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 16 Picks & Power Rankings: Broncos are the best (for now)

Posted by: Mark Craig under On the road, Vikings, Bears, Lions, NFC, Packers, Adrian Peterson, Percy Harvin, Vikings draft Updated: December 21, 2012 - 8:58 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, Broncos (11-3)
Last week: No. 2.
Comment: Peyton definitely will lose his fifth MVP title to Adrian Peterson if the Vikings make the playoffs. But he’s already reclaimed his MVM crown: Most Valuable Manning. Eli: 84.0 passer rating, 20 TDs, 15 INTs, 60.4 completion percentage. Big Bro: 103.5 passer rating, 31 TDs, 10 INTs, 67.9 completion percentage.
 
2. Falcons (12-2)
Last week: No. 4.
Comment: Fourteen games, 12 wins and one 34-0 rout of the Giants and yet no one can definitively say the Falcons are for real. That’s what happens when you’re this good in the regular season and that bad in the post-season. Time for Matty Ice to stop being Matty Melt in January.
 
3. 49ers (10-3-1)
Last week: No. 6.
Comment: The 49ers got two pieces of good news last week. No. 1, they’re good enough with Colin Kaepernick to go to New England and win in prime time. No. 2, they won’t have to play the Rams in the playoffs, so that 0-1-1 record against 6-7-1 St. Louis won’t come into play in January. But that Week 3 beatdown at the Metrodome looms.
 
 
BOTTOM THREE
 
30. Jaguars (2-12)
Last week: No. 29.
Comment: You know your franchise has hit rock bottom when you’re 2-12 and have become the leading candidate to sign Tim Tebow when the Jets are done with him at the end of the season.
 
31. Lions (4-10)
Last week: No. 26.
Comment: If the Mayans are right and the world ends today, it’s only fitting that the Lions go out at the bottom of their division.
 
32. Chiefs (2-12)
Last week: No. 30.
Comment: Shut out by the Raiders? How does that possibly happen when it’s no longer 1976?
 
 
NFC NORTH
 
7. Packers (10-4)
Last week: No. 9.
Comment: Aaron Rodgers averages 9.1 yards per third down pass attempt. The next best total in the league is Peyton Manning’s 7.99. Third-and-long in GB? No problem.
 
11. Vikings (8-6)
Last week: No. 12.
Comment: Adrian Peterson’s 1,812 yards rushing is more than 24 entire NFL teams. His 1,313 yards the past eight games is more than the entire season total for six teams.
 
14. Bears (8-6)
Last week: No. 13.
Comment: The Bears had 28 takeaways when they were 7-1. They’ve had nine while going 1-5 in their past six games. Turnovers come in bunches. But they disappear in bunches, too.
 
31. Lions (4-10).
Last week: No. 26.
 
 
THE REST
 
4. Patriots (10-4); 5. Texans (12-2); 6. Redskins (8-6); 8. Seahawks (9-5); 9. Cowboys (8-6); 10. Colts (9-5); 12. Bengals (8-6); 13. Ravens (9-5); 15. Steelers (7-7); 16. Giants (8-6); 17. Panthers (5-9); 18. Saints (6-8); 19. Rams (6-7-1); 20. Titans (5-9); 21. Dolphins (6-8); 22. Browns (5-9); 23. Jets (6-8); 24. Chargers (5-9); 25. Bills (5-9);26. Cardinals (5-9); 27. Raiders (4-10); 28. Eagles (4-10); 29. Buccaneers (6-8).
 
VIKINGS
THREE REASONS FOR OPTIMISM
1, AP against anybody: It feels silly mentioning that the Texans are fifth in run defense. At this point, it seems that you could assemble the 11 best defenders in league history in their prime and they couldn’t stop Adrian Peterson from getting 150 yards. Peterson has tied Barry Sanders’ NFL mark with seven 50-yard runs this season. Anyone want to bet he goes eight quarters without getting another one?
 
2, Fewer penalties: Perhaps as amazing as Peterson’s seven 50-yard runs is the fact none of them has been negated by a yellow flag. The Vikings have been penalized only 75 times for 680 yards. That’s 20 fewer penalties for 166 fewer yards than their opponents.
 
3, The bionic kicker: At some point over the next two weeks, rookie kicker Blair Walsh will line up and make his ninth of nine field goal attempts from 50 yards or longer. That kick will set an NFL mark, breaking the mark of eight 50-yarders that he shares with Morten Andersen and Jason Hanson. This is an incredible weapon the Vikings could have for the next 20 years.
 
 
THREE REASONS TO GO `UH-OH’
1, Houston’s turnover margin: Not only are the Texans fifth against the run and tremendously balanced on offense, they also rank second in turnover margin at plus-15. Only the Patriots (plus-22) are better. The Texans also have turned the ball over a league-low 13 times.
 
2, Tiebreaker scenarios: Five NFC teams are 8-6, including the Vikings. The other four – Washington, Dallas, the Giants and Chicago – have what would appear to be easier games this week. (I know, it’s the NFL and nothing is as it appears). The Redskins travel to lifeless Philly. The Cowboys are at home against New Orleans (although I smell the Cowboys’ chances getting Romoed). The Giants are in free-falling Baltimore. And the Bears are at Arizona. The Vikings can’t be eliminated this weekend, but they can be thrown into hole with no realistic chance of climbing out of based on tiebreakers.
 
3, Ponder and the passing game: Please, please, please do not attribute anything Christian Ponder does on Sunday to the strange timing of his marriage to ESPN reporter Samantha Steele on Monday. Ponder is far too inconsistent on his own to attach any blame or praise to a better half. He wasn’t brilliant in last week’s win at St. Louis, but I gave him a “winning” performance based on a turnover-free game and where this offense is without Percy Harvin. In my ledger, that sends him into Week 15 with seven games in which I’ve felt the Vikings can win with him and seven in which I’ve felt he didn’t prove he’s the long-term answer. Looking at what will become available at quarterback in the draft, free agency and via possible trade (Alex Smith), it’s pretty obvious that Ponder will get another season to develop as the Vikings’ QB of the future.  
 
 
THE PICKS
Texans 31, Vikings 21: Anything is possible with Adrian Peterson and a turnover-free game. But can Christian Ponder and the Vikings really play two clean road games in back to back weeks? Not if the second week is in Houston against a 12-2 Texans team that is plus-15 in turnover margin. The Texans have the fifth-ranked run defense and a balanced offensive attack that can control the game or break it wide open. The Vikings’ margin for error is too slim against quality teams on the road.
 
Record picking Vikings games: 8-4.
 
VIK plus-8 at HOU: Texans by 10.
TEN plus-12 ½ at GB: Packers by 14.
OAK plus-9 at CAR: Panthers by 21.
BUF plus-4 ½ at MIA: Dolphins by 7.
CIN plus-3 ½ at PIT: Steelers by 6.
NE minus-14 ½ at JAC: Patriots by 28.
IND minus-6 ½ at KC: Colts by 7.
NO plus-2 ½ at DAL: Saints by 7.
WAS minus-6 ½ at PHI: Redskins by 7.
STL plus-3 at TB: Buccaneers by 7.
NYG minus-2 ½ at BAL: Giants by 3.
CLE plus-13 at DEN: Broncos by 7.
SF pick at SEA: Seahawks by 3.
SD plus-2 at NYJ: Jets by 3.
 
Overall Record Last Week: 8-7. Vs. Spread: 7-8
 
Record Season: 117-70-1. Vs. Spread: 91-91-1.
 
 
UPSET SPECIAL
CHI minus-5 ½ at ARI
 
Cardinals 28, Bears 21: After nine straight losses, the Cardinals found two teams as disappointing as they are: Detroit last week and now the Bears, who in a 1-5 free-fall since a 7-1 start. Sorry, Denny, but right now, the Bears aren’t who we thought they were.
 
Last week: BUF plus-5 ½ vs. SEA at Toronto. Prediction: Bills 24, Seahawks 23.  Actual: Seahawks 50, Bills 17.
Record: 8-6.
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Pittsburgh - LP: F. Liriano 0 FINAL
Cincinnati - WP: J. Cueto 4
Tampa Bay - LP: J. Odorizzi 0 FINAL
Baltimore - WP: M. Gonzalez 3
Chicago Cubs - LP: J. Hammel 0 FINAL
NY Yankees - WP: M. Tanaka 3
St. Louis - LP: J. Kelly 1 FINAL
Milwaukee - WP: W. Peralta 5
NY Mets - WP: D. Gee 5 FINAL
Arizona - LP: B. McCarthy 2
Atlanta - WP: J. Teheran 1 FINAL
Philadelphia - LP: C. Lee 0
Chicago Cubs - LP: T. Wood 0 FINAL
NY Yankees - WP: M. Pineda 2
Cleveland - WP: Z. McAllister 3 FINAL
Detroit - LP: A. Sanchez 2
Washington - WP: D. Storen 6 FINAL
Miami - LP: M. Dunn 3
Seattle - LP: F. Rodney 2 FINAL
Texas - WP: P. Figueroa 3
Boston - WP: C. Capuano 6 FINAL
Chicago WSox - LP: L. Garcia 4
Kansas City - WP: D. Duffy 6 FINAL
Houston - LP: J. Williams 4
Toronto 0 Postponed
Minnesota 0
Oakland - LP: D. Pomeranz 4 FINAL
LA Angels - WP: J. Smith 5
Colorado - LP: J. De La Rosa 2 FINAL
San Diego - WP: A. Cashner 4
Los Angeles - LP: J. Howell 1 FINAL
San Francisco - WP: J. Machi 2
Chicago 86 FINAL
Charlotte 91
Indiana 101 FINAL
Orlando 86
Atlanta 111 FINAL
Milwaukee 103
Dallas 105 FINAL
Memphis 106
Detroit 111 FINAL
Oklahoma City 112
Houston 100 FINAL
New Orleans 105
LA Lakers 113 FINAL
San Antonio 100
Brooklyn 85 FINAL
Cleveland 114
Philadelphia 100 FINAL
Miami 87
Utah 136 FINAL
Minnesota 130
Washington 118 FINAL
Boston 102
Toronto 92 FINAL
New York 95
Golden State 116 FINAL
Denver 112
LA Clippers 104 FINAL
Portland 110
Phoenix 104 FINAL
Sacramento 99
Montreal 5 FINAL(OT)
Tampa Bay 4
Columbus 3 FINAL
Pittsburgh 4
Dallas 3 FINAL
Anaheim 4
Philadelphia 1 FINAL
Red Bull New York 2
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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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