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

Posted by: Mark Craig under NFC Updated: December 22, 2013 - 7:34 AM

What would you rather do on a Sunday 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. 49ers (10-4)
Why:
The 49ers’ current four-game winning streak includes a victory over Seattle. San Francisco is fifth in rushing team, No. 3 in points allowed and is getting some better play from QB Colin Kaepernick the past month.

THE REST

2. Seahawks (12-2); 3. Chargers (7-7); 4. Broncos (11-3); 5. Chiefs (11-3); 6. Panthers (10-4); 7. Dolphins (8-6); 8. Patriots (10-4); 9. Cardinals (9-5); 10. Ravens (8-6); 11. Rams (6-8); 12. Saints (10-4); 13. Bears (8-6); 14. Colts (9-5); 15. Packers (7-6-1); 16. Steelers (6-8); 17. Bengals (9-5); 18. Lions (7-7); 19. Cowboys (7-7).

THE VIKINGS
20. Vikings 4-9-1 (Last week: 26):
We moved them up six spots after watching a band of former misfit backups step up and wallop an Eagles team that was red hot and leading the NFC East. Effort hasn’t been an issue all season for the Vikings. Last week, depth wasn’t a problem either. The Vikings scored 48 points, their highest total since reaching 50 against Jacksonville in 1998. And they did it without their top two running backs, their top three corners, their right guard and their top two tight ends.

THE REST

21. Eagles (8-6); 22. Titans (5-9); 23. Falcons (4-10); 24. Bills (4-10); 25. Buccaneers (4-10); 26. Browns (4-10); 27. Jets (6-8); 28. Jaguars (4-10); 29. Raiders (4-10); 30. Redskins (3-11); 31. Giants (5-9).

WORST OF THE BUNCH
32: Texans (2-12):
Believe it or not – and in the NFL, everything is entirely believable – the Texans were 12-2 at this point a year ago. The Vikings started Houston’s current 3-15 slide with a 23-6 win at Houston.

THE PICKS

VIKINGS
Vikings plus-8 at Bengals: The pick: Vikings 27, Bengals 24.
Why?:
.The Vikings are 3-2-1 in the second half of the season and have proven time and again under coach Leslie Frazier that they’ll play with maximum effort regardless of the record or lack of playoff implications. The Bengals have all the pressure on them and they don’t have a good track record when the collars get tight. They enjoyed a comfortable lead in the AFC North at one point. But they’ve gone 3-3 the past six games, which has allowed Baltimore to move within a game of the top.

Last week: Eagles minus-5 ½ at Vikings. The pick: Eagles 35, Vikings 21. The final: Vikings 48, Eagles 30. Record: 8-5-1, 6-8 vs. the spread.

UPSET SPECIAL
Cowboys minus-3 at Redskins. The pick: Redskins 41, Cowboys 38.
Why?:
Dallas can’t possibly stay in the playoff picture playing defense as historically awful as it has this season, right? So while the Redskins have lost six straight and completely given up, the Cowboys are still more than capable of being completely unable to stop them.

Last week: Bears minus-1 at Browns. The pick: Browns 31, Bears 28. The final: Bears 38, Browns 31. Record: 4-11.

THE REST
Dolphins minus-3 at Bills: Bills by 6.
Saints plus-3 at Panthers: Panthers by 7.
Buccaneers plus-4 at Rams: Rams by 7.
Bears plus-3 at Eagles: Eagles by 10.
Browns plus-1 at Jets: Jets by 3.
Colts plus-7 at Chiefs: Chiefs by 3.
Broncos minus-10 at Texans: Broncos by 21.
Titans minus-5 at Jaguars: Jaguars by 3.
Cardinals plus-10 at Seahawks: Seahawks by 7.
Giants plus-10 at Lions: Lions by 3.
Raiders plus-10 at Chargers: Chargers by 14.
Steelers plus-1 at Packers: Steelers by 3.
Patriots plus-2 at Ravens: Patriots by 3.
Falcons plus-14 at 49ers: 49ers by 7.

Record: Last week: 9-5; 6-8 vs. the spread. Overall: 122-84-1; 93-109-4 vs. the spread.

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Atlanta - LP: A. Wood 0 FINAL
Philadelphia - WP: A. Bastardo 1
Cleveland - LP: D. Salazar 5 FINAL
Detroit - WP: J. Verlander 7
Toronto - LP: R. Dickey 0 FINAL
Minnesota - WP: K. Gibson 7
Seattle - LP: J. Beimel 6 FINAL
Texas - WP: P. Figueroa 8
Los Angeles - WP: H. Ryu 2 FINAL
San Francisco - LP: M. Bumgarner 1
Colorado - WP: F. Morales 3 FINAL
San Diego - LP: I. Kennedy 1
St. Louis - WP: A. Wainwright 8 FINAL
Washington - LP: T. Jordan 0
Milwaukee - LP: R. Wooten 2 FINAL
Pittsburgh - WP: E. Volquez 11
NY Yankees - WP: C. Sabathia 10 FINAL
Tampa Bay - LP: D. Price 2
Toronto - LP: S. Santos 5 FINAL
Minnesota - WP: C. Fien 9
Boston - WP: J. Lester 3 FINAL
Chicago WSox - LP: R. Belisario 1
Kansas City - WP: J. Shields 5 FINAL
Houston - LP: S. Feldman 1
Philadelphia 1 FINAL
NY Rangers 4
Chicago 3 FINAL(OT)
St. Louis 4
Minnesota 4 FINAL(OT)
Colorado 5
Los Angeles 3 FINAL
San Jose 6
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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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Poll: Will you boo Jared Allen when he returns with the Bears?

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