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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Houston 7:30 PM
Pittsburgh
San Diego 10/23/14 7:25 PM
Denver
Detroit 10/26/14 8:30 AM
Atlanta
Buffalo 10/26/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
St. Louis 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Kansas City
Houston 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Tennessee
Minnesota 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Seattle 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Carolina
Baltimore 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Cincinnati
Miami 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Jacksonville
Chicago 10/26/14 12:00 PM
New England
Philadelphia 10/26/14 3:05 PM
Arizona
Oakland 10/26/14 3:25 PM
Cleveland
Indianapolis 10/26/14 3:25 PM
Pittsburgh
Green Bay 10/26/14 7:30 PM
New Orleans
Chicago 6:00 PM
Cleveland
New Orleans 6:00 PM
Washington
Milwaukee 6:30 PM
New York
Philadelphia 6:30 PM
Brooklyn
Charlotte 6:30 PM
Atlanta
Sacramento 7:30 PM
San Antonio
Memphis 7:30 PM
Dallas
Tampa Bay 8:30 PM
Edmonton
Arkansas State 10/21/14 7:00 PM
Louisiana
Connecticut 10/23/14 6:00 PM
(18) East Carolina
Miami-Florida 10/23/14 7:00 PM
Virginia Tech
So Florida 10/24/14 6:00 PM
Cincinnati
Troy 10/24/14 6:30 PM
South Alabama
BYU 10/24/14 8:00 PM
Boise State
(6) Oregon 10/24/14 9:00 PM
California
North Texas 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Rice
UAB 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Arkansas
Rutgers 10/25/14 11:00 AM
(16) Nebraska
Maryland 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Wisconsin
Texas 10/25/14 11:00 AM
(11) Kansas State
Minnesota 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Illinois
Memphis 10/25/14 11:00 AM
SMU
North Carolina 10/25/14 11:30 AM
Virginia
San Jose St 10/25/14 12:00 PM
Navy
Northern Ill 10/25/14 12:00 PM
Eastern Mich
(25) UCLA 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Colorado
Akron 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Ball State
Massachusetts 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Toledo
Ohio U 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Western Mich
Ga Southern 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Georgia State
Kent State 10/25/14 1:30 PM
Miami-Ohio
Oregon State 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Stanford
Fla Atlantic 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(23) Marshall
Louisiana Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Southern Miss
(1) Miss State 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Kentucky
Georgia Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Pittsburgh
(22) West Virginia 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Oklahoma State
Texas Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(10) TCU
Michigan 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(8) Michigan State
Boston College 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Wake Forest
Central Mich 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Buffalo
Vanderbilt 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Missouri
Old Dominion 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Western Ky
UNLV 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Utah State
Temple 10/25/14 4:00 PM
UCF
(15) Arizona 10/25/14 5:00 PM
Washington St
Texas-El Paso 10/25/14 6:00 PM
TX-San Antonio
Wyoming 10/25/14 6:00 PM
Colorado State
Syracuse 10/25/14 6:00 PM
(21) Clemson
Texas State 10/25/14 6:00 PM
ULM
(3) Ole Miss 10/25/14 6:15 PM
(24) LSU
(4) Alabama 10/25/14 6:30 PM
Tennessee
So Carolina 10/25/14 6:30 PM
(5) Auburn
(13) Ohio State 10/25/14 7:00 PM
Penn State
(20) USC 10/25/14 9:00 PM
(19) Utah
(14) Arizona State 10/25/14 9:45 PM
Washington
Nevada 10/25/14 10:59 PM
Hawaii
Ottawa 6 FINAL
Hamilton 16
Montreal 20 FINAL
Toronto 12
Calgary 33 FINAL
Winnipeg 23
Edmonton 24 FINAL
Saskatchewan 19
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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 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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