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: Best quarterback, best coach and best appeal of a Roger Goodell suspension EV-er. Pats are No. 2 in point differential (plus-16.3 points per game).
2, Packers (3-0); 3, Broncos (3-0); 4, Cardinals (3-0); 5, Bengals (3-0); 6, Bills (2-1); 7, Falcons (3-0); 8, Panthers (3-0); 9, Raiders (2-1); 10, Seahawks (1-2).
11, VIKINGS (2-1)
(Last week: 16): The Team Toughness identity that coach Mike Zimmer longed for after the San Francisco beatdown has materialized the past two weeks. Taking it with them on the road to Denver might be a different story.
THE REST OF THE REST
12, Cowboys (2-1); 13, Eagles (1-2); 14, Jets (2-1); 15, Giants (1-2); 16, Chiefs (1-2); 17, Texans (1-2); 18, Colts (1-2); 19, Chargers (1-2); 20, Jaguars (1-2); 21, Browns (1-2); 22, Titans (1-2); 23, Ravens (1-3); 24, Steelers (2-2); 25, Dolphins (1-2); 26, 49ers (1-2); 27, Redskins (1-2); 28, Rams (1-2); 29, Buccaneers (1-2); 30, Lions (0-3); 31, Saints (0-3).
WORST OF THE BUNCH
32: Bears (0-3). Last week: Saints.
Why?: The Bears are last in point differential (minus-19.7 points per game), last in scoring defense (35.7) and 31st in scoring (15.3). But they do seem to be first in giving up on the season.
THREE REASONS FOR VIKINGS FANS TO BE HOPEFUL
1, They ran for 362 yards and five touchdowns on 73 carries (5.0) in back-to-back wins. If they can run like that and Teddy Bridgewater can take care of the ball (one turnover in two games), they’ll win their share of games.
2, The run defense allowed 128 yards total in two games after giving up 230 in the season-opener at San Francisco. Granted, the Lions (38 yards) essentially don’t even try to run. But the Vikings are playing disciplined run defense while the Broncos rank 31st in rushing (57.0) and last in average yards per carry (2.6). The Broncos also have a makeshift offensive line that experienced even more upheaval this week with rookie left tackle Ty Sambrailo being ruled out (shoulder) and right tackle Ryan Harris being moved over.
3, The Vikings are playing some smart football. They’re tied for the second-fewest penalties (18) and the fewest offensive penalties (five). Denver is the eighth-most penalized team (25) and has eight personal fouls in the past two weeks.
THREE REASONS FOR VIKINGS FANS TO BE NERVOUS
1, Denver is one of the toughest places to play under normal circumstances. Throw in an unbeaten team with the best rush-and-cover defense and, well, Sunday’s atmosphere is going to be chaos for the Vikings. The noise, the altitude, the No. 1-ranked defense feeding off the noise, Peyton Manning operating without the noise … need we go on? Oh yeah, the Vikings also are 2-7 on the road under Mike Zimmer.
2, The Broncos have been told for three weeks that they can’t run the ball, their offensive line is a mess, etc., etc. At some point, they’ll dig down and punch someone out, figuratively speaking, of course. That’s what happened in the opener when the 49ers got fed up with being told how awful they were. And, let’s face it, the Vikings don’t have the most consistent run defense.
3, Peyton Manning. Enough said.
Vikings plus-6 ½ at Broncos. The pick: Broncos 31, Vikings 24.
Why?: The Vikings have developed some strengths that should travel well. The power running game is one of those strengths, and it could help neutralize Denver’s dynamic edge rushers. But I’ll have to see it to believe it, especially after the clunker this team laid the last time it was on the road.
Last week: Chargers plus-2 ½ at Vikings. The pick: Vikings 24, Chargers 21. The score: Vikings 31, Chargers 14. Record: 2-1.
THE OTHER GAMES
Dolphins plus-1 ½ vs. Jets at London: Jets by 3
Jaguars plus-9 at Colts: Colts by 3
Texans plus-6 ½ at Falcons: Falcons by 7
Panthers minus-3 at Buccaneers: Panthers by 7
Giants plus-5 ½ at Bills: Bills by 7
Eagles minus-3 at Redskins: Eagles by 6
Chiefs plus-4 at Bengals: Bengals by 6
Browns plus-7 ½ at Chargers: Chargers by 3
Packers minus-8 at 49ers: Packers by 3
Rams plus-7 at Cardinals: Cardinals by 14
Cowboys plus-4 ½ at Saints: Saints by 3
Lions plus-10 at Seahawks: Seahawks by 7
Raiders minus-3 at Chicago. The pick: Bears 28, Raiders 21.
Why?: The Bears are this week’s team that’s most fed up with being told how awful it is (See: Bucs, Week 2). And something tells me the Raiders won’t win back-to-back road games.
Last week: Raiders plus-3 ½ at Browns. The pick: Raiders 27, Browns 24. The score: Raiders 27, Browns 20. Record: 1-2.
Last week/overall: 12-3/29-16. Versus spread last week/overall: 7-8/21-24.
Final 2014 regular-season Record: Overall: 146-90-1. Versus spread: 125-111-1.