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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Chicago 17 FINAL
Detroit 34
Philadelphia 3:30 PM
Dallas
Seattle 7:30 PM
San Francisco
Cleveland 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Buffalo
Washington 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Indianapolis
Tennessee 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Houston
San Diego 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Baltimore
NY Giants 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Jacksonville
Cincinnati 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Oakland 11/30/14 12:00 PM
St. Louis
New Orleans 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Pittsburgh
Carolina 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Minnesota
Arizona 11/30/14 3:05 PM
Atlanta
New England 11/30/14 3:25 PM
Green Bay
Denver 11/30/14 7:30 PM
Kansas City
Miami 12/1/14 7:30 PM
NY Jets
Edmonton 7:00 PM
Nashville
ULM 54 FINAL
Robert Morris 71
Santa Clara 57 FINAL
Tennessee 64
Oklahoma 59 FINAL
Butler 46
Austin Peay 79 FINAL
Brown 58
Princeton 56 FINAL
Texas-El Paso 62
Coastal Carolina 50 2nd Half 7:26
Chattanooga 57
Kansas 52 2nd Half 11:14
Rhode Island 38
Wisconsin 22 1st Half 6:56
Georgetown 23
FIU 22 1st Half 4:23
USC Upstate 22
Long Island 3 1st Half 17:39
Stony Brook 4
San Diego 3:30 PM
Xavier
Illinois 4:00 PM
Indiana State
Western Ky 5:00 PM
Saint Josephs
Cal State Fullerton 5:00 PM
Wright State
Michigan State 5:30 PM
Rider
UCLA 6:00 PM
North Carolina
Marquette 7:30 PM
Georgia Tech
Long Beach State 7:30 PM
Western Mich
Stephen F Austin 8:00 PM
Prairie View
UAB 8:30 PM
Florida
Rice 8:30 PM
Mercer
San Jose St 10:00 PM
Washington
Washington St 10:59 PM
UC Santa Barbara
Baylor 10:59 PM
Memphis
LSU 6:30 PM
Texas A&M
(6) TCU 6:30 PM
Texas
Northern Ill 11/28/14 10:00 AM
Western Mich
Nebraska 11/28/14 11:00 AM
Iowa
Western Ky 11/28/14 11:00 AM
(19) Marshall
UCF 11/28/14 11:00 AM
So Florida
Houston 11/28/14 11:00 AM
SMU
Akron 11/28/14 12:00 PM
Kent State
Ball State 11/28/14 12:00 PM
Bowling Green
Buffalo 11/28/14 12:00 PM
Massachusetts
Toledo 11/28/14 12:00 PM
Eastern Mich
Arkansas 11/28/14 1:30 PM
(17) Missouri
Navy 11/28/14 2:00 PM
South Alabama
(13) Arizona State 11/28/14 2:30 PM
(12) Arizona
Stanford 11/28/14 2:30 PM
(9) UCLA
(21) Colorado State 11/28/14 2:30 PM
Air Force
Virginia 11/28/14 7:00 PM
Virginia Tech
East Carolina 11/28/14 7:30 PM
Tulsa
North Texas 11/29/14 11:00 AM
TX-San Antonio
Old Dominion 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Fla Atlantic
(16) Georgia Tech 11/29/14 11:00 AM
(8) Georgia
Kentucky 11/29/14 11:00 AM
(24) Louisville
So Carolina 11/29/14 11:00 AM
(23) Clemson
West Virginia 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Iowa State
Rice 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Louisiana Tech
Michigan 11/29/14 11:00 AM
(7) Ohio State
Purdue 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Indiana
Illinois 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Northwestern
Cincinnati 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Temple
NC State 11/29/14 11:30 AM
North Carolina
Syracuse 11/29/14 11:30 AM
Boston College
Louisiana 11/29/14 11:30 AM
Troy
Utah 11/29/14 12:00 PM
Colorado
Texas State 11/29/14 1:00 PM
Georgia State
Idaho 11/29/14 1:00 PM
Appalachian St
Wyoming 11/29/14 2:00 PM
New Mexico
New Mexico St 11/29/14 2:00 PM
Arkansas State
UAB 11/29/14 2:30 PM
Southern Miss
(4) Miss State 11/29/14 2:30 PM
(18) Ole Miss
Notre Dame 11/29/14 2:30 PM
USC
(10) Michigan State 11/29/14 2:30 PM
Penn State
(22) Minnesota 11/29/14 2:30 PM
(14) Wisconsin
(5) Baylor 11/29/14 2:30 PM
Texas Tech
Florida 11/29/14 2:30 PM
(1) Florida State
Rutgers 11/29/14 2:30 PM
Maryland
San Jose St 11/29/14 2:30 PM
San Diego St
Tennessee 11/29/14 3:00 PM
Vanderbilt
Kansas 11/29/14 3:00 PM
(11) Kansas State
Connecticut 11/29/14 3:00 PM
Memphis
BYU 11/29/14 3:30 PM
California
ULM 11/29/14 5:00 PM
Ga Southern
Middle Tennessee 11/29/14 6:00 PM
Texas-El Paso
Hawaii 11/29/14 6:00 PM
Fresno State
Wake Forest 11/29/14 6:00 PM
Duke
Pittsburgh 11/29/14 6:00 PM
Miami-Florida
(15) Auburn 11/29/14 6:45 PM
(2) Alabama
(3) Oregon 11/29/14 7:00 PM
Oregon State
Utah State 11/29/14 9:15 PM
(25) Boise State
Washington 11/29/14 9:30 PM
Washington St
Nevada 11/29/14 9:30 PM
UNLV
UCF 12/4/14 6:30 PM
East Carolina
Hamilton 11/30/14 5:00 PM
Calgary
Hartford 43 FINAL
Furman 53
Clemson 77 FINAL
Ohio State 86
Idaho State 53 FINAL
San Diego State 68
East Carolina 58 FINAL
(22) Syracuse 69
Santa Clara 0 Cancelled
Texas-El Paso 0
Florida State 23 1st Half 3:36
Washington 28
Wichita State 10 1st Half 6:33
Fla Gulf Coast 15
Wisconsin 3:15 PM
(1) South Carolina
BYU 5:00 PM
BYU-Hawaii
Charlotte 5:00 PM
Montana
Illinois 5:00 PM
(9) Kentucky
Kansas State 0 Cancelled
LSU 0
Central Michigan 7:00 PM
Richmond
Oklahoma 7:15 PM
South Florida
Princeton 7:30 PM
Wake Forest
(19) Oregon State 8:00 PM
Butler
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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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