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Breaking news and year-round coverage of the NFL's Minnesota Vikings. Access Vikings is the Star Tribune's blog covering team news, rumors, games and all things purple.

How good is Mike Zimmer with the challenge flag?

Packers players and coaches immediately pointed at the ground as Jerick McKinnon scooped Case Keenum’s pass for an eight-yard gain.

More importantly, the Vikings picked up a first down and, five plays later, a field goal for the 17-10 lead in the third quarter of Sunday’s win against the Packers. Keenum hurried the Vikings to the line, but a timeout came from Minnesota’s sideline to prevent anything hasty.

Packers coach Mike McCarthy was out of challenges after his second attempt failed in the second quarter. Even if McKinnon’s catch initially hit the ground, it was ruled a catch. Keenum found receiver Adam Thielen out of the timeout for a 23-yard gain. We discussed the pivotal swing and a brief history of Vikings-Packers coach’s challenges in our latest Access Vikings podcast.

You can also find more Vikings insight on iTunes or via Google Play.

While you’re here, we’ve compiled coach’s records on challenges throughout the NFL, according to the reliable Pro Football Reference. Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer’s 8-10 record on challenges ranks third in the division. The Vikings have overturned 2 of 3 calls off Zimmer’s red flags this season.

What you’ll see is not many head coaches and their staffs maintain a winning record on referees, if you’re good and fortunate enough to hold a head coaching job for long. McCarthy’s .500 record is an anomaly among the most tenured head coaches.

Avoid Baltimore's takeaway binges and Vikings should win comfortably

The NFL is getting predictably unpredictable.

For the second straight week, eight underdogs won. And for the second straight week, seven of them were road underdogs.

As my upset special, I picked the Bears to win by three as a 7 1/2-point underdog at Baltimore, which they did in overtime.  Just not that impressed by Baltimore, particularly that offense.

If only I had listened to myself about the Giants at Denver. I wrote, “This one seems like the season’s greatest no-brainer. … But the thing that keeps me from making this my Lock of the Week is that 0-5 mark. Guys get really motivated by trying to avoid 0-fer-an-entire-season.”

Naturally, I took the Broncos in a NFL suicide pool. And got bounced when the winless, decimated, rudderless and 12-point underdog Giants  humiliated the Broncos in prime time in Denver.

Grrrr.

Of course, my backup suicide pool pick was Atlanta at home. No way the Falcons lose two straight as a big favorite at home, right?

Miami 20, the 11-point favorite Falcons 17.

I did get the Vikings pick right. I figured defense and home-field advantage would prevail. I didn’t figure Aaron Rodgers would break his right collarbone and force the Packers to go to a backup QB for only the second season since Week 4 of 1992.

Overall, last week’s picks went 10-4 straight-up and 9-5 against the spread.

Here are this week’s picks:

Chiefs minus-2 1/2 at Raiders: Chiefs by 10
Kansas City’s run defense was exposed in last week’s loss to Pittsburgh. But Oakland is in a four-game free-fall.

Ravens plus-5 1/2 at Vikings: Vikings by 10
There’s always the possibility of a major letdown against a team the Vikings should handle comfortably at home. The Ravens have 14 takeaways, including nine interceptions. But 10 of those takeaways and eight of those interceptions came in Weeks 1-2 versus the Browns and Bengals. That means the Ravens have four takeaways the past four weeks. Once again, I think Mike Zimmer’s defense and the home-field advantage will make the difference. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco’s 66.1 passer rating is 31st, one spot ahead of Browns rookie DeShone Kizer.

Jaguars minus-3 1/2 at Colts: Colts by 6
Just a hunch that Team Yo-Yo will break it’s up-and-down season. The Jaguars are 3-3 with wins followed by losses and vice versa all season. They lost last week, so they’re due to win. But NFL patterns usually shift once you think you’ve got them figured out.

Jets plus-3 1/2 at Dolphins: Jets by 7
I can’t figure anything out about either team. The Dolphins are especially confusing. I should like them at home against the Jets after the big road win in Atlanta. But give me the Jets in a letdown game for Miami.

Titans minus-5 1/2 at Browns: Titans by 14
I’m telling you, if you’re a Vikings fan, you don’t want Cleveland going to London to face the Vikings as an 0-7 team. Strange things happen in London.

Cardinals plus-3 1/2 at Rams: Rams by 7
I like what Adrian Peterson has brought to the Cardinals. He brought life to the running game last week, which helped Carson Palmer post a season-high 134.1 passer rating. But the high-scoring Rams will be too tough to keep up with.

Saints minus-5 1/2 at Packers: Saints by 10
Boy, this has the makings of one of those “never-saw-that-one-coming” games. I’m going to use rare NFL reasoning and just go with the better, healthier team. But I wouldn’t count this as a lock.

Buccaneers plus-2 1/2 at Bills: Bills by 3
I’d have to believe Ryan Fitzpatrick starts this game for Tampa Bay. Unlike his days as the QB in Buffalo, this is a good thing for the Bills.

Seahawks minus-5 1/2 at Giants: Seahawks by 21
It’s not a scientific conclusion, but I’m going with the gut feeling that the Giants will be completely non-competitive now that they’ve bounced me from my suicide pool. Grrrr.

Panthers minus-3 1/2 at Bears: Bears by 3
The Bears’ third-ranked running game and sixth-ranked defense are getting my attention. I think they win a low-scoring game at home.

Broncos plus-1 1/2 at Chargers: Broncos by 21
It’s not a scientific conclusion, but I’m going with the gut feeling that the Broncos won’t lose for the next three years after laying down like mutts against the Giants on Sunday night. Grrrr.

Bengals plus-5 1/2 at Steelers: Steelers by 3
Assuming Ben Roethlisberger doesn’t throw five picks and have two of them returned for touchdowns, this home game should go a little smoother than the last one did against Jacksonville.

Falcons plus-3 1/2 at Patriots: Patriots by 7
This one has a no-brainer feel to it. But it would be a totally NFL thing to happen if the Falcons won at New England after blowing leads and losing back-to-back home games against Buffalo and Miami.

Redskins plus-4 1/2 at Eagles: Eagles by 7
This one makes me nervous because the Eagles have won a league-high four straight and have already beaten the Redskins 30-17 in Washington. Seems too easy of a pick for it to be an easy pick.

UPSET SPECIAL

Cowboys minus-5 1/2 at 49ers: 49ers by 3
What’s happened to the 49ers this year has never happened to any other team. No other team has lost five straight games by three or fewer points. The 0-6 49ers have lost their last five games by a total of 12 points. Twelve. Either they finally collapse and get blown out or they finally win a game. I’ll go with the latter since my gut feeling is the Cowboys are due for a giant dose of 2-4 chaos.

Last week straight up; versus spread: 10-4; 9-5

Year to date: 58-32; 43-47

Upset specials: 3-3

Record picking Vikings games: 4-2

NFL Scoreboard

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