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. Seahawks (12-4)
Why: With home-field advantage and momentum at the right time – not to mention the best defense, a powerful running game and one cool customer at QB – the defending champions end the regular season where they left off when they walked out of MetLife Stadium for last year's Super Bowl. They're the best team in the playoffs and the hottest. They've won six straight while giving up an average of 6.8 points per game. They've won nine of their last 10 while holding six of those teams under 10 points.
2. Patriots (12-4); 3. Cowboys (12-4); 4. Packers (12-4); 5. Broncos (12-4); 6. Steelers (11-5); 7. Bengals (10-5-1); 8. Lions (11-5); 9. Colts (11-5); 10. Ravens (10-6); 11. Cardinals (11-5); 12. Eagles (10-6); 13. Bills (9-7); 14. Panthers (7-8-1); 15. Texans (9-7); 16. Chargers (9-7); 17. Dolphins (8-8); 18. Chiefs (9-7); 19. Saints (7-9); 20. 49ers (8-8).
21. Vikings 7-9 (Last week: 25): The Vikings made a lot of progress this season, but we shouldn't get too carried away. They lost nine games, didn't beat a team that finished the season with a winning record and finished 1-5 in their division. Are there pieces to build around, particularly at – finally – quarterback? Yes. Is there a ton of work left to do before anyone should be satisfied? Oh, yeah.
THE REST OF THE REST
22. Giants (6-10); 23. Rams (6-10); 24. Falcons (6-10); 25. Browns (7-9); 26. Jets (4-12); 27. Redskins (4-12); 28. Bears (5-11); 29. Raiders (3-13); 30. Jaguars (3-13); 31. Buccaneers (2-14).
WORST OF THE BUNCH
32: Titans (2-14): After a season-opening 26-10 win at Kansas City, Ken Whisenhunt's new coaching staff show little to no life for the next 15 games. A two-point win at home against Jacksonville in mid-October is all that broke up the worst 15-game stretch in the league.
THREE REASONS FOR VIKINGS FANS TO BE HOPEFUL
1, The team can turn its player-acquisition attention away from the quarterback position to building around the quarterback position. And that hasn't been the case in some time. Has Teddy Bridgewater arrived? Not yet. How good will he be? Stay tuned. Could he flop in Year 2? Sure. Is his the guy to build around as we speak? Yes.
2, Norv Turner is committed to the Vikings through at least the end of his current contract, which has another two years. System changes can ruin good, young quarterbacks. Bridgewater will be in the same system for at least his first two seasons, which will make a big difference. Chances are he'll be in the same one for at least three years. There are no guarantees of success, but the chances improve when a QB works on the same things over and over.
3, Mike Zimmer and the personnel side have another offseason to get in sync. Zimmer's defense has a chance to be as good as the one he created in Cincinnati. But it won't happen in one season and probably won't happen in two seasons. Let's remember that while the Vikings improved, they didn't arrive. They still finished under .500 while going 0-4 against the playoff teams in the division. Anthony Barr, Harrison Smith, Xavier Rhodes, Sharrif Floyd and Everson Griffen are outstanding young pieces to build around. But the team needs more like them.
THREE REASONS FOR VIKINGS FANS TO BE NERVOUS
1, How in the world do they catch up to the Packers while Aaron Rodgers is still playing? Yeah, they made Rodgers work for that second victory this season, a three-point win at TCF Bank Stadium. But that just tells me Rodgers took a punch from the new regime and still won in Minnesota. There's a giant gap between the Vikings and Packers. And Rodgers is in his prime and about to win his second MVP.
2, The offensive line. Pro Football Focus ranked the Vikings' offensive line last among all NFL teams in pass protection. I'm not one to go around reciting PFF chapter and verse. But I'm inclined to say PFF got this one either right on or darn close. Yes, there were numerous injuries. But the line struggled before the injuries early this season and last year, when it was healthy. Center John Sullivan is the only player who stood out as both effective and consistent.
3, Will the Vikings have the stomach, mind and financial acumen to maneuver the franchise to a beneficial ending of the Adrian Peterson fiasco? He missed 15 games, he's suspended until April 15, he'll be 30 and his cap number will be $15.4 million. We get it. We also look around the playoff field and see that the best teams have good to great QB-RB tandems. A Bridgewater-Peterson pairing sure looks more enticing than a Bridgewater-Asiata or Bridgewater-McKinnon pairing. Yes, Peterson's cap number is high for a running back. But have people forgotten that this isn't the typical running back. Didn't we learn not to put limitations on this guy when he ran for 2,097 yards a year after having ACL surgery? The Vikings need to do everything in their power to keep him and move forward. Otherwise, some other team gets Adrian Peterson while the Vikings move running back to the top of their list of needs.
Last week: Bears plus-6 ½ at Vikings. The pick: Vikings 28, Bears 21. The final: Vikings 13, Bears 9. Redord: 12-4.
Last Week: Panthers plus-4 at Falcons. The pick: Panthers 24, Falcons 17. The final: Panthers 34, Falcons 3. Record: 6-11.
THE WILD-CARD ROUND
Bengals plus-3 ½ at Colts: Bengals 33, Colts 21
Ravens plus-3 at Steelers: Steelers 17, Ravens 13
Cardinals plus-6 ½ at Panthers: Panthers 24, Cardinals 17
Lions plus-6 ½ at Cowboys: Lions 31, Cowboys 24
Final Regular-season Record: Last week/overall: 12-4/146-90-1. Versus spread: Last week/overall: 9-6-1/125-111-1.