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 (13-0)
Last week: Panthers.
Why: Standing between Carolina and a 16-0 season are road games against the Giants (6-7) and Falcons (6-7), and a home game against the Bucs (6-7). C’mon, Riverboat Ron. Go for the 19-0 season. Grab that bottle of champagne and fire the cork off the head of the nearest, grumpiest ’72 Dolphin.
2. Cardinals (11-2); 3. Patriots (11-2); 4. Seahawks (8-5); 5. Chiefs (8-5); 6. Packers (9-4); 7. Steelers (8-5); 8. Jets (8-5); 9. Eagles (6-7); 10. Raiders (6-7); 11. Broncos (10-3).
12, VIKINGS (8-5). (Last week: 12).
Why:Frankly, I don’t know if this is too high, as some will suggest, or too low, as some will suggest. The season has reached a definitive fork in the road. I don’t call games “must-win” until a team actually must win to avoid elimination. But Sunday’s Bears game should tell us if the Vikings are a playoff-caliber team or not. Their performance even in defeat in Arizona indicates that injuries shouldn’t be an excuse not to win a home game against the Bears.
THE REST OF THE REST
13. Bengals (10-3); 14. Redskins (6-7); 15. Giants (6-7); 16. Bills (6-7); 17. Saints (5-8); 18. Rams (6-8); 19. Buccaneers (6-8); 20. Texans (6-7); 21. Jaguars (5-8); 22. Dolphins (5-8); 23. Colts (6-7); 24. Lions (4-9); 25. Bears (5-8); 26. Ravens (4-9); 27. Cowboys (4-9); 28. Titans (3-10); 29. Chargers (3-10); 30. Falcons (6-7); 31. Browns (3-10).
WORST OF THE BUNCH
32: 49ers (4-9). Last week: Browns.
Why?: Sorry, but new rule. Warden says anyone losing to the Browns, ANYone, must serve at least one week in the hole.
THREE REASONS FOR VIKINGS FANS TO BE HOPEFUL
1, One of Adrian Peterson’s more consistently productive games of the season came in Chicago. He reached 103 yards with a long of only 12. His 5.0-yard average was built through repeated solid runs that helped control the game. There are injuries to deal with, but that 30-year-old back that everyone was worried about might be as healthy as he’s ever been this late in a season that he’s played.
2, As great as he’s been as a clutch kicker for most of his 11 seasons, Bears kicker Robbie Gould is in official freak-out mode between the ears after missing three clutch kicks in a row. That helps in a league that’s setting records for most games decided by seven points or fewer.
3, The Vikings aren’t at full strength but the extra rest following the Thursday nighter in Arizona will help. It gave the Vikings a chance to put two injured D-linemen — Everson Griffen and Linval Joseph — on the field.
THREE REASONS FOR VIKINGS FANS TO BE NERVOUS
1, Linebacker Anthony Barr is the team’s best and most versatile defender. He’s out. Harrison Smith might be the team’s second best and second most versatile defender. He’s out as well.
2, Turnovers. The Vikings are minus-3 (1-4) in turnover ratio during their two-game losing streak. Three lost fumbles prevented them from upsetting the Cardinals on the road while playing without four defensive starters during a short week.
3, There’s a strong sense that the Vikings will win this game. The Bears are 4-2 on the road and have won three straight on the road.
Bears plus-5 1/2 at Vikings. The pick: Vikings 24, Bears 21
Why?: The Bears have won three straight on the road. The Vikings have laid two stinkers in a row at home. Everything in the NFL evens out eventually. Plus, the Vikings should be able to run the ball and stop the run. When they do that an avoid numerous penalties and turnovers, they win.
Last week: Vikings plus-7 1/2 at Cardinals. The pick: Cardinals by 7. The score: Cardinals 23, Vikings 20. Record: 8-5.
THE OTHER GAMES
Jets minus-3 1/2 at Cowboys: Cowboys by 3
Falcons plus-3 1/2 at Jaguars: Jaguars by 6
Bills minus-1/2 at Redskins: Bills by 3
Texans minus-2 1/2 at Colts: Colts by 3
Chiefs minus-7 1/2 at Ravens: Chiefs by 3
Titans plus-14 1/5 at Patriots: Patriots by 17
Browns plus-14 1/4 at Seahawks: Seahawks by 21
Packers minus-3 1/2 at Raiders: Raiders by 3
Bengals minus-4 1/2 at 49ers: 49ers by 3
Broncos plus-6 1/2 at Steelers: Steelers by 7
Dolphins plus-1 1/2 at Chargers: Chargers by 3
Cardinals minus-3 1/2 at Eagles: Eagles by 3
Lions plus-3 1/2 at Saints: Saints by 7
Panthers minus-5 1/2 at Giants. The pick: Giants 28, Panthers 27
Why?: The Panthers are coming off a 38-0 win that elevated them to 13-0. In other words, drop the wheels. It’s time for them to land.
Last week: Raiders plus-7 1/2 at Broncos. The pick: Raiders 27, Broncos 24. The score: Raiders 15, Broncos 12. Record: 5-8.
Last week/overall: 11-5/111-82. Last week versus spread/overall: 10-6/92-101.
Final 2014 regular-season record overall/versus spread: 146-90-1/125-111-1.