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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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 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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