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. Panthers (11-0)
Last week: Patriots.
Why: If they get any hotter, Cam Newton will need IV fluids to get through his celebrations. Cam’s good, but that defense is better. Twenty-eight takeaways. Eighteen interceptions. A plus-16 turnover ratio.
2. Cardinals (9-2); 3. Broncos (9-2); 4. Patriots (10-1); 5. Seahawks (6-5); 6. Texans (6-5); 7. Bengals (9-2); 8. Packers (8-4).
9, VIKINGS (8-3). (Last week: 12).
Why: The Falcons knew what was coming last week. The Vikings knew the Falcons knew what was coming. And yet the Vikings did it and the Falcons couldn’t do anything about it. That’s the best sign of a team that’s built to succeed in the NFL. If you want to fixate on Teddy Bridgewater’s stats, go ahead. Just don’t forget that the actual team that he’s a part of is 7-0 when Teddy throws for fewer than 200 yards.
THE REST OF THE REST
10. Colts (6-5); 11. Chiefs (6-5); 12. Lions (4-8); 13. Jets (6-5); 14. Steelers (6-5); 15. Redskins (5-6); 16. Bears (5-6); 17. Raiders (5-6); 18. Giants (5-6); 19. Bills (5-6); 20. Buccaneers (5-6); 21. Chargers (3-8); 22. Jaguars (4-7); 23. Ravens (4-7); 24. 49ers (3-8); 25. Dolphins (4-7); 26. Falcons (6-5); 27. Rams (4-7); 28. Cowboys (3-8); 29. Eagles (4-7); 30. Saints (4-7); 31. Titans (2-9).
WORST OF THE BUNCH
32: Browns (2-9). Last week: Chargers.
Why?: Welcome home, Cleveland. Welcome home. Well, at least there is one cliche we’ll never hear after a Cleveland loss: “We didn’t play Browns football.” You might hear it after a win though.
THREE REASONS FOR VIKINGS FANS TO BE HOPEFUL
1, Get some wood to knock on. Adrian Peterson is so healthy that he’s able to practice in December after a 29-carry game. If this holds up, Norv Turner’s Sledgehammer Offense will only get tougher to stop.
2, Harrison Smith practiced this week and is expected to play. That’s good news. But so is this: The Vikings held Atlanta to 10 points on the road while playing nearly three full quarters with two backup safeties.
3, Anthony Barr is expected to play. ‘Nuff said.
THREE REASONS FOR VIKINGS FANS TO BE NERVOUS
1, Nose tackle Linval Joseph is having an All-Pro season, but now his right big toe is heavily taped and he won’t play on Sunday. Considering he wasn’t able to practice at all this week, logic would suggest Joseph won’t be able to make the quick turnaround for Thursday night’s game in Arizona. Sharrif Floyd will move from his three-technique spot to the nose. While Floyd doesn’t have the size of a typical nose, Seahawks center Patrick Lewis also could find out that Floyd is quicker than the majority of nose tackles he’ll face.
2, Teddy Bridgewater’s underthrown ball to Kyle Rudolph at the goal line in Atlanta was a reminder that he’s still a 23-year-old quarterback who’s still developing. The interception that resulted from that underthrown ball wiped out a potential 14-0 lead and threw the Vikings into a tight struggle for the next two-plus quarters.
3, Russell Wilson sure looked good in the pocket a week ago against Pittsburgh. He threw for five touchdowns and a 147.9 passer rating. And we all know what he can do outside of the pocket. Rushing him vs. dropping guys into coverage will be a delicate balance.
Seahawks pick at Vikings: The pick: Vikings 23, Seahawks 21.
Why?: Home-field advantage and the power of Norv Turner’s Sledgehammer Offense swayed this in the Vikings’ favor. But I wouldn’t reach too deep into your wallet to back up this pick. We saw two weeks ago against the Packers how quickly things can turn when a run-oriented home team gets bogged down with penalties and turnovers.
Last week: Vikings plus-1 ½ at Falcons. The pick: Vikings 28, Falcons 20. The score: Vikings 20, Falcons 10. Record: 8-3.
THE OTHER GAMES
49ers plus-7 1/2 at Bears: Bears by 3
Bengals minus-9 1/2 at Browns: Bengals by 24
Jaguars plus-2 1/2 at Titans: Jaguars by 3
Texans plus-3 at Bills: Texans by 6
Ravens plus-4 at Dolphins: Dolphins by 7
Cardinals minus-6 at Rams: Rams by 3
Falcons plus-1 1/2 at Buccaneers: Buccaneers by 7
Jets minus-2 1/2 at Giants: Giants by 3
Broncos minus-4 at Chargers: Broncos by 6
Chiefs minus-3 at Raiders: Raiders by 7
Eagles plus-9 1/2 at Patriots: Patriots by 30
Colts plus-7 at Steelers: Steelers by 3
Panthers minus-7 at Saints. The pick: Saints 31, Panthers 30.
Why?: As the Panthers race through the doorway toward their dreams of an undefeated season, they’ll trip over the family dog lying in the hallway.
Last week: Giants minus-2 ½ at Redskins. The pick: Redskins 23, Giants 19. The score: Redskins 20, Giants 14. Record: 5-7.
Last week/overall: 10-3/94-68. Versus spread last week/overall: 8-5/76-86.
Final 2014 regular-season Record: Overall: 146-90-1. Versus spread: 125-111-1.