Access Vikings

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.


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Craig: Week 17 Picks & Power Rankings

Posted by: Mark Craig Updated December 28th at 7:11am 286952971

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. Seahawks (11-4)
Why:
The defending champions have Russell Wilson, a running game and a defense that is allowing an average of 6.6 points during a current five-game winning streak. If these fellas throw home-field advantage on top of all that, you’re looking at the NFC champions right here.

THE REST

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

THE VIKINGS
25. Vikings 6-9 (Last week: 22):
You can talk about the better draft pick that could come with a loss today all you want. From this viewpoint, there’s more value in terms of mental health for the people of this franchise to beat the Bears. A 7-9 record will be remembered, discussed and received much better than a 6-10 season that saw the Vikings lose their last three games and go 0-6 in the division with a loss to a Bears team that was about to be blown to bits by its ownership.

THE REST OF THE REST
26. 49ers (7-8); 27. Browns (7-8); 28. Bears (5-10); 29. Jets (3-12); 30. Jaguars (3-12); 31. Titans (2-13).

WORST OF THE BUNCH
32: Buccaneers (2-13):
We flip-flopped the Titans and the Bucs from their bottom two spots for this final game-day power ranking. We wanted the Bucs down here to remind people that back in March, it was the Bucs who were universally considered among or at the top of the lists proclaiming “FREE AGENCY WINNERS!!!!!!!!!!” Remember that the next time you have to urge to get this excited over offseason NFL news.

THREE REASONS FOR VIKINGS FANS TO BE HOPEFUL

1, Teddy Bridgewater. We’ll make him reasons 1a through 1z. Will he be great? Don’t know. Is he worth risking your scar-tissue-filled purple heart being broken for the 768th time of your life? Yes. He has the talent, the instincts, the intelligence and the calmness amid chaos. It should be fun to watch him develop.

2, Mike Zimmer. What Zimmer has done this season has energized a number of young defensive players who could come together and be a force with some more infusion of talent. His aggressive philosophy brought life to that side of the ball. Another reason to pull for a victory today is to put some mental distance from last week’s second half in Miami. That defensive meltdown was not typical of the way Zimmer’s defense played overall this season. But if the same were to happen against the Bears today, how do you think people will be talking about the defense heading into the offseason?

3, Norv Turner. He’s not the retiring type, his days of being offered head coaching jobs are over and the word from Winter Park is he’s even more energized by Bridgewater’s future. And Norv’s already a high-energy guy to begin with.

THREE REASONS FOR VIKINGS FANS TO BE NERVOUS

1, Cordarrelle Patterson. We’re on record as saying give the guy another season to show whether he can learn how to become an NFL receiver. He’s never been in the same system in consecutive seasons at the major college or NFL levels. However, that being said, it is unfortunate that the team will have to hedge its bet at a position where they just spent a first-round pick on in 2013. From where we stand (and with the Adrian Peterson situation still up in the air), the two biggest offseason needs are a big, fast receiver with polished route-running skills and a powerful and polished left guard to put next to not only play that position but also help left tackle Matt Kalil.

2, Matt Kalil. Speaking of Matt Kalil, we’re also on record here as saying he’s still capable of being the left tackle he was as a rookie. The Vikings just need to bring it out of him on a consistent basis. He’s more skilled than anyone they could plug in there. If you truly wanted to replace him, you’d have to go high in the draft. And that would be going unnecessarily backward in constructing the team, given Kalil’s youth and the fact that we’ve actually seen him play the position well. Kalil also has mentioned his knee surgery on multiple occasions. Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt with the assumption that he’ll be healthy at the start of next season.

3, Running back. Sorting through the Adrian Peterson mess before the start of free agency is the team’s biggest offseason priority. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as just deciding whether or not to bring him back. His salary cap number of $15.4 million for 2015 will be the biggest hurdle. Under normal circumstances, that number likely would have needed to be renegotiated. That needs to be sorted out so the team can move forward with or without Peterson. The team on the field obviously would be better off moving forward with Peterson and Bridgewater together. But the vibe sure feels like that’s not going to happen.

THE PICKS

VIKINGS
Bears plus-6 ½ at Vikings. The pick: Vikings 28, Bears 21

Why?: The Vikings have nothing to play for, but they’re at home and their coaching staff still has the full attention of the players. The Bears have nothing to play for and they’re also on the road with a coaching staff and front office that presumably is less than 24 hours from being blown to smithereens.

Last week: Vikings plus-6 ½ at Dolphins. The pick: Vikings 27, Dolphins 24. The final: Dolphins 37, Vikings 35. Redord: 11-4.

UPSET SPECIAL

Panthers plus-4 at Falcons. The pick: Panthers 24, Falcons 17

Why?: Two teams the Vikings beat by a combined 31 points will meet to decide the NFC South title. The feeling here is the Panthers are a little less smelly than the Falcons, and it won’t matter where the game is because it’s hard to picture Atlanta going 6-0 in any division, even the NFC South.

Last week: Vikings plus-6 ½ at Dolphins. The pick: Vikings 27, Dolphins 24. The final: Dolphins 37, Vikings 35. Record: 5-11.

THE REST

Bengals plus-3 ½ at Steelers: Steelers by 7

Lions plus-7 ½ at Packers: Packers by 3

Jaguars plus-9 ½ at Texans: Texans by 7

Colts minus-7 at Titans: Colts by 3

Browns plus-10 at Ravens: Ravens by 14

Bills plus-4 ½ at Patriots: Patriots by 7

Jets plus-5 ½ at Dolphins: Dolphins by 10

Chargers plus-3 at Chiefs: Chargers by 6

Eagles plus-3 at Giants: Eagles by 6

Cowboys minus-5 ½ at Redskins: Cowboys by 14

Saints minus-4 at Buccaneers: Buccaneers by 7

Rams plus-12 ½ at Seahawks: Seahawks by 21

Cardinals plus-6 at 49ers: 49ers by 3

Raiders plus-14 at Broncos: Broncos by 17

Record: Last week/overall: 10-5/134-86-1. Versus spread: Last week/overall: 12-3/116-105.

Anthony Barr to IR; Vikings bring up Josh Kaddu

Posted by: Master Tesfatsion Updated December 27th at 7:41pm 286921241

In need of another linebacker, the Vikings placed rookie Anthony Barr on injured reserve and signed Josh Kaddu from their practice squad.

Barr hasn’t played the last three games and will miss the season finale on Sunday against the Bears due to a knee injury. Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer announced last week the team would shut him down so he could have a minor knee procedure.

Kaddu was signed to the practice squad two days before the season opener after spending the preseason with the Eagles. The Dolphins’ fifth round pick in 2012 played in five career games with Miami but didn’t record a tackle.

The Vikings had just three healthy linebackers on the active roster this week in practice. Chad Greenway was listed as questionable with a knee injury he suffered in last week’s loss to the Dolphins, while Barr and rookie Brandon Watts (hamstring) were ruled out.

Greenway questionable, Watts out; Practice squad LB likely to be promoted

Posted by: Mark Craig Updated December 26th at 1:43pm 286880631

With Anthony Barr (knee) and Brandon Watts (hamstring) listed as out and Chad Greenway (knee) questionable, the Vikings have only three healthy linebackers on the 53-man roster. But that probably will change soon, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said after practice today.

The Vikings are expected to promote one or both of their practice squad linebackers, depending on whether Greenway can play on Sunday.

Asked about the readiness of the two practice squad players — third-year pro Josh Kaddu and recently-signed rookie Justin Anderson, Zimmer said, “I think they’ll be fine.” As for his level of concern about a position that has only Gerald Hodges, Jasper Brinkley and Audie Cole as healthy bodies, Zimmer said, “None.”

Although Greenway hasn’t practiced all week, the team listed him as questionable. Normally, a player missing an entire week of practice would be listed as doubtful or out.

“He probably could have practiced today, but we didn’t want to aggravate it more,” Zimmer said. “So we’ll just see how it goes.”

Greenway returned Wednesday from South Dakota, where he was with his family for his father’s funeral. His right knee has been bothering him since having to leave last week’s loss early, and he also appears to have a cold.

Asked to describe his week, Greenway said, “Long. Emotional.”

Although the Vikings and Bears are long gone from the playoff race, Greenway said “it would mean a lot” for him to play on Sunday.

“It’s my job to play a football game, so they’re all important,” Greenway said. “I’ll get ready as much as I can to go out there and play a full game.”

Greenway said it was “probably smarter” that he didn’t practice. He thinks that will give him a better chance of being able to recover before Sunday.

“We’ll let coach Zimmer decide what we’re going to do,” Greenway said. “See where I’m at and make a decision based off of that.”

As for whether the 31-year-old Greenway thinks there will be a role for him on this defense  beyond Sunday, he said, “I guess we’ll find out. I don’t have an answer there. Obviously, I think when I’ve been healthy I’ve played well. But I have no idea.”

Here is the rest of the injury report:

Limited in Friday’s practice and listed as questionable: WR Jarius Wright (low back) and TE Kyle Rudolph (ankle, knee).

Full participation and listed as probable: LG Charlie Johnson (ankle), WR Greg Jennings (hamstring), S Antone Exum (knee), RT Mike Harris (foot), TE Chase Ford (foot), SS Robert Blanton (ankle), S Andrew Sendejo (thumb), DT Sharrif Floyd (knee), RB Matt Asiata (foot).

Greenway misses practice again

Posted by: Mark Craig Updated December 26th at 6:30pm 286874551

It’s looking almost certain that Chad Greenway’s run of six consecutive seasons as the Vikings team leader in tackles has ended.

Greenway wasn’t participating in the portion of practice open to the media today and is likely to miss Sunday’s game against the Bears. He left last Sunday’s game because of a knee injury and has not practice at all this week.

Greenway, who is tied with former linebacker Scott Studwell for most consecutive seasons of leading the team in tackles, is second with 115. Free safety Harrison Smith has 116.

Linebackers Brandon Watts (hamstring) and Anthony Barr (knee surgery) also weren’t at practice.

We’ll have the official injury report after practice.

Behind Enemy Lines: Talking about Marc Trestman's future with Bears beat writer Dan Wiederer

Posted by: Master Tesfatsion Updated December 26th at 11:50am 286871111

For the Vikings’ season finale, we reached to a familiar name in the last installment of “Behind Enemy Lines.” Former Star Tribune writer and current Chicago Tribune Bears bear writer Dan Wiederer answered five questions about this week’s matchup against the Bears at TCF Bank Stadium.

1. Will this be Marc Trestman’s final game as the Bears head coach?

DW: It sure seems to be headed down that path. And it would be a bigger shock Monday to have the Bears announce that Trestman was returning in 2015 than it would be for him to be shown the door. It’s just been a miserable season across the board in Chicago and Trestman will take a heavy volume of the heat for it. He hasn’t been able to spark the offense the way everyone anticipated he might. He hasn’t been able to take Jay Cutler to the next level. He wasn’t able to keep the team’s struggles from compounding week after week after week. It’s not just that the Bears have lost seven times in their past nine games, it’s that they’ve been blown out too often. The Patriots, the Packers, the Cowboys, the Saints. All four of those teams went up at least 24 points on the Bears and coasted to victory. So the inability for the Bears to be more competitive has been disconcerting. Defensive coordinator Mel Tucker is likely to be fired after another season in which the Bears’ defense has struggled. Offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer put himself on thin ice a few weeks ago by first anonymously criticizing Cutler to the NFL Network, then confessing to that transgression. And the Bears’ special teams, under coordinator Joe DeCamillis, have been a mess this season too. So it’s hard to envision a scenario where you bring any of those three coordinators back. And if you’re blowing out everything at the coordinator level, the head coach is obviously in the line of fire as well.

2. Despite some offseason acquisitions, why didn’t the Bears defense improve?

DW: Injuries have been a major issue. There’s no doubt about that with Charles Tillman, Lance Briggs, D.J. Williams, Willie Young and Lamarr Houston all ending the year on Injured Reserve. But the Bears’ troubles run much deeper than just that. Their perceived personnel changes last offseason never paid off. Jared Allen has clearly lost a little something and isn’t the feared edge rusher he was at his peak with the Vikings. The Bears never did get much consistency from their linebacking unit with Shea McClellin and Jon Bostic still not showing that they are major difference makers. The secondary has been ordinary. And Tucker hasn’t done a good enough job getting the best out of the playmakers he does have. Tim Jennings is without an interception this season. Allen is headed for a career low in sacks. There haven’t been enough splash plays. And while the defense made strides from 2013, they were starting from an all-time low.

3. Why did the Bears decide to start quarter Jay Cutler again over rookie David Fales?

DW: Let’s make something clear here. Fales was a sixth-round pick, not a guy taken in the first or second round that the team absolutely has to get a look at right away to determine their future at the position. No one in the organization envisions him as a long-term starting option. So he’s a No. 2 at best. On top of that. Fales was on the practice squad until Week 15, not getting anywhere near the practice reps that Cutler and Jimmy Clausen have taken. So his command of the offense isn’t where it needs to be. And it would be a borderline unfair position to put him into to simply throw him out there in the season finale just because. That’s the simplest explanation there is for the Cutler-over-Fales call this week.

4. How has this rookie class, led by cornerback Kyle Fuller, looked through 15 games?

DW: Incomplete. Fuller has had his rough moments this year to be certain, at times looking very much like a rookie learning on the fly. But the kid has clearly shown he has the competitiveness and athleticism to be a big-time corner in the league for a decade or longer if he stays healthy. After 15 games, you can chalk that up as a hit for the Bears, a first-round pick that seems ready to jell into a difference-making starter. Beyond Fuller, the rookies haven’t made much of an impact. Defensive tackles Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton have shown promise. But it’s too early yet to determine just how much potential either guy has. Running back Ka’Deem Carey has been in a limited role behind Matt Forte. Safety Brock Vereen, a University of Minnesota product, had his first career interception last week and comes to the table with great savvy and a feel for the game. But Vereen has to improve his coverage skills and willingness to be more physical on the back end of the defense. We’ve already discussed Fales. Punter Pat O’Donnell, taken in the sixth round, has been solid but not spectacular. And seventh-rounder Charles Leno has played only sparingly as an emergency option on the offensive line. In other words, they’re not chilling the champagne at Halas Hall just yet to celebrate a certain victory with their 2014 draft class.

5. What do the Bears need to do to win in the battle for last place in the NFC North?

DW: They need to do what they did the first time they played the Vikings. They need Cutler to move the ball consistently, to take advantage of favorable match-ups at key moments and to avoid turnovers. They need to find ways on defense to get after Teddy Bridgewater and make him uncomfortable in the pocket. They need to muster up enough energy in a meaningless finale to fight through the inevitable rough moments that are coming Sunday. It’s definitely a winnable game against an opponent that they already have shown they can beat. The biggest question is just how much emotion and fire they have left in the tank given all they’ve been through this season and the low stakes of this game.

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Buffalo 12:00 PM
New England
Cleveland 12:00 PM
Baltimore
Dallas 12:00 PM
Washington
Indianapolis 12:00 PM
Tennessee
Jacksonville 12:00 PM
Houston
San Diego 12:00 PM
Kansas City
NY Jets 12:00 PM
Miami
Chicago 12:00 PM
Minnesota
Philadelphia 12:00 PM
NY Giants
New Orleans 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Carolina 3:25 PM
Atlanta
Detroit 3:25 PM
Green Bay
Oakland 3:25 PM
Denver
Arizona 3:25 PM
San Francisco
St. Louis 3:25 PM
Seattle
Cincinnati 7:30 PM
Pittsburgh
TBA 1/3/15 2:00 AM
TBA
TBA 1/3/15 2:00 AM
TBA
Toronto 110 FINAL
LA Clippers 98
Boston 88 FINAL
Washington 101
Orlando 102 FINAL
Charlotte 94
Memphis 103 FINAL
Miami 95
Indiana 110 FINAL
Brooklyn 85
New Orleans 100 FINAL
Chicago 107
Atlanta 90 FINAL
Milwaukee 85
Philadelphia 71 FINAL
Utah 88
New York 129 FINAL
Sacramento 135
Minnesota 97 FINAL
Golden State 110
NY Islanders 3 FINAL(SO)
Buffalo 4
Detroit 3 FINAL(OT)
Ottawa 2
Carolina 1 FINAL
Tampa Bay 2
New Jersey 1 FINAL
NY Rangers 3
Boston 2 FINAL
Columbus 6
Winnipeg 4 FINAL(OT)
Minnesota 3
Washington 3 FINAL
Pittsburgh 0
Dallas 4 FINAL
St. Louis 3
Philadelphia 1 FINAL
Nashville 4
Anaheim 1 FINAL(SO)
Arizona 2
Chicago 5 FINAL
Colorado 2
Edmonton 1 FINAL
Calgary 4
San Jose 1 FINAL
Los Angeles 3
Indiana 87 FINAL
Georgetown 91
Maine 43 FINAL
Seton Hall 72
UNC-Wilmington 82 FINAL
Minnesota 108
Georgia State 61 FINAL
Green Bay 78
Jacksonville St 61 FINAL
Jacksonville 75
Kentucky 58 FINAL
Louisville 50
Northern Ky 55 FINAL
Northwestern 76
UAB 58 FINAL
North Carolina 89
IUPUI 55 FINAL
Pepperdine 53
Santa Clara 60 FINAL
St Marys-CA 73
Oakland 56 FINAL
Maryland 72
Gonzaga 87 FINAL
BYU 80
Mercer 77 FINAL
Georgia 86
San Francisco 77 FINAL
Pacific 71
Wright State 55 FINAL
Ohio State 100
Presbyterian 65 FINAL
Virginia Tech 87
Brescia 42 FINAL
Western Ky 89
Tennessee St 46 FINAL
Tennessee 67
Kennesaw St 45 FINAL
Illinois 93
Colorado State 58 FINAL
New Mexico St 57
Portland 61 FINAL
San Diego 58
Wayland Baptist 63 FINAL
Utah State 75
Bristol University 59 FINAL
Weber State 109
Sacramento St 74 FINAL
Utah Valley U 49
Southern Utah 45 FINAL
UNLV 79
SD Christian 50 FINAL
San Diego St 72
Illinois 18 FINAL
Louisiana Tech 35
Rutgers 40 FINAL
North Carolina 21
NC State 34 FINAL
UCF 27
Cincinnati 17 FINAL
Virginia Tech 33
(15) Arizona State 36 FINAL
Duke 31
Miami-Florida 21 FINAL
So Carolina 24
Boston College 30 FINAL
Penn State 31
(25) Nebraska 42 FINAL
(24) USC 45
Texas A&M 12/29/14 1:00 PM
West Virginia
Oklahoma 12/29/14 4:30 PM
(18) Clemson
Arkansas 12/29/14 8:00 PM
Texas
Notre Dame 12/30/14 2:00 PM
(22) LSU
(13) Georgia 12/30/14 5:45 PM
(20) Louisville
Maryland 12/30/14 9:00 PM
Stanford
(9) Ole Miss 12/31/14 11:30 AM
(6) TCU
(21) Boise State 12/31/14 3:00 PM
(12) Arizona
(8) Miss State 12/31/14 7:00 PM
(10) Georgia Tech
(19) Auburn 1/1/15 11:00 AM
(17) Wisconsin
(7) Michigan State 1/1/15 11:30 AM
(4) Baylor
(16) Missouri 1/1/15 12:00 PM
Minnesota
(2) Florida State 1/1/15 4:00 PM
(3) Oregon
(5) Ohio State 1/1/15 7:30 PM
(1) Alabama
Houston 1/2/15 11:00 AM
Pittsburgh
Iowa 1/2/15 2:20 PM
Tennessee
(11) Kansas State 1/2/15 5:45 PM
(14) UCLA
Washington 1/2/15 9:15 PM
Oklahoma State
East Carolina 1/3/15 11:00 AM
Florida
SMU 45 FINAL
(2) Connecticut 96
UCF 64 FINAL
Houston 50
BYU 62 FINAL
Gonzaga 78
Pacific 92 FINAL
San Francisco 54
St Marys-CA 62 FINAL
Santa Clara 61
San Diego 87 FINAL
Portland 65

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