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 (3-0)
Last week: Patriots.
Why: I’ve seen the Packers at the top of a number of power rankings, but, to me, the Patriots are the buoy in this vast sea of unpredictability and lost wagers. Throw anything at them. Controversy. A rebuilt secondary. Rotating offensive linemen … on a regular basis … on purpose? They just keep winning. (Until I said that, probably).
2, Packers (4-0); 3, Broncos (4-0); 4, Bengals (4-0); 5, Falcons (4-0); 6, Panthers (4-0); 7, Rams (2-2); 8, Seahawks (2-2); 9, Jets (3-1); 10, Giants (2-2); 11, Cardinals (3-1); 12, Colts (3-2); 13, Chargers (2-2).
14, VIKINGS (2-2)
(Last week: 11): Mike Zimmer is right. There should never be moral victories. As much grief as the media takes for being too negative, the media also is the first to fan the flame for moral victories with cushy questions about fighting hard for 60 minutes (or at least until the other team’s seventh sack ends the game on a fumble with 29 seconds left). After Sunday’s 23-20 loss in Denver, Zimmer was careful to draw the line between an encouraging loss and a satisfying loss. The Vikings did some nice things in one of the NFL’s toughest venues. But let’s not pat them on the back too long.
THE REST OF THE REST
15, Bills (2-2); 16, Chiefs (1-3); 17, Redskins (2-2); 18, Ravens (1-3); 19, Steelers (2-2); 20, Saints (1-3); 21, Cowboys (2-2); 22, Titans (1-2); 23, Eagles (1-3); 24, Bears (1-3); 25, Raiders (2-2); 26, Jaguars (1-3); 27, Browns (1-3); 28, Texans (1-4); 29, Dolphins (1-3); 30, Buccaneers (1-3); 31, 49ers (1-3).
WORST OF THE BUNCH
32: Lions (0-4). Last week: Bears.
Why?: Welcome home, Detroit. Welcome home. The Lions are so out of whack offensively under coordinator Joe “Don’t Worry, We Won’t Call You Vince” Lombardi. Hard to imagine a blood relative of Vince’s would run the ball only 29 percent of the time. Even in today’s NFL. The Lions have run the ball only 69 times in four games. They’re averaging a league-worst 45 yards a game. Which came first in Detroit? The inability to run the ball or the unwillingness to run the ball?
THREE REASONS FOR VIKINGS FANS TO BE HOPEFUL
1, The Teddy Bridgewater who panicked uncharacteristically in the season-opening 20-3 debacle at San Francisco didn’t make an appearance in Denver. Yes, he was stripped of the ball with 29 seconds left. But that was a great defensive play call and execution against poor pass protection. It also was the seventh sack of the day for Denver. An eighth sack was negated by penalty. But despite the beating, Bridgewater completed 13 of 15 second-half passes.
2, Depth at receiver. Maybe it’s time to let go of what we all want Cordarrelle Patterson to be and appreciate what the Vikings have overall at receiver. With two of their top four receivers sidelined with injuries, the Vikings got 20 catches for 240 yards and a touchdown from Mike Wallace, Adam Thielen and rookie Stefon Diggs, who was making his NFL debut. So instead of fixating on what the underachieving Patterson isn’t or may never be, perhaps it’s time to consider what an overachiever like Thielen is and could become.
3, Eric Kendricks. This week’s trade of Gerald Hodges clears the way for Kendricks, the rookie second-round draft pick, to take the next step from nickel linebacker to three-down playmaker. People forget that Hodges was playing out of position in a spot he had never played in his life until two months ago. Audie Cole is a good backup in the middle, so the Vikings used their depth to recoup a sixth-round draft pick and acquire a young center they really like. Nick Easton won’t pay off this season, but if you look down the road, you’ll notice that Joe Berger is 33 and John Sullivan is 30 and currently sidelined because of back surgery.
THREE REASONS FOR VIKINGS FANS TO BE NERVOUS
1, Until the hiccups and/or manhandlings stop, I’ll continue to list run defense at or near the top of things to be nervous about. Also, can we please stop using the words “throw out”? As in “Throw out that 72-yard touchdown run” and the Vikings allowed only 72 yards on 23 carries.” I don’t know about you, but I’m not only not throwing it out, it’s the first play I’m throwing in. The Broncos went into the game as the only 3-0 team in NFL history without a 70-yard rushing game. They got 72 on one snap against the Vikings. It resulted in seven points in a game the Vikings lost by 3.
2, Blair Walsh. People who say he should be dumped probably haven’t scouted the kickers who are available. I’m going to crawl out on a very short limb and suggest that anybody who is unemployed on Oct. 10 is out of work for a very good reason. Yeah, Gary Anderson is available and probably still fishing somewhere. But he’s now 56 years old. But, all that being said, it is getting old wondering what’s going to happen every time Walsh lines up on PATs or mid-range kicks. And you know the coaches aren’t going to be taking any chances on 50-yarders as long as Walsh is messed up mentally. So that’s further missed scoring opportunities. Walsh can fix this. He just needs to, well, fix it.
3, The road record. Yeah, the Vikings came close to winning in one of the league’s toughest venues. But they still lost. They’re still 2-8 on the road under Zimmer. Since the 34-6 win at St. Louis in his NFL head coaching debut, Zimmer is 1-8 on the road. With two wins and six more road games, the Vikings are going to have to win some games away from TCF Bank Stadium if they’re going to be a playoff team.
Last week: Vikings plus-6 ½ at Broncos. The pick: Broncos 31, Vikings 24. The score: Broncos 23, Vikings 20. Record: 3-1.
THE OTHER GAMES
Bills minus-2 ½ at Titans: Bills by 3
Bears plus-9 ½ at Chiefs: Chiefs by 7
Browns plus-6 ½ at Ravens: Ravens by 10
Jaguars plus-2 ½ at Buccaneers: Bucs by 3
Seahawks plus-2 ½ at Bengals: Seahawks by 6
Rams plus-9 ½ at Packers: Packers by 10
Redskins plus-7 ½ at Falcons: Falcons by 14
Cardinals minus-3 ½ at Lions: Lions by 3
Broncos minus-4 ½ at Raiders: Raiders by 3
Patriots minus-9 ½ at Cowboys: Patriots by 7
49ers plus-7 ½ at Giants: Giants by 3
Steelers plus-2 ½ at Chargers: Chargers by 3
Saints plus-4 ½ at Eagles. The pick: Saints 34, Eagles 31.
Why?: Drew Brees and an equally desperate Saints team will give Chip Kelly another reminder that systems are great, but players are better.
Last week: Raiders minus-3 at Chicago. The pick: Bears 28, Raiders 21. The score: Bears 22, Raiders 20. Record: 2-2.
Last week/overall: 11-3/40-19. Versus spread last week/overall: 8-6/29-30.
Final 2014 regular-season Record: Overall: 146-90-1. Versus spread: 125-111-1.