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 2 Picks and Power Rankings: Vikings start 2-0?

Posted by: Mark Craig under On the road, Rookies, Vikings, Bears, Lions, NFC, Packers, Adrian Peterson, Percy Harvin Updated: September 14, 2012 - 3:21 PM
What else would you rather do on a Friday morning than watch a poor man swing away at his weekly NFL Picks and Power Rankings? We’ll even throw in some extra purple with Three Reasons for Optimism and Three Reasons to Go `Uh-Oh.
Power rankings
TOP THREE
1. 49ers (1-0)
Comment: The most fundamentally sound and well-balanced team in the league so long as QB Alex Smith can continue his impressive stretch of protecting the ball. The 49ers were terrible for a lot of years, but their foundation is solid now with the league's best defense and an offensive line that features three players the team drafted in the first round.
 
2. Cowboys (1-0)
Comment: Picking the Cowboys high on any lists related to success usually results in one looking like a fool before too long. But the Cowboys are loaded with talent and, more importantly, Tony Romo just played the best game of his career while beating the Giants on the road.
 
3. Broncos (1-0)
Comment: Peyton Manning. Nuff said..
 
BOTTOM THREE
30. Raiders (0-1)
Comment: What better team to make a snap decision on than one that can’t snap the ball?
 
31. Colts (0-1)
Comment: You know you’re starting from scratch when a receiver the Vikings released (Kris Adams) made your team and caught two passes.
 
32. Dolphins (0-1)
Comment: It doesn’t get any tougher for a rookie quarterback than opening the season at Houston. But Ryan Tannehill and the Dolphins look like they might struggle to beat the Gophers.
 
NFC NORTH
7. Packers (1-1)
Comment: Crisis averted. Packers show they’re still a team to beat in the NFC. (They also show they got some seriously thin skin following season-opening loss to the 49ers.)
 
14. Lions (1-0)
Comment: If Matthew Stafford has many more games like he had against St. Louis (three picks), that gut feeling about the Lions falling back to 6-10 might come true.
 
16. Bears (1-1)
Comment: It’s one game. However, atrocious pass protection, a gun-slinger QB and a stubborn offense that doesn’t even try to hide its warts could keep the Bears from challenging the Packers in the NFC North.
 
20. Vikings (1-0)
Comment: Before moving them higher on the list, we’ll need a little more evidence than a last-second magic act to beat Blaine Gabbert and the Jags in OT at home.
 
THE REST  
4. Ravens (1-0): 5. Patriots (1-0): 6. Texans (1-0); 8. Giants (0-1); 9. Jets (1-0); 10. Steelers (0-1); 11. Chargers (1-0); 12. Falcons (1-0); 13. Redskins (1-0);15. Saints (0-1); 17. Eagles (1-0); 18. Cardinals (1-0); 19. Buccaneers (1-0); 21. Bengals (0-1); 22. Panthers (0-1); 23. Jaguars (0-1); 24. Browns (0-1); 25. Seahawks (0-1); 26. Rams (0-1); 27. Bills (0-1); 28. Chiefs (0-1); 29. Titans (0-1).
 
VIKINGS
THREE REASONS FOR OPTIMISM
1, Ponder’s late-game performance: If you’re a realist, you aren’t judging the Vikings on whether they make the playoffs this season. You’re looking at 2012 as 16 opportunities for Christian Ponder to prove he was worthy of last year’s 12th overall draft pick and will be the undisputed leader of this team once its youth movement matures. So far, Ponder is 1-for-1.
 
2, So far, so good with new GM: Sunday was a good day for General Manager Rick Spielman’s long-term vision for the team. Not only did Ponder lead the team back from near-certain defeat, three rookies played significant roles. Fourth overall pick Matt Kalil walled off Ponder’s blind side. Harrison Smith, whom Spielman got by trading back into the first round, showed instincts and athleticism we haven’t seen at safety in awhile. And, of course, Blair Walsh, Spielman’s sixth-round pick that we all scratched our heads over in April, booted a 55-yard game-tying field goal as the fourth quarter ended and then kicked the 38-yarder in OT to win the game.
 
3, Peterson and Percy: With Adrian Peterson back at a self-described 95 percent and Percy Harvin obviously at 100 percent, the Vikings have two of the NFL’s better playmakers working together from the start of the season. That wasn’t expected, but Peterson kept his word by proving he’d be an impact player from the get-go. As for Harvin, you watch his first three seasons and have a hard time imagining him getting better. But then he plays the way he did on Sunday and you realize he’s only 24 years old and will be getting even better.
 
THREE REASONS TO GO `UH-OH’
1, Third-down defense: When Blaine Gabbert and the Jacksonville Jaguars come to your stadium and convert 9 of 18 third-down situations, all is not good with your defense.
 
2, John Carlson’s impact: As good as Spielman’s draft is looking, his No. 1 target in free agency needs to pick it up. Tight end Carlson was brought in to team with Kyle Rudolph and give the Vikings some mismatches in their multiple tight-end formations. But Carlson got hurt on Day 2 of training camp, missed the preseason and went without a catch on Sunday. He was targeted only once. Eventually, the Vikings need a lot more from their five-year, $25 million investment.
 
3, Defending the tight end: This in many ways falls under the No. 1 reason. The Vikings continue to struggle with defending tight ends. And that’s one reason they have trouble stopping teams on third down. The Vikings need a better, more consistent performance against tight ends because the league if packed to the top of its shield with ones that can pile up first downs.
 
THE PICKS
Vikings 24, Colts 17: The Vikings are favored by 1 ½ points on the road. And they should be. The Colts are playing their home opener, so it will be a tough atmosphere. But the Vikings have more talent (see: Seth Olsen, former Vikings practice squad player, starting at left guard for Colts) and are further along in their rebuilding.
 
TB plus-7 at NYG: Giants by 10.
ARI plus-13 ½ at NE: Patriots by 10.
NO minus-2 ½ at CAR: Saints by 7.
KC plus-3 at BUF: Bills by 6.
BAL plus-2 ½ at PHI: Ravens by 14.
OAK minus-2 ½ at MIA: Raiders by 3.
HOU minus-7 ½ at JAC: Texans by 3.
DAL minus-3 at SEA: Cowboys by 7.
CLE plus-7 at CIN: Browns by 3.
NYJ plus-6 at PIT: Steelers by 3.
TEN plus-6 at SD: Chargers by 7.
DET plus-6 ½ at SF: 49ers by 14.
 
UPSET SPECIAL
WAS minus-3 at STL: Rams by 3.
Rams 24, Redskins 21
Comment: Believe it or not, RGIII will not win every game he plays and proceed directly to the Hall of Fame. Rams QB Sam Bradford did a lot of promising things without a running game and facing a lot of pressure. Go with the home team here.    
 

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