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 (10-0)
Last week: Patriots.
Why: They took on Inadvertent Whistlegate, a determined prime-time defensive effort by the Bills and every ounce of coach Rex Ryan’s will and did what they almost always do: Overcome, win and drive poor Rex crazy.
2. Panthers (11-0); 3. Cardinals (8-2); 4. Seahawks (5-5); 5. Texans (5-5); 6. Bengals (8-2); 7. Colts (5-5); 8. Broncos (8-2); 9. Chiefs (5-5); 10. Bears (5-6); 11. Packers (7-4).
12, VIKINGS (7-3). (Last week: 4).
Why: The NFL’s 180-degree flip-flops are coming too fast and too widespread to have any idea where to place teams in an NFL power ranking. My rule of not ranking a team ahead of a team it just lost to has really tested this week’s rankings. The Vikings are 2 1/2 games better than the Bears, not to mention they also beat the Bears. But in a span of four days, the Vikings were blown out at home by a Packers team that then lost at home to the Bears four days later. So, per the rule, the Bears have to rank ahead of the Packers, and the Packers must rank ahead of the Vikings. Therefore, the Vikings now rank below the Bears. And then there’s Detroit. The Lions beat the Packers on the road two weeks ago and then blew out the Eagles on Thanksgiving. They could stay ahead of the Packers and they did beat the Bears, too. But they also lost twice to the Vikings, so … ah, who the heck cares? Just say, “It’s a crazy league” and leave it at that.
THE REST OF THE REST
13. Lions (4-7); 14. Giants (5-5); 15. Bills (5-5); 16. Steelers (6-4); 17. Buccaneers (5-5); 18. Jaguars (4-6); 19. Ravens (3-7); 20. Jets (5-5); 21. 49ers (3-7); 22. Dolphins (4-6); 23. Falcons (6-4); 24. Redskins (4-6); 25. Rams (4-6); 26. Raiders (4-6); 27. Cowboys (3-8); 28. Eagles (4-7); 29. Saints (4-6); 30. Titans (2-9); 31. Browns (2-8).
WORST OF THE BUNCH
32: Chargers (2-8). Last week: Cowboys.
Why?: San Diego has been surprisingly lousy, but, honestly, does anyone really think they’ll be able to hold off the hard-charging Browns, Johnny Fun and his Drunken Band of Social Media Videographers?
THREE REASONS FOR VIKINGS FANS TO BE HOPEFUL
1, Falcons running back Devonta Freeman (concussion) is out. When the Vikings struggle in a game, it usually means the run defense has unraveled early. Not having to face Freeman on the road helps. He ranks No. 2 in yards from scrimmage and is tied for the league lead in touchdowns with 11.
2, Falcons kicker Matt Bryant (quad) is out. Shayne Graham was signed Wednesday and has had only a couple days to work with his snapper and holder.
3, The sting of the Packers loss doesn’t feel quite the same now that the Packers have granted the Vikings a mulligan by losing to the Bears and handing control of the division back to the Vikings.
THREE REASONS FOR VIKINGS FANS TO BE NERVOUS
1, The Packers sandwiched home losses to Detroit and Chicago around a blowout road win against the Vikings.
2, Matt Kalil’s toe. Presumably, it’s better than it was last week considering Kalil practiced on Wednesday and Thursday. Kalil played on Sunday and clearly was affected by the injury. It helps that the Falcons are tied for last in the league in sacks with 12.
3, Harrison Smith’s knee. He didn’t practice Wednesday or Thursday. He was limited Friday and is questionable for the game. If he’s unable to play, the Vikings will be taking on Julio Jones with backup Robert Blanton joining Andrew Sendejo on their last line of defense.
Vikings plus-1 1/2; at Falcons. The pick: Vikings 28, Falcons 20.
Why?: The Falcons are at home and riding a three-game losing streak. They’re 1-4 and minus-6 in the turnover ratio the past five games. In other words, they’re due for the classic NFL bounce-back game, like the Packers were last week. But the Vikings also are due for a bounce-back after a big-time whiff against Green Bay at home last week. With Freeman out and not much of a pass rush to speak of, the Falcons should fall short even though they’re at home.
Last week: Packers plus-1 at Vikings. The pick: Vikings 21, Packers 19. The score: Packers 30, Vikings 13. Record: 7-3.
THE OTHER GAMES
Bills plus-4 1/2; at Chiefs: Chiefs by 7
Dolphins plus-3 1/2; at Jets: Jets by 6
Saints plus-3 1/2; at Texans: Texans by 7
Raiders minus-1 1/2; at Titans: Titans by 3
Chargers plus-3 1/2; at Jaguars: Chargers by 6
Rams plus-8 1/2; at Bengals: Bengals by 3
Buccaneers plus-3 1/2; at Colts: Colts by 7
Cardinals minus-10 1/2; at 49ers: Cardinals by 14
Steelers plus-4 1/2; at Seahawks: Seahawks by 7
Patriots minus-3 1/2; at Broncos: Patriots by 6
Ravens plus-2 1/2; at Browns: Browns by 3
Giants minus-2 1/2; at Redskins. The pick: Redskins 23, Giants 19
Why?: It seems only fitting that the NFC East should be led by two 5-6 teams heading into December.
Last week: Jets minus-3 at Texans. The pick: Texans 24, Jets 14. The score: Texans 24, Jets 17. Record: 4-7.
Last week/overall: 3-9/84-65. Versus spread last week/overall: 3-9/68-81.
Final 2014 regular-season Record: Overall: 146-90-1. Versus spread: 125-111-1.