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 17 Picks & Power Rankings

Posted by: Mark Craig under Lions Updated: December 29, 2013 - 7:43 AM

What would you rather do on a Sunday 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. 49ers (11-4)
Why:
They’ve won a league-best five straight, including a victory over the Seahawks, heading into today’s game at Arizona. ... Which, um, we predict later on that the Cardinals will win. (Hey, nobody said the NFL is supposed to make sense).

THE REST

2. Cardinals (10-5); 3. Panthers (11-4); 4. Chargers (8-7); 5. Broncos (12-3); 6. Seahawks (12-3); 7. Patriots (11-4); 8. Colts (10-5); 9. Bengals (10-5); 10. Chiefs (11-4); 11. Saints (10-5); 12. Eagles (9-6);  13. Steelers (7-8); 14. Ravens (8-7); 15. Bills (6-9); 16. Dolphins (8-7); 17. Rams (7-8); 18. Cowboys (8-7); 19. Giants (6-9); 20. Titans (6-9); 21. Jets (7-8); 22. Bears (8-7); 23. Packers (7-7-1); 24. Lions (7-8); 25. Falcons (4-11).

THE VIKINGS
26. Vikings 4-10-1 (Last week: 20):
Financially, the Vikings are giddy about leaving the Metrodome. As for what it means competitively, well, we’ll have to wait and see. The Vikings are 166-92 (.643) at the Dome. And even in a season as miserable as this one has been, the Vikings have won three straight at the Metrodome and can make it four in a row with a win over the Lions today.

THE REST

27. Redskins (3-12); 28. Buccaneers (4-11); 29. Browns (4-11); 30. Jaguars (4-11); 31. Raiders (4-11).

WORST OF THE BUNCH
32: Texans (2-13):
Just a mere 105 days ago, the Texans were 2-0 and considered a Super Bowl contender with a franchise quarterback, a strong defense and stability at head coach. Yeah, things tend to change quickly in the NFL.

THE PICKS

VIKINGS
Lions plus-2 ½ at Vikings: Vikings 34, Lions 31.
Why?:
.The Lions were 6-3 with a clear path to the NFC North title thanks to injuries in Chicago and one major injury (Aaron Rodgers) in Green Bay. Then, as they typically do, the Lions underachieved. They’ve lost five of six, including a home game against the Giants a week ago. Now, out of the playoffs, they have to travel in Week 17. Either team could win or lose, win big or be blown out. The guess here is with the home team.

Last week: Vikings plus-8 at Bengals: The pick: Vikings 27, Bengals 24. The final: Bengals 42, Vikings 14. Record: 8-6-1, 6-9 vs. the spread.

UPSET SPECIAL
Eagles minus-6 ½ at Cowboys. The pick: Cowboys 41, Eagles 38.
Why?:
Yeah, the Cowboys have an historically awful defense. Yeah, Tony Romo (back surgery) is done for the season. But, in typical illogical NFL fashion, this will be the Week 17 play-in game the Cowboys finally win after falling short multiple times in recent years.

Last week: Cowboys minus-3 at Redskins. The pick: Redskins 41, Cowboys 38. The final: Cowboys 24, Redskins 23. Record: 4-12.

THE REST
Panthers minus-6 at Falcons: Panthers by 3.
Packers minus-3 at Bears: Packers by 7.
Texans plus-7 ½ at Titans: Titans by 10.
Browns plus-7 at Steelers: Steelers by 14.
Redskins plus-3 ½ at Giants: Giants by 7.
Ravens plus-6 ½ at Bengals: Bengals by 3.
Jaguars plus-10 ½ at Colts: Colts by 3.
Jets plus-5 ½ at Dolphins: Dolphins by 7.
Bills plus-7 ½ at Patriots: Patriots by 6.
Buccaneers plus-12 at Saints: Saints by 14.
Broncos minus-11 at Raiders: Broncos by 7.
49ers minus-1 at Cardinals: Cardinals by 7.
Chiefs plus-10 at Chargers: Chargers by 7.
Rams plus-11 ½ at Seahawks: Seahawks by 7.

Record: Last week: 10-6; 15-1 vs. the spread. Overall: 132-90-1; 108-110-4 vs. the spread.

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