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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Philadelphia 24 FINAL
Washington 27
San Diego 7 2nd Qtr 5:09
San Francisco 21
Minnesota 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Miami
Baltimore 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Houston
Detroit 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Chicago
Cleveland 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Carolina
Atlanta 12/21/14 12:00 PM
New Orleans
Green Bay 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Kansas City 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Pittsburgh
New England 12/21/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
NY Giants 12/21/14 3:05 PM
St. Louis
Buffalo 12/21/14 3:25 PM
Oakland
Indianapolis 12/21/14 3:25 PM
Dallas
Seattle 12/21/14 7:30 PM
Arizona
Denver 12/22/14 7:30 PM
Cincinnati
Phoenix 99 FINAL
New York 90
Portland 114 FINAL
New Orleans 88
Utah 86 FINAL
Charlotte 104
Atlanta 62 3rd Qtr 6:46
Houston 52
San Antonio 47 2nd Qtr 0:00
Dallas 42
Indiana 18 1st Qtr 0:03
Denver 15
Milwaukee 9:30 PM
LA Clippers
Arizona 2 FINAL
Los Angeles 4
Colorado 5 FINAL
Buffalo 1
Philadelphia 7 3rd Prd 6:41
Toronto 3
Ottawa 1 3rd Prd 4:04
Montreal 2
Washington 4 FINAL
New Jersey 0
Tampa Bay 1 FINAL
NY Islanders 3
Florida 1 3rd Prd 8:34
Pittsburgh 3
NY Rangers 2 3rd Prd
Carolina 2
Chicago 2 3rd Prd 2:22
Columbus 2
Nashville 3 2nd Prd 8:49
Minnesota 3
Calgary 9:00 PM
Vancouver
St. Louis 9:30 PM
San Jose
VA Commonwealth 68 FINAL
Cincinnati 47
Charlotte 78 FINAL
Georgetown 81
SMU 62 FINAL
Michigan 51
Louisville 76 FINAL
Western Ky 67
Mount St Marys 45 FINAL
American Univ 46
Abilene Christian 33 FINAL
Boise State 77
UMass Lowell 63 FINAL
Duquesne 79
South Alabama 65 FINAL
IUPUI 71
Ohio State 74 FINAL
North Carolina 82
Massachusetts 65 FINAL
Providence 85
Syracuse 77 FINAL
Villanova 82
Citadel 61 FINAL
Virginia Tech 64
Belmont 73 FINAL
Fairfield 61
St Bonaventure 69 FINAL
Binghamton 51
Montreat 64 FINAL
Campbell 90
Delaware 74 FINAL
Fair-Dickinson 76
South Florida 62 FINAL
Florida State 75
Vanderbilt 60 FINAL
Georgia Tech 65
SC State 71 FINAL
Houston 63
Missouri 59 FINAL
Illinois 62
Truett-McConnell 55 FINAL
Jacksonville 84
Toledo 83 FINAL
McNeese State 69
Elon 71 FINAL
UNC Greensboro 64
Drexel 68 FINAL
Penn State 73
St Francis-PA 73 FINAL
Rutgers 68
Albany 64 FINAL
Yale 60
PSU-Beaver 74 FINAL
Longwood 106
Eastern Ill 60 FINAL
Indiana State 56
Indiana 82 FINAL
Butler 73
Marshall 58 FINAL
Arkansas State 67
Lafayette 69 FINAL
Kansas 96
Oral Roberts 63 FINAL
Memphis 78
Western Mich 61 FINAL
Northwestern 67
Delaware State 70 FINAL
Oregon 83
Fla Atlantic 56 FINAL
St Francis-NY 61
Arkansas Tech 57 FINAL
Stephen F Austin 94
Howard Payne 50 FINAL
Texas-Arlington 89
UMBC 66 FINAL
Kennesaw St 53
St Josephs (IN) 54 FINAL
Chicago State 77
Eastern Mich 77 FINAL
Missouri State 65
UCLA 44 FINAL
Kentucky 83
UC Davis 81 FINAL
Air Force 75
Houston Baptist 67 FINAL
UC Riverside 78
Davidson 80 FINAL
Coll of Charleston 68
USC Upstate 53 FINAL
Miss State 51
NC Central 94 FINAL
Miss Valley St 60
Illinois State 77 FINAL
Murray State 89
Louisiana 85 FINAL
Northwestern St 89
Oakland 77 FINAL
Pittsburgh 81
Detroit 55 FINAL
Rhode Island 69
Presbyterian 60 FINAL
UT Martin 77
Monmouth 74 FINAL
Wagner 66
Southern U 39 FINAL
Wyoming 57
Iowa State 83 FINAL
Drake 54
Wake Forest 50 FINAL
Florida 63
High Point 80 FINAL
James Madison 71
Texas Southern 71 FINAL
Michigan State 64
New Hampshire 60 FINAL
Sacred Heart 73
Northeastern 78 FINAL
Santa Clara 72
Huston-Tillotson 56 FINAL
Texas State 90
Purdue 63 FINAL
Notre Dame 94
Prairie View 44 FINAL
Sam Houston St 61
Xavier 88 FINAL
Auburn 89
Bluffton 53 FINAL
Akron 92
NJIT 84 FINAL
Central Conn St 76
Hofstra 77 FINAL
Columbia 82
Boston Univ 62 FINAL
Dayton 78
Iona 81 FINAL
George Mason 86
Valparaiso 75 FINAL
IUPU-Ft Wayne 72
Texas A&M 64 FINAL
Kansas State 71
Morgan State 69 FINAL
Manhattan 73
Saint Josephs 75 FINAL
Marist 58
East Carolina 54 FINAL
UNC-Wilmington 66
Richmond 65 FINAL
Pepperdine 63
La Salle 67 FINAL
Towson 53
Incarnate Word 88 2nd OT 4:25
UMKC 87
CS-Bakersfield 59 FINAL
Idaho State 50
Iowa 44 FINAL
Northern Iowa 56
Milwaukee 53 2nd Half 0:24
SIU Edwardsville 58
Long Beach State 53 2nd Half 11:21
Texas 56
TX-San Antonio 39 2nd Half 11:53
TCU 61
SE Missouri St 28 2nd Half
Arkansas 45
Lehigh 18 1st Half 6:30
Arizona State 15
New Mexico 8 1st Half 14:11
New Mexico St 7
Oklahoma 13 1st Half 9:20
Washington 28
Utah Valley U 9 1st Half 9:02
Weber State 19
Jacksonville St 20 1st Half 8:29
Northern Colorado 15
St Edwards 17 1st Half 10:38
Grand Canyon 19
NC State 8:30 PM
West Virginia
TX A&M-CC 9:00 PM
CS-Northridge
Cal Poly 9:00 PM
Gonzaga
Fresno State 9:00 PM
Pacific
Montana State 9:00 PM
Portland
Ball State 9:00 PM
San Diego St
South Dakota St 9:05 PM
Utah State
Stanford 10:00 PM
BYU
Utah 10:30 PM
UNLV
Nevada 3 FINAL
Louisiana 16
Utah State 21 FINAL
Texas-El Paso 6
(23) Utah 45 FINAL
Colorado State 10
Western Mich 24 FINAL
Air Force 38
South Alabama 0 1st Qtr 10:22
Bowling Green 7
BYU 12/22/14 1:00 PM
Memphis
Marshall 12/23/14 5:00 PM
Northern Ill
Navy 12/23/14 8:30 PM
San Diego St
Central Mich 12/24/14 11:00 AM
Western Ky
Fresno State 12/24/14 7:00 PM
Rice
Illinois 12/26/14 12:00 PM
Louisiana Tech
Rutgers 12/26/14 3:30 PM
North Carolina
NC State 12/26/14 7:00 PM
UCF
Cincinnati 12/27/14 12:00 PM
Virginia Tech
Duke 12/27/14 1:10 PM
(15) Arizona State
Miami-Florida 12/27/14 3:00 PM
So Carolina
Boston College 12/27/14 3:30 PM
Penn State
(25) Nebraska 12/27/14 7:00 PM
(24) USC
Livingstone 77 FINAL
UNC Greensboro 81
Loyola-Chicago 58 FINAL
Dartmouth 70
Georgia Tech 65 FINAL
St Francis-NY 59
Auburn 49 FINAL
St Johns 56
East Tenn St 56 FINAL
Jacksonville St 57
Western Mich 71 FINAL
Detroit 57
Cal-Irvine 42 FINAL
Wright State 80
Gardner-Webb 47 FINAL
Kennesaw St 50
(7) Stanford 40 FINAL
(11) Tennessee 59
Alabama A&M 47 FINAL
Ole Miss 71
Central Michigan 45 FINAL
(1) South Carolina 80
Nebraska Omaha 50 FINAL
Creighton 67
FIU 69 FINAL
Western Carolina 83
Houston 65 FINAL
Nicholls 47
St Thomas Aquinas 45 FINAL
Army 70
St Bonaventure 72 FINAL
Niagara 60
Texas State 57 FINAL
Stetson 75
George Mason 65 FINAL
ULM 53
Grambling 38 FINAL
Kansas State 61
Missouri 79 FINAL
Wake Forest 64
Robert Morris 59 FINAL
Cornell 70
Air Force 44 FINAL
Abilene Christian 80
Hampton 53 FINAL
James Madison 85
American Univ 64 FINAL
MD-Eastern Shore 52
Texas Southern 63 FINAL
TX A&M-CC 68
Tenn Tech 49 FINAL
NC A&T 54
Presbyterian 45 FINAL
NC Central 33
Penn 58 FINAL
Drexel 67
Lipscomb 38 FINAL
Xavier 62
Vermont 40 FINAL
Green Bay 60
Charleston Southern 70 FINAL
UNC-Wilmington 80
Ohio Christian 62 FINAL
Akron 97
Jacksonville 62 FINAL
Murray State 80
(17) Rutgers 66 FINAL
Iona 58
Indiana 88 FINAL
Oakland 61
Indiana State 64 FINAL
SMU 55
Denver 51 FINAL
Purdue 65
TX-San Antonio 48 FINAL
Texas Tech 64
UCF 57 FINAL
Middle Tennessee 79
Campbell 66 FINAL
Bethune-Cookman 55
Florida A&M 67 FINAL
SE Louisiana 69
Northwestern St 61 FINAL
Jackson State 62
Lehigh 61 FINAL
Arizona State 81
Valparaiso 65 FINAL
SIU-Edwardsville 77
Liberty 60 FINAL
Minnesota 74
Wofford 60 FINAL
North Florida 68
Montana State 61 FINAL
Washington St 82
Marshall 56 FINAL
(22) West Virginia 69
Morgan State 40 FINAL
Chattanooga 55
Northeastern 65 FINAL
Harvard 67
Furman 51 FINAL
(15) Georgia 58
(18) Michigan State 65 FINAL
(9) Baylor 84
Ohio U 52 FINAL
Massachusetts 59
Prairie View 48 FINAL
Texas-El Paso 86
Toledo 64 FINAL
Southern Ill 48
High Point 57 FINAL
(12) Nebraska 83
Winthrop 20 FINAL
Wichita State 66
William Jewell 59 FINAL
UMKC 51
Louisiana Tech 52 FINAL
Utah 67
Southern Utah 51 FINAL
Gonzaga 70
Hawaii 85 FINAL
Loyola Marymount 76
San Jose St 62 FINAL
San Francisco 77
CS-Northridge 65 FINAL
San Diego State 54
Norfolk State 36 FINAL
East Carolina 65
Saint Peters 49 FINAL
Loyola-Maryland 59
Arizona 60 FINAL
Stephen F Austin 72
Northwestern 92 FINAL
Eastern Illinois 44
Oral Roberts 52 FINAL
Wisconsin 70
Florida Atlantic 44 FINAL
New Mexico St 57
La Salle 76 FINAL
Georgia State 68
(16) Oregon State 73 FINAL
Nevada 50
Sacred Heart 72 FINAL
Villanova 49
Delaware 59 FINAL
Cincinnati 67
Troy 75 FINAL
Tennessee St 71
Saint Louis 68 FINAL
Utah Valley U 66
Washington 58 2nd Half 7:14
UC-Riverside 60
Pacific 33 2nd Half 11:20
Long Beach St 33
Old Dominion 53 2nd Half 9:11
Miami-Ohio 49
Austin Peay 9:00 PM
Montana
Lewis-Clark State 9:00 PM
Idaho
(21) Miss State 9:30 PM
Illinois-Chicago
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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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Poll: How will the Vikings do Sunday against Miami?

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