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.
Vikings outside linebacker Chad Greenway is active for today’s game against the New Orleans Saints despite a broken left hand and a rib injury that prevented him from practicing Wednesday and Thursday. That means Greenway will keep his consecutive games played streak alive.
Wide receiver Charles Johnson, who was signed to the 53-man roster yesterday, will not suit up.
Also inactive are quarterback Christian Ponder, cornerback Shaun Prater, outside linebacker Brandon Watts, guard David Yankey, wide receiver Rodney Smith and defensive end Scott Crichton.
Running back Mark Ingram and linebacker David Hawthorne are among the notable inactives for the Saints. Also inactive are safety Marcus Ball, fullback Erik Lorig, cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste, wide receiver Nick Toon and defensive tackle John Jenkins.
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. Broncos (2-0)
Why: Like we said last week, Seattle was so clearly the best team in the league, it was bound to lose at San Diego. That’s how this league rolls. And that’s what happened. We’d take any one of our top seven teams as the best team in the league, at least for this week. Right now, it’s Denver, but that could and probably will change after the Broncos’ trip to Seattle today.
2. Eagles (2-0); 3. Cardinals (2-0); 4. Chargers (1-1); 5. Seahawks (1-1); 6. Bengals (2-0); 7. Falcons (2-1); 8. Packers (1-1); 9. Bills (2-0); 10. Dolphins (1-1); 11. Patriots (1-1); 12. Panthers (2-0); 13. Bears (1-1); 14. 49ers (1-1); 15. Texans (2-0); 16. Jets (1-1); 17. Ravens (1-1); 18. Cowboys (1-1); 19. Titans (1-1); 20. Steelers (1-1); 21. Browns (1-1); 22. Saints (0-2).
23. Vikings 1-1 (Last week: 15): Last week’s 30-7 loss didn’t prove that the Vikings can’t win without Adrian Peterson. But it did prove that they can’t win without him while they’re turning the ball over four times and giving up blocked field goals that are returned for touchdowns. The defense played fairly well, but didn’t make any plays on short fields, which added to the blowout.
THE REST OF THE REST
24. Lions (1-1); 25. Redskins (1-1); 26. Colts (0-2); 27. Rams (1-1); 28. Jaguars (0-2); 29. Chiefs (0-2); 30. Raiders (0-2); 31. Giants (0-2).
WORST OF THE BUNCH
32: Buccaneers (0-3): Well, we had the Rams down as the worst team in the league a week ago. But the Bucs made one heck of a case to change that by A, losing at home to the Rams in Austin Davis’ NFL starting debut; and B, Getting humiliated 56-14 at Atlanta on Thursday.
THREE REASONS FOR VIKINGS FANS TO BE HOPEFUL
1, The Saints’ running game will be without Mark Ingram. A week ago, the Vikings couldn’t shake the Patriots out of a game plan designed to run the ball and throw quick passes from short drops on manageable downs and distances.
2, The return of special teams coordinator Mike Priefer should guarantee that there won’t be a special teams snap that comes with only nine Vikings players.
3, Quarterback Matt Cassel is an up-and-down quarterback. He was as down as down can be a week ago. He should be more likely to protect the ball better this week.
THREE REASONS FOR VIKINGS FANS TO BE NERVOUS
1, A 2.8-yard average per carry without Peterson a week ago wasn’t a good sign for the future.
2, The game is in New Orleans, it’s the home opener and, oh yeah, the Saints are winless and in desperate need of a victory.
3, Last week’s inability to stop the run made it so much more difficult for coach Mike Zimmer’s creative defense to be effective with pressure and takeaways on third downs.
Vikings plus-10 at Saints. The pick: Saints 28, Vikings 21.
Every sign there is points to a lopsided Saints victory. After initially picking 35-17, we’ll dial it back to a close contest in which the Saints fail to cover. In the NFL, it’s always dangerous to pick a team when EVERY sign points to them having a fairly easy day.
Last week: Patriots minus-3 at Vikings. The pick: Patriots 21, Vikings 17. The final: Patriots 30, Vikings 7. Record: 1-1.
Ravens minus-1 ½ at Browns. The pick: Browns 24, Ravens 21
Why: If the Browns were able to pressure Drew Brees in a big upset at home last week, they should be able to put some heat on Joe Flacco in what wouldn’t be nearly as big of an upset at home today. Last week: Jaguars plus-6 at Redskins: The pick: Jaguars 24, Redskins 23. The final: Redskins 41, Jaguars 10. Record: 0-2.
Chargers plus-2 at Bills: Chargers by 3
Cowboys minus-1 at Rams: Cowboys by 7
Redskins plus-6 ½ at Eagles: Eagles by 3
Texans minus-2 ½ at Giants: Giants by 3
Titans plus-7 at Bengals: Bengals by 3
Packers plus-2 ½ at Lions: Lions by 3
Colts minus-7 at Jaguars: Colts by 3
Raiders plus-14 at Patriots: Patriots by 7
Steelers plus-3 ½ at Panthers: Steelers by 3
49ers minus-3 at Cardinals: Cardinals by 7
Broncos plus-5 at Seahawks: Seahawks by 7
Chiefs plus-4 at Dolphins: Dolphins by 7
Bears plus-2 ½ at Jets: Jets by 3
Record: Last week/overall: 6-9/12-18. Versus spread: Last week/overall: 5-10/9-21.
The Vikings have filled the vacant spot on the 53-man roster created when running back Adrian Peterson was placed on the exempt list. They did so by signing wide receiver Charles Johnson — not to be confused with starting left guard Charlie Johnson — from the Browns’ practice squad.
The team had a need for a wide receiver after letting suspended wide-out Jerome Simpson go.
Johnson, who is in his second year in the league, played his college ball at Grand Valley State. He was drafted by the Packers in the seventh round in 2013 and was on Green Bay’s practice squad last season when Cleveland signed him to its active roster. He did not play in a NFL game, though.
He spent all of training camp and the 2014 preseason with the Browns, who, as you probably remember, employed Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner in the same capacity last season.
The new guy will wear No. 12.
Linebacker Chad Greenway, who has a broken left hand, will be a game-time decision when the Vikings play at New Orleans on Sunday.
Greenway practiced on Friday at Winter Park, and briefly huddled with coach Mike Zimmer and head athletic trainer Eric Sugarman afterward. Greenway, who also has been on the injury report because of a rib injury, seemed optimistic he might be ready for the game.
Defensive tackle Sharif Floyd (shoulder) and right offensive tackle Phil Loadholt (ankle) should be ready to start in the Saints game, Zimmer said.
Zimmer briefly addressed the team dropping receiver Jerome Simpson, who was scheduled to return from a three-game suspension Monday. Simpson was cut after it discovered Thursday that he had been cited for possession of marijuana and an open bottle during a July traffic stop. His current suspension was his second for violation of the NFL’s substances of abuse policy.
“Every situation is different,” Zimmer said, adding the team “will do what’s in their best interest.”
Simpson’s locker was empty.
With running back Adrian Peterson on the commissioner’s exempt list following his indictment in Texas on child abuse charges, the Vikings do have an open roster spot. Zimmer said it would eventually be filled, but he wasn’t certain when that would happen.
He was eager to turn the team’s focus to Sunday’s game against the Saints (0-2), as was Greenway, who was asked about distractions.
“We need to understand our jobs, but also understand it’s in a hostile environment against a team that is desperate,” Greenway said. “There’s a lot of stuff going on, and we have to prep our guys, who haven’t been in this situation, to help focus on their jobs.”
For Week 3 of “Behind Enemy Lines,” we talked to Larry Holder, the Saints columnist for The Times-Picayune. Here are five questions we asked Holder leading up to the Vikings-Saints matchup at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
1. What has been the biggest issue on defense?
LH: Where do you start? The two strengths on the Saints defense last season was the pass rush and the secondary play. Both have been a letdown so far this season. The Saints haven’t consistently been able to pressure either Matt Ryan or Brian Hoyer. The secondary hasn’t done the defense any favors, though, by having far too many miscommunications.
2. How has Drew Brees looked through two games?
LH: Brees hasn’t been as sharp as the Saints have been accustomed to in recent years. But Brees started slow last season and he compiled one of his best seasons in the NFL. Brees has thrown a costly interception in each game. One was his fault against Atlanta in the end zone. The other came as he took a shot in Cleveland, but the result also cost the Saints as it went back for a touchdown.
3. In what ways does the defensive game plan change without running back Adrian Peterson?
LH: I would assume the Saints would focus less on stopping the run and zero in on shoring up the pass defense. The Saints have expressed their respect for Cordarrelle Patterson and will take their chances in not stacking the box.
4. What is the sense of urgency with this team starting 0-2 and coming back to the Superdome?
LH: There’s no major panic with this team. There’s definitely a sense of urgency, though. The Saints know they had their chances of winning both games and it didn’t happen. They know the season isn’t in trouble at 0-2. As for 0-3, that’s a different story.
5. What needs to happen for the Saints to win the game?
LH: The Saints need to play like they typically play at home. Both side of the football come with extra juice in the Superdome as the Saints went undefeated there in 2013. The Saints need to cut down on the mistakes on defense and increase the pressure on the quarterback. The Saints have also run the football with plenty of success and should continue to use their ground game even with Mark Ingram likely out Sunday with a broken hand.
|Toronto - D. Hutchison||12:05 PM|
|NY Yankees - M. Tanaka|
|Washington - S. Strasburg||12:10 PM|
|Miami - N. Eovaldi|
|NY Mets - J. deGrom||12:35 PM|
|Atlanta - E. Santana|
|Boston - J. Kelly||12:35 PM|
|Baltimore - M. Gonzalez|
|Milwaukee - W. Peralta||12:35 PM|
|Pittsburgh - V. Worley|
|Chicago WSox - J. Danks||12:40 PM|
|Tampa Bay - N. Karns|
|Cleveland - C. Kluber||1:10 PM|
|Minnesota - A. Swarzak|
|Detroit - R. Porcello||1:10 PM|
|Kansas City - J. Guthrie|
|Seattle - H. Iwakuma||1:10 PM|
|Houston - C. McHugh|
|Los Angeles - J. Wright||1:20 PM|
|Chicago Cubs - J. Turner|
|Texas - N. Tepesch||2:35 PM|
|LA Angels - C. Rasmus|
|Philadelphia - A. Burnett||3:05 PM|
|Oakland - S. Kazmir|
|San Francisco - R. Vogelsong||3:10 PM|
|San Diego - I. Kennedy|
|Arizona - W. Miley||3:10 PM|
|Colorado - C. Bergman|
|Cincinnati - A. Simon||7:05 PM|
|St. Louis - L. Lynn|
|San Diego||12:00 PM|
|Green Bay||12:00 PM|
|San Francisco||3:05 PM|
|Kansas City||3:25 PM|
|Chicago||9/22/14 7:30 PM|
|NY Giants||9/25/14 7:25 PM|
|St. Louis||5:30 PM|
|(11) Michigan State||73|
|(6) Texas A&M||58||FINAL|
|San Jose St||7||FINAL|
|(14) So Carolina||48||FINAL|
|New Mexico St||35|
|(1) Florida State||23|
|San Diego St||7||FINAL|
|Texas Tech||9/25/14 6:30 PM|
|(25) Oklahoma State|
|Appalachian St||9/25/14 6:30 PM|
|(12) UCLA||9/25/14 9:00 PM|
|(15) Arizona State|
|Middle Tennessee||9/26/14 7:00 PM|
|Fresno State||9/26/14 7:00 PM|
|(1) Florida State||9/27/14 2:00 AM|
|Duke||9/27/14 2:00 AM|
|North Carolina||9/27/14 2:00 AM|
|Texas-El Paso||9/27/14 11:00 AM|
|(20) Kansas State|
|Tennessee||9/27/14 11:00 AM|
|Vanderbilt||9/27/14 11:00 AM|
|Wyoming||9/27/14 11:00 AM|
|(11) Michigan State|
|Northwestern||9/27/14 11:00 AM|
|TCU||9/27/14 11:00 AM|
|Iowa||9/27/14 11:00 AM|
|Tulane||9/27/14 11:00 AM|
|So Florida||9/27/14 11:00 AM|
|Colorado State||9/27/14 11:30 AM|
|Western Mich||9/27/14 11:30 AM|
|Maryland||9/27/14 12:30 PM|
|Akron||9/27/14 12:30 PM|
|Bowling Green||9/27/14 2:00 PM|
|Arkansas||9/27/14 2:30 PM|
|(6) Texas A&M|
|Kent State||9/27/14 2:30 PM|
|Western Ky||9/27/14 2:30 PM|
|Minnesota||9/27/14 2:30 PM|
|Wake Forest||9/27/14 2:30 PM|
|FIU||9/27/14 2:30 PM|
|Miami-Ohio||9/27/14 2:30 PM|
|Colorado||9/27/14 3:00 PM|
|Louisiana Tech||9/27/14 3:00 PM|
|Texas||9/27/14 3:00 PM|
|Temple||9/27/14 3:00 PM|
|(16) Stanford||9/27/14 3:15 PM|
|TX-San Antonio||9/27/14 4:00 PM|
|South Alabama||9/27/14 4:00 PM|
|Cincinnati||9/27/14 5:00 PM|
|(23) Ohio State|
|Rice||9/27/14 6:00 PM|
|(18) Missouri||9/27/14 6:00 PM|
|(14) So Carolina|
|Boise State||9/27/14 6:00 PM|
|Central Mich||9/27/14 6:00 PM|
|Troy||9/27/14 6:00 PM|
|New Mexico St||9/27/14 6:30 PM|
|Memphis||9/27/14 6:30 PM|
|(10) Ole Miss|
|Texas State||9/27/14 7:00 PM|
|Washington St||9/27/14 7:00 PM|
|(9) Notre Dame||9/27/14 7:00 PM|
|(7) Baylor||9/27/14 7:00 PM|
|UNLV||9/27/14 7:00 PM|
|San Diego St|
|Illinois||9/27/14 8:00 PM|
|Oregon State||9/27/14 9:30 PM|
|Nevada||9/27/14 9:30 PM|
|San Jose St|
|Chivas USA||2:00 PM|