.
HOU plus-3 ½ at NE: Patriots by 10.
 
Overall Record Last Week: 10-5. Vs. Spread: 7-8.
 
Record Season: 99-58-1. Vs. Spread: 78-75-3.
 
 
UPSET SPECIAL
ATL minus-3 ½ at CAR
 
Panthers 31, Falcons 28: In its last two road games, the Falcons have lost at New Orleans and won by a point at Tampa Bay. Carolina is more dangerous than its 3-9 record and will surprise a Falcons team that it nearly beat in Atlanta before falling 30-28 earlier this season.
 
Last week: SF minus-7 at STL. Prediction: Rams 27, 49ers 24.  Actual: Rams 16, 49ers 13 OT.
Record: 7-5.

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Buffalo 17 FINAL
New England 9
Cleveland 10 FINAL
Baltimore 20
Dallas 44 FINAL
Washington 17
Indianapolis 27 FINAL
Tennessee 10
Jacksonville 17 FINAL
Houston 23
San Diego 7 FINAL
Kansas City 19
NY Jets 37 FINAL
Miami 24
Chicago 9 FINAL
Minnesota 13
Philadelphia 34 FINAL
NY Giants 26
New Orleans 23 FINAL
Tampa Bay 20
Carolina 34 FINAL
Atlanta 3
Detroit 20 FINAL
Green Bay 30
Oakland 14 FINAL
Denver 47
Arizona 17 FINAL
San Francisco 20
St. Louis 6 FINAL
Seattle 20
Cincinnati 17 FINAL
Pittsburgh 27
Arizona 1/3/15 3:35 PM
Carolina
Baltimore 1/3/15 7:15 PM
Pittsburgh
Detroit 103 FINAL
Cleveland 80
Houston 106 FINAL
San Antonio 110
Oklahoma City 107 FINAL
Dallas 112
New York 79 FINAL
Portland 101
Toronto 116 FINAL
Denver 102
Phoenix 116 FINAL
LA Lakers 107
Toronto 4 FINAL
Florida 6
Vancouver 1 FINAL(OT)
Anaheim 2
Tulane 57 FINAL
St Johns 82
Central Conn St 48 FINAL
Connecticut 81
Iona 81 FINAL
Drexel 62
Concordia (MI) 42 FINAL
Eastern Mich 100
Harvard 46 FINAL
Arizona State 56
Longwood 64 FINAL
Ball State 69
Sacred Heart 76 FINAL
Brown 79
Colgate 64 FINAL
Columbia 69
MD-Eastern Shore 78 FINAL
Duquesne 69
UNC Greensboro 50 FINAL
East Carolina 71
Marist 64 FINAL
Elon 69
NJIT 71 FINAL
Lafayette 76
Cincinnati Christian 58 FINAL
Liberty 78
Morgan State 53 FINAL
Marquette 81
Campbell 56 FINAL
Samford 65
Bucknell 71 FINAL
Siena 73
Long Beach State 67 FINAL
Syracuse 85
Coppin State 80 FINAL
Evansville 85
UMKC 73 FINAL
Indiana State 70
Hofstra 88 FINAL
Long Island 62
Coast Guard 48 FINAL
Army 93
Thomas (GA) 48 FINAL
High Point 85
Texas Southern 58 FINAL
Kansas State 56
Rutgers 59 FINAL
Monmouth 58
NC Wesleyan 54 FINAL
NC A&T 58
South Dakota St 63 FINAL
Northern Iowa 74
Central Penn College 69 FINAL
Radford 119
Bowling Green 79 FINAL
South Florida 70
Harris-Stowe 66 FINAL
SE Missouri St 94
Robert Morris-IL 56 FINAL
SIU Edwardsville 104
Northland College 59 FINAL
North Dakota St 83
Milwaukee 60 FINAL
South Dakota 84
Northwestern St 92 FINAL
Arkansas 100
Saint Peters 59 FINAL
Cornell 52
St Katherine 62 FINAL
Fresno State 93
Haskell 42 FINAL
Oral Roberts 94
Wake Forest 65 FINAL
Richmond 63
Fla Gulf Coast 57 FINAL
Xavier 71
SD Christian 45 FINAL
Northern Ariz 71
Judson 46 FINAL
IUPU-Ft Wayne 80
Ill-Chicago 60 FINAL
Bradley 68
Loyola-Maryland 61 FINAL
Fairfield 59
Miss Valley St 53 FINAL
Houston 80
Lehigh 58 FINAL
UMBC 55
Delaware State 56 FINAL
Temple 66
Belmont 56 FINAL
Butler 67
Howard 59 FINAL
Fordham 74
NW Christian 67 FINAL
Nevada 81
UC Davis 83 FINAL
Washington St 90
Abilene Christian 81 FINAL
Grand Canyon 83
UCLA 50 FINAL
Alabama 56
Stony Brook 62 FINAL
Washington 57
Buffalo 56 FINAL
Wisconsin 68
CS-Bakersfield 55 FINAL
California 52
Cincinnati 17 FINAL
Virginia Tech 33
(15) Arizona State 36 FINAL
Duke 31
Miami-Florida 21 FINAL
So Carolina 24
Boston College 30 FINAL
Penn State 31
(25) Nebraska 42 FINAL
(24) USC 45
Texas A&M 1:00 PM
West Virginia
Oklahoma 4:30 PM
(18) Clemson
Arkansas 8:00 PM
Texas
Notre Dame 12/30/14 2:00 PM
(22) LSU
(13) Georgia 12/30/14 5:45 PM
(20) Louisville
Maryland 12/30/14 9:00 PM
Stanford
(9) Ole Miss 12/31/14 11:30 AM
(6) TCU
(21) Boise State 12/31/14 3:00 PM
(12) Arizona
(8) Miss State 12/31/14 7:00 PM
(10) Georgia Tech
(19) Auburn 1/1/15 11:00 AM
(17) Wisconsin
(7) Michigan State 1/1/15 11:30 AM
(4) Baylor
(16) Missouri 1/1/15 12:00 PM
Minnesota
(2) Florida State 1/1/15 4:00 PM
(3) Oregon
(5) Ohio State 1/1/15 7:30 PM
(1) Alabama
Houston 1/2/15 11:00 AM
Pittsburgh
Iowa 1/2/15 2:20 PM
Tennessee
(11) Kansas State 1/2/15 5:45 PM
(14) UCLA
Washington 1/2/15 9:15 PM
Oklahoma State
East Carolina 1/3/15 11:00 AM
Florida
Toledo 1/4/15 8:00 PM
Arkansas State
Drexel 71 FINAL
Miami-Ohio 54
Holy Cross 63 FINAL
Norfolk State 62
East Carolina 62 FINAL
South Florida 69
(10) Oregon State 63 FINAL
(8) Tennessee 74
Providence 51 FINAL
Boston College 79
Florida A&M 47 FINAL
Miami-Florida 83
Oakland 69 FINAL
Central Michigan 74
Chattanooga 59 FINAL
SIU-Edwardsville 49
Fairfield 59 FINAL
La Salle 73
St Francis-PA 59 FINAL
Pittsburgh 97
Milwaukee 72 FINAL
IUPU-Ft Wayne 78
Gardner-Webb 59 FINAL
Longwood 63
New Hampshire 58 FINAL
Manhattan 54
Bucknell 68 FINAL
Binghamton 57
Northeastern 70 FINAL
Albany 67
George Mason 70 FINAL
Towson 72
Richmond 59 FINAL
William & Mary 56
Tulane 60 FINAL
Cincinnati 50
North Florida 51 FINAL
Florida 63
(14) Georgia 51 FINAL
Seton Hall 70
Tennessee St 75 FINAL
(12) Kentucky 87
American Univ 64 FINAL
Wake Forest 77
Massachusetts 78 FINAL
Boston U 57
Quinnipiac 69 FINAL
Saint Josephs 67
Lafayette 49 FINAL
Saint Peters 34
Northwestern 61 FINAL
(20) Michigan State 57
Duquesne 82 FINAL
Lehigh 75
George Washington 72 FINAL
Loyola-Maryland 49
(17) Rutgers 66 FINAL
Indiana 51
(24) Green Bay 66 FINAL
Dayton 72
Western Mich 55 FINAL
Stony Brook 59
Davidson 67 FINAL
Virginia 57
UNC Greensboro 61 FINAL
LSU 82
Denver 63 FINAL
North Texas 55
VA Commonwealth 63 FINAL
Coppin State 52
Huston-Tillotson 36 FINAL
Houston Baptist 86
Lamar 63 FINAL
Rice 97
Miss Valley St 40 FINAL
Alabama 71
Saint Louis 63 FINAL
Eastern Illinois 49
Middle Tennessee 98 FINAL
Tenn Tech 76
Penn State 52 FINAL
(23) Iowa 77
Purdue 62 FINAL
Illinois 55
DePaul 99 FINAL
Illinois State 62
Sam Houston St 46 FINAL
Wichita State 70
South Dakota 76 FINAL
TX-San Antonio 69
(4) Notre Dame 82 FINAL
UCLA 67
Coll of Charleston 51 FINAL
SC State 60
Alcorn State 53 FINAL
Texas-El Paso 63
Dartmouth 76 FINAL
Niagara 70
Colgate 68 FINAL
Siena 80
Michigan 53 FINAL
Wisconsin 63
Fla Gulf Coast 73 FINAL
CS-Northridge 64
Yale 51 FINAL
(25) Arizona State 69
UC Santa Barbara 34 FINAL
(16) Stanford 90
Long Island 63 FINAL
Long Beach St 71
Jackson State 56 FINAL
Louisiana 65
Eureka 50 FINAL
Western Ill 91
Cornell 59 FINAL
(22) Syracuse 76
Temple 58 FINAL
Memphis 57
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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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