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. Cardinals (13-2)
Last week: Panthers.
Why: They’re the most well-rounded team in the league. The only team to rank in the top five in offense, defense, scoring and points allowed. But can they handle the pressure that comes with being a post-season front-runner?
2. Panthers (14-1); 3. Chiefs (10-5); 4. Jets (10-5); 5. Patriots (12-3); 6. Seahawks (9-6); 7. Broncos (11-4).
8, VIKINGS (10-5). (Last week: 10).
Why: They’ve scored 87 points in two games to reach 10 wins, a playoff spot and a winner-take-all match at Lambeau. I think we can stop worrying about Cordarrelle’s touches, Adrian’s age, Blair’s preseason, Norv’s conservatism ….
THE REST OF THE REST
9. Bengals (11-4); 10. Packers (10-5); 11. Falcons (8-7); 12. Redskins (8-7); 13. Texans (8-7); 14. Steelers (9-6); 15. Raiders (7-8); 16. Rams (7-8); 17. Bills (7-8); 18. Lions (6-9); 19. Saints (6-9); 20. Giants (6-9); 21. Eagles (6-9); 22. Colts (7-8); 23. Bears (6-9); 24. Ravens (5-10); 25. Buccaneers (6-9); 26. Chargers (4-11); 27. Jaguars (5-10); 28. Dolphins (5-10); 29. Cowboys (4-11); 30. Titans (3-12); 31. 49ers (4-11).
WORST OF THE BUNCH
32: Browns (3-12). Last week: Browns.
Why?: Stay in school, kids. It’s looking as though the Browns will have the No. 1 overall pick.
THREE REASONS FOR VIKINGS FANS TO BE HOPEFUL
1, The Vikings have nine sacks in the past two games. The Packers gave up nine sacks last week and their offensive line is beat up.
2, All of the pressure is on the Packers to maintain their dominance over the Vikings and the division. A wild-card road trip is still a good thing for the Vikings. For the Packers, it’s a sign of failure, although certainly not a death sentence.
3, The penalties in the first meeting, a 30-13 Packers win, were uncharacteristic. They took Adrian Peterson out of the flow of the game early and everything snowballed from there. With a cleaner game, Peterson has shown numerous times that he can impact games against the Packers.
THREE REASONS FOR VIKINGS FANS TO BE NERVOUS
1, The last time the Vikings were rolling and the Packers were being rolled, Green Bay won 30-13. Aaron Rodgers takes his already sky-high level of play even higher when he faces the Vikings.
2, Linval Joseph’s big toe. The powerful nose tackle didn’t practice this week and is doubtful. He helps set the entire run defense. When the Vikings struggle defensively, it begins early against the run. Packers running back Eddie Lacy has topped 100 yards rushing in four straight games against the Vikings.
3, Big-game pressure typically doesn’t really mean much to the Packers since they’re so used to it.
Vikings plus-3 at Packers. The pick: Packers 24, Vikings 21
Why?: The Vikings are in a good spot right now. Their owners aren’t standing in line for the limo to Los Angeles. Their coach and general manager share one vision for how to play the game and who to play it with. Their quarterback is good enough now and will be better later. And Peterson most likely will be great at 31 after an offseason of everyone who said he couldn’t be great at 30 saying he can’t possibly be great at 31. However, to believe that the Vikings can go into Lambeau Field and wrestle the division title away from a good Packers team that’s angry about a beatdown a week earlier, I have to see it first.
Last week: Giants plus-6 at Vikings. The pick: Vikings 31, Giants 17. The score: Vikings 49, Giants 17. Record: 10-5.
THE OTHER GAMES
Jets minus-2 1/2 at Bills: Jets by 3
Buccaneers plus-10 1/2 at Panthers: Panthers by 14
Patriots minus-10 at Dolphins: Patriots by 7
Ravens plus-9 1/2 at Bengals: Bengals by 3
Saints plus-5 1/2 at Falcons: Saints by 7
Jaguars plus-6 1/2 at Texans: Texans by 7
Steelers minus-10 1/2 at Browns: Steelers by 28
Raiders plus-7 at Chiefs: Raiders by 3
Titans plus-6 at Colts: Colts by 7
Redskins minus-4 at Cowboys: Redskins by 7
Lions pick at Bears: Bears by 3
Eagles plus-3 1/2 at Giants: Eagles by 7
Chargers plus-9 at Broncos: Broncos by 10
Rams minus-3 at 49ers: Rams by 6
Seahawks plus-6 1/2 at Cardinals. The pick: Seahawks 31, Cardinals 28.
Why?: The Cardinals are due for a landing after winning nine straight. The Seahawks are coming off a loss to St. Louis, but are due to remind everyone who won the NFC the past two years and who’s still pretty good.
Last week: Browns plus-11 at Chiefs. The pick: Browns 27, Chiefs 24. The score: Chiefs 17, Browns 13. Record: 5-10.
Last week/overall: 4-11/121-102. Last week versus spread/overall: 7-8/104-119.
Final 2014 regular-season record overall/versus spread: 146-90-1/125-111-1.