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 15 Picks & Power Rankings

Posted by: Mark Craig under NFC Updated: December 14, 2013 - 9:28 AM

What would you rather do on a Saturday morning than wake up early and read weekly picks and power rankings involving 32 teams that basically are of equal strength and ability to beat, lose to or tie anyone on any given Sunday, Monday, Saturday, Thursday (and some day, when the revenue ceiling needs to be extended to a gazillion bazillion dollars, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday as well)?

CRAIG'S NFL POWER RANKINGS
BEST OF THE BUNCH
1. Patriots (10-3)
Why:
Denver, Indianapolis, Denver again, Seattle … None could hold the top spot. But, ultimately, doesn’t just about every regular-season stretch run in recent memory end up with the Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the Patriots being the one team that does what it’s supposed to do? (At least until it's time to play the Giants in a Super Bowl, eh?) This is not a great team. But that in itself makes New England a great team by modern, free-agency, salary-cap, let's-make-em-all-the-same-so-every-year-is-worst-to-first-and-first-to-worst standards. The ability to just keep winning no matter what – injuries, falling behind early, more injuries, lack of talented receivers, free-agent defections, coordinator defections, more injuries, the 31st-ranked run defense, etc. – is what defines the greatness of the Brady-Belichick machine in the free-agent, salary-cap era. But, remember, these power rankings are a snapshot. What happened three, four, five weeks ago might as well have happened 10 years ago. When Indianapolis was beating Denver, San Francisco and Seattle, there was no hesitation to put the Colts No. 1, even though one could predict a leveling off period that now has Indy at No. 16. The Chargers are 7-7, but they beat Peyton Manning on a short week in Denver. And that came two weeks after a win over the Chiefs. So hats off. Here’s the No. 5 seat for a Chargers team that wouldn’t be an easy out if it reaches the playoffs.

THE REST

2. 49ers (9-4); 3. Seahawks (11-2);  4. Saints (10-3); 5. Chargers (7-7); 6. Broncos (11-3); 7. Chiefs (10-3); 8. Bengals (9-4); 9. Eagles (8-5); 10. Panthers (9-4); 11. Cardinals (8-5); 12. Dolphins (7-6); 13. Ravens (7-6); 14. Bears (7-6); 15. Lions (7-6); 16. Colts (8-5); 17. Cowboys (7-6); 18. Packers (6-6-1); 19. Jaguars (4-9); 20. Jets (6-7); 21. Steelers (5-8); 22. Titans (5-8); 23. Buccaneers (4-9); 24. Giants (5-8); 25. Rams (5-8).

THE VIKINGS
26. Vikings 3-9-1 (Last week: 23):
People have been heard saying the Vikings are unlucky because they’ve blown five leads in the final minute of regulation. Turn those five minutes around, they say, and the Vikings are 8-5 and leading the division. It doesn’t work quite that way. First of all, give the Vikings and coach Leslie Frazier credit for grit, determination and the professionalism to keep fighting in a lost season. But as an organization, the Vikings have earned 3-9-1. Losing five leads in the final minute of regulation has nothing to do with luck. It has everything to do with an unstable quarterback situation and lack of depth in the secondary.

THE REST

27. Browns (4-9); 28. Raiders (4-9); 29. Falcons (3-10); 30. Bills (4-9); 31. Texans (2-11).

WORST OF THE BUNCH
32: Redskins (3-10):
Yeah, we know Houston has lost 11 straight and fired its coach. But you can’t embarrass yourselves on and off the field the way Washington has the past week and not spend some time at the bottom of the heap. The coach wants to be fired. The owner wants the coach to quit. The quarterback might be the only one who hasn’t given up, but he’s been benched. This is a disaster, even by Redskin standards.

THE PICKS

VIKINGS
Eagles minus-5 ½ at Vikings. The pick: Eagles 35, Vikings 21.
Why?:
LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson, another quarterback (Nick Foles) playing extremely well. Offensively, the Eagles are just too diverse for an undermanned Vikings defense to contain, especially with Xavier Rhodes (ankle) doubtful to play. Defensively, the Eagles are the only team in the league to have gone the past nine games without allowing more than 21 points. So, even if Adrian Peterson plays on a right foot that’s less than 100 percent, the Vikings figure to struggle scoring points.

Last week: Vikings plus-6 ½ at Ravens. The pick: Ravens 34, Vikings 24. The final: Ravens 29, Vikings 26. Record: 8-4-1, 6-7 vs. the spread.

UPSET SPECIAL
Bears minus-1 at Browns. The pick: Browns 31, Bears 28.
Why?:
Life would be so easy for Marc Trestman, Jay Cutler and the Bears if the now-healthy Cutler simply stepped back into the lineup for a red-hot Josh McCown and the Bears beat the lowly Browns to keep pace with Detroit or take sole possession of the NFC North. Well, life in the NFL is never easy. Raise your hand if you can sense some QB chaos coming to Halas Hall next week.

Last week: Chiefs minus-3 at Redskins. The pick: Redskins 28, Chiefs 23. The final: Chiefs 45, Redskins 10. Record: 4-10.

THE REST
Redskins plus-7 at Falcons: Falcons by 10.
49ers minus-5 at Buccaneers: 49ers by 7.
Cardinals minus-2 ½ at Titans: Cardinals by 3.
Saints minus-6 at Rams: Saints by 7.
Seahawks minus-7 at Giants: Seahawks by 3.
Texans plus-5 ½ at Colts: Colts by 3.
Bills minus-2 at Jaguars: Jaguars by 7.
Patriots minus-1 at Dolphins: Patriots by 3.
Jets plus-11 at Panthers: Panthers by 10.
Chiefs minus-4 ½ at Raiders: Chiefs by 10.
Packers plus-7 at Cowboys: Cowboys by 10.
Bengals minus-2 ½ at Steelers: Steelers by 3.
Ravens plus-5 ½ at Lions: Ravens by 3.

Record: Last week: 12-3; 8-7 vs. the spread. Overall: 113-79-1; 87-101-4 vs. the spread.

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Tampa Bay - WP: J. McGee 6 FINAL
Toronto - LP: B. Morrow 5
Cleveland - LP: B. Shaw 4 FINAL
Detroit - WP: P. Coke 6
Washington - WP: J. Zimmermann 3 FINAL
NY Mets - LP: J. Niese 0
Chicago Cubs - LP: J. Turner 3 FINAL
Pittsburgh - WP: E. Volquez 7
Miami - WP: A. DeSclafani 5 FINAL
Philadelphia - LP: J. Papelbon 4
Cincinnati - LP: M. Leake 2 FINAL
Milwaukee - WP: M. Garza 9
Boston - WP: J. Kelly 8 FINAL
Kansas City - LP: J. Vargas 4
Minnesota - WP: T. May 6 FINAL
Chicago WSox - LP: H. Noesi 4
Colorado - LP: J. Lyles 1 FINAL
St. Louis - WP: M. Gonzales 4
Atlanta - LP: M. Minor 3 FINAL
Texas - WP: C. Lewis 10
Houston - WP: D. Keuchel 6 FINAL
LA Angels - LP: H. Santiago 1
Los Angeles - WP: C. Kershaw 4 FINAL
San Francisco - LP: Y. Petit 2
San Diego - LP: O. Despaigne 6 FINAL
Arizona - WP: Z. Spruill 8
Oakland - WP: J. Lester 4 FINAL
Seattle - LP: C. Young 0
NY Yankees - LP: D. Robertson 2 FINAL
Baltimore - WP: D. O`Day 3
Miami 10 FINAL
Buffalo 29
Jacksonville 10 FINAL
Washington 41
Dallas 26 FINAL
Tennessee 10
Arizona 25 FINAL
NY Giants 14
New England 30 FINAL
Minnesota 7
New Orleans 24 FINAL
Cleveland 26
Atlanta 10 FINAL
Cincinnati 24
Detroit 7 FINAL
Carolina 24
St. Louis 19 FINAL
Tampa Bay 17
Seattle 21 FINAL
San Diego 30
NY Jets 24 FINAL
Green Bay 31
Kansas City 17 FINAL
Denver 24
Houston 30 FINAL
Oakland 14
Chicago 28 FINAL
San Francisco 20
Philadelphia 9/15/14 7:30 PM
Indianapolis
Tampa Bay 9/18/14 7:25 PM
Atlanta
Boise State 38 FINAL
Connecticut 21
Indiana 42 FINAL
Bowling Green 45
Ga Southern 38 FINAL
Georgia Tech 42
Syracuse 40 FINAL
Central Mich 3
UCF 10 FINAL
(18) Missouri 38
Massachusetts 31 FINAL
Vanderbilt 34
Ohio U 14 FINAL
Marshall 44
West Virginia 40 FINAL
Maryland 37
Kent State 0 FINAL
(23) Ohio State 66
Pittsburgh 42 FINAL
FIU 25
East Carolina 28 FINAL
Virginia Tech 21
Louisville 21 FINAL
Virginia 23
Wyoming 14 FINAL
(2) Oregon 48
Air Force 48 FINAL
Georgia State 38
(13) Georgia 35 FINAL
(14) So Carolina 38
Arkansas 49 FINAL
Texas Tech 28
Iowa State 20 FINAL
Iowa 17
Miami-Ohio 10 FINAL
Michigan 34
Kansas 3 FINAL
Duke 41
NC State 49 FINAL
So Florida 17
Arkansas State 20 FINAL
Miami-Florida 41
Miss State 35 FINAL
South Alabama 3
Louisiana 15 FINAL
(10) Ole Miss 56
Minnesota 7 FINAL
TCU 30
Illinois 19 FINAL
Washington 44
Army 0 FINAL
(16) Stanford 35
Western Mich 45 FINAL
Idaho 33
Eastern Mich 3 FINAL
Old Dominion 17
Southern Miss 12 FINAL
(3) Alabama 52
Northern Ill 48 FINAL
UNLV 34
Tulsa 21 FINAL
Fla Atlantic 50
ULM 0 FINAL
(8) LSU 31
Wake Forest 24 FINAL
Utah State 36
Western Ky 47 FINAL
Middle Tennessee 50
TX-San Antonio 13 FINAL
(25) Oklahoma State 43
Purdue 14 FINAL
(9) Notre Dame 30
Kentucky 30 FINAL
Florida 36
New Mexico St 24 FINAL
Texas-El Paso 42
Tennessee 10 FINAL
(4) Oklahoma 34
(17) USC 31 FINAL
Boston College 37
Navy 35 FINAL
Texas State 21
(12) UCLA 20 FINAL
Texas 17
Penn State 13 FINAL
Rutgers 10
Rice 10 FINAL
(6) Texas A&M 38
(15) Arizona State 38 FINAL
Colorado 24
(24) Nebraska 55 FINAL
Fresno State 19
Nevada 28 FINAL
Arizona 35
(5) Auburn 9/18/14 6:30 PM
(20) Kansas State
Connecticut 9/19/14 7:00 PM
So Florida
Old Dominion 9/20/14 11:00 AM
Rice
Troy 9/20/14 11:00 AM
(13) Georgia
Georgia Tech 9/20/14 11:00 AM
Virginia Tech
Eastern Mich 9/20/14 11:00 AM
(11) Michigan State
Iowa 9/20/14 11:00 AM
Pittsburgh
Bowling Green 9/20/14 11:00 AM
(19) Wisconsin
Maryland 9/20/14 11:30 AM
Syracuse
Tulane 9/20/14 11:30 AM
Duke
Hawaii 9/20/14 1:00 PM
Colorado
Marshall 9/20/14 1:00 PM
Akron
North Carolina 9/20/14 2:30 PM
East Carolina
Army 9/20/14 2:30 PM
Wake Forest
Virginia 9/20/14 2:30 PM
(21) BYU
(6) Texas A&M 9/20/14 2:30 PM
SMU
Rutgers 9/20/14 2:30 PM
Navy
Central Mich 9/20/14 2:30 PM
Kansas
Utah 9/20/14 2:30 PM
Michigan
Florida 9/20/14 2:30 PM
(3) Alabama
Louisville 9/20/14 2:30 PM
FIU
Fla Atlantic 9/20/14 3:00 PM
Wyoming
Indiana 9/20/14 3:00 PM
(18) Missouri
San Jose St 9/20/14 3:00 PM
Minnesota
Texas State 9/20/14 3:00 PM
Illinois
Massachusetts 9/20/14 3:00 PM
Penn State
Georgia State 9/20/14 5:00 PM
Washington
Appalachian St 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Southern Miss
Miss State 9/20/14 6:00 PM
(8) LSU
Northern Ill 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Arkansas
Middle Tennessee 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Memphis
Utah State 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Arkansas State
Miami-Ohio 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Cincinnati
Idaho 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Ohio U
Ball State 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Toledo
(14) So Carolina 9/20/14 6:30 PM
Vanderbilt
(4) Oklahoma 9/20/14 6:30 PM
West Virginia
Ga Southern 9/20/14 6:30 PM
South Alabama
UNLV 9/20/14 7:00 PM
Houston
(22) Clemson 9/20/14 7:00 PM
(1) Florida State
Miami-Florida 9/20/14 7:00 PM
(24) Nebraska
New Mexico 9/20/14 7:00 PM
New Mexico St
California 9/20/14 9:00 PM
Arizona
Louisiana 9/20/14 9:30 PM
Boise State
(2) Oregon 9/20/14 9:30 PM
Washington St
San Diego St 9/20/14 9:30 PM
Oregon State
Los Angeles 1 FINAL
San Jose 1
Montreal 16 FINAL
Edmonton 33
Toronto 33 FINAL
Calgary 40
Winnipeg 9 FINAL
Brt Columbia 26
Saskatchewan 3 FINAL
Hamilton 28
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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 Noon
Sep 21 - at New Orleans Noon
Sep 28 - vs. Atlanta 3:25 pm
Oct 2 - at Green Bay 7:25 pm
Oct 12 - vs. Detroit Noon
Oct 19 - at. Buffalo Noon
Oct 26 - at Tampa Bay Noon
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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