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.
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. Patriots (8-2)
Why: With the then-No. 3 Chiefs losing to the winless Raiders on Thursday, the then-No. 2 Broncos losing to the Rams last week and the now-No. 2 Cardinals in Seattle today, we’ve never felt more strongly that the Patriots basically are the only team one can trust to do what it’s supposed to do in Novemeber/December. The Patriots should beat the Lions at home today. “Should” being the key word. Also, if ya notice, we dropped the Chiefs to No. 23 and bumped the Raiders to No. 22. Unlike any other power ranking we’ve seen (and we look at … well, virtually zero per week, but we’re guessing here), we have one rule at this power ranking station: Regardless of record, your team can’t be ranked ahead of the team it just lost to. And by “just,” we mean the games most recently played. When the Raiders lose next week and the Chiefs win, they’ll separate and go back to normal, which, for the Raiders is contending for No. 32.
2. Cardinals (9-1); 3. Lions (7-3); 4. Packers (7-3); 5. Cowboys (7-3); 6. Rams (4-6); 7. Eagles (7-3); 8. Broncos (7-3); 9. Seahawks (6-4); 10. Steelers (7-4); 11. Colts (6-4); 12. Ravens (6-4); 13. Dolphins (6-4); 14. 49ers (6-4); 15. Texans (5-5); 16. Browns (6-4); 17. Bengals (6-3-1); 18. Chargers (6-4); 19. Bears (4-6); 20. Saints (4-6); 21. Bills (5-5); 22. Raiders (1-10); 23. Chiefs (7-4).
24. Vikings 4-6 (Last week: 18): Normally, we’d yammer on about our “bounce back” philosophy and the Vikings being at home and how the NFL is designed to basically take all the teams with good feelings and make them bad and all the teams with bad feelings and make them good. Sort of like a weekly Etch a Sketch shaking to restart every team back in the middle of the pack. But with the Vikings playing the Packers today, we’re going to do something radicle and predict that the better team with the future Hall of Fame quarterback will beat the team that’s rebuilding with the rookie quarterback.
THE REST OF THE REST
25. Falcons (4-6); 26. Buccaneers (2-8); 27. Jets (2-8); 28. Titans (2-8); 29. Giants (3-7); 30. Panthers (3-7-1); 31. Jaguars (1-9).
WORST OF THE BUNCH
32: Redskins (3-7): The Washington Football Team scored huge “Worst of the Bunch” points last week by getting scrunched by the Buccaneers. In doing so, the Football Team Located in Washington enabled fans of a 2-8 team to talk about playoff possibilities. Assuming Tampa’s Lovie Smith isn’t fired first, he’s heading for a playoff push at just two games back in the NFC Worst.
THREE REASONS FOR VIKINGS FANS TO BE HOPEFUL
1, Josh Robinson didn’t shrink, so perhaps he and the coaching staff learned more about his limitations and can figure out something better than asking him to participate in jump balls with guys who are 6-4.
2, Regardless of win total this season, quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is gaining valuable experience for the future. As poorly as the offense played a week ago, Bridgewater was on the field late in the fourth quarter of a one-possession game at Soldier Field. That will help him. So will playing the Packers for the first time this season.
3, Speaking of which, it should help that the Vikings aren’t down to their No. 3 quarterback, at least at the start of the Packers game. We all saw Christian Ponder’s worth as a No. 3 when he started the first Packers game. His two second-quarter picks and a 13.4 halftime passer rating contributed mightily to the 28-0 deficit that grew to 42-0.
THREE REASONS FOR VIKINGS FANS TO BE NERVOUS
1, Josh Robinson didn’t get any taller. And Aaron Rodgers and a tall fella named Jordy Nelson just spent a week salivating at the matchup possibilities.
2, Rodgers is 10-4 against the Vikings, including one playoff meeting. He has thrown 31 touchdown passes and has been intercepted four times. And one of his wins came in a game in which he was intercepted twice. So, basically, the guy doesn’t make mistakes and the few times he does, it doesn’t matter. So good luck with that.
3, As if Rodgers isn’t a big enough pain in the backside, running back Eddie Lacy started the Thursday night avalanche back in October. He gashed the Vikings with three long runs to set up the first touchdown. The defense was out of sorts from then on. Lacy also closed the game out by taking handoffs from Rodgers while the rest of the country clicked the TV off and went to bed.
Packers minus-9 ½ at Vikings. The pick: Packers 37, Vikings 21.
Why?: See above. You know, the part about how we normally yammer on about the weekly reshuffling, where teams that feel good about themselves lose and teams that feel bad about themselves win. And how in this case we’ll put that thought on the commissioner’s exempt list and go with the better team with the future Hall of Fame QB.
Last week: Vikings plus-3 at Bears. The pick: Bears 24, Vikings 21. The final: Bears 21, Vikings 13.7-3.
Cowboys minus-3 ½ at Giants: Giants 27, Cowboys 21.
Why?: The Cowboys have had a bye week to reflect, rest and realize that Romo is due for a few stinkers down the stretch.
Last week: 49ers minus-4 at Giants. The pick: Giants 24, 49ers 21. The final: 49ers 16, Giants 10. Record: 4-7.
Browns plus-3 at Falcons: Browns by 7
Titans plus-11 at Eagles: Eagles by 14
Lions plus-7 at Patriots: Patriots by 10
Jaguars plus-14 at Colts: Colts by 17
Bengals plus-1 ½ at Texans: Texans by 3
Jets off vs. Bills at Detroit: Bills by 3
Buccaneers plus-6 at Bears: Buccaneers by 3
Cardinals plus-6 ½ at Seahawks: Seahawks by 7
Rams plus-4 ½ at Chargers: Chargers by 7
Dolphins plus-7 at Broncos: Broncos by 14
Redskins plus-9 at 49ers: 49ers by 7
Ravens plus-3 ½ at Saints: Saints by 7
Record: Last week/overall: 6-7/89-60-1. Versus spread: Last week/overall: 6-7/73-77.
Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd is officially listed on the injury report as questionable for Sunday’s game against the Packers even though Floyd says his injured knee “feels good” today.
Floyd banged knees with a teammate in practice Wednesday. An MRI showed that there was no major damage. But Floyd was unable to practice yesterday or today.
He was in good spirits in the locker room, though, and shared a good laugh with reporters when I asked him about the crutches that had been leaning up against his locker stall the past two days.
Floyd glanced back at them and said unconvincingly, “No, they’re not my crutches.”
“Yeah, right,” said a couple of reporters while the rest of us chuckled.
“Somebody must have left them there,” Floyd said with a grin before joining in the laughter.
Floyd indicated that he would like to play but said that the decision will be up to head coach Mike Zimmer and the team’s medical staff.
“It’s all in Coach’s hands,” he said. “I go as he go.”
As for left tackle Matt Kalil, who missed practice today, Zimmer said that he is dealing with a “minor aggravation.” Zimmer would not say where, but it was listed as a knee injury on the injury report. Kalil, of course, had minor knee surgery in the offseason. He is listed as questionable for Sunday, but on his way out of the locker room he said he expects to play.
Running back Matt Asiata has been ruled out with a concussion.
Wide receivers Greg Jennings (rib) and Jarius Wright (hamstring) are both questionable for Sunday.
Running back Jerick McKinnon (lower back), outside linebacker Anthony Barr (knee), offensive tackle Mike Harris (ankle), cornerback Xavier Rhodes (ankle), defensive Everson Griffen (neck), tight end Kyle Rudolph (abdomen/groin) are among those officially listed as probable to take on the Packers.
Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn was excused from practice today for personal reasons.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell will not hear running back Adrian Peterson’s appeal on Dec. 2. Instead, he has appointed Harold Henderson for the appeal, though it might not make a difference.
“Under Article 46 (Commissioner Discipline), appeals of discipline for off-field conduct are heard and decided by the commissioner or his designee,” a league spokesman said of Henderson’s appointment. “Harold Henderson has been designated as the hearing officer for this appeal. Harold has served for many years as a hearing officer for Article 46 discipline.”
And Henderson, who in the past served as NFL Executive Vice President for Labor Relations and Chairman of the NFL Management Council Executive Committee, has often sided with the league.
The latest example of this was earlier this year when he upheld the league’s 10-game ban of Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon after his latest violation of the league’s substance abuse policy.
The NFL Players Association reacted to Henderson’s appointment by saying a longtime NFL executive could not be neutral. The NFL responded by defending Henderson, saying he has heard 87 appeals under the CBA since 2008 and that language in every CBA since 1993 has stated the appeals of discipline for off-field conduct are heard and decided by the commissioner or his designee.
Vikings running back Ben Tate participated in his second practice in purple on Friday, and head coach Mike Zimmer said he’s catching on quickly to the offense. He’s
“He’s got some explosiveness hitting the hole and obviously he’s a big-bodied guy,” Zimmer said. “He’s done a good job with protection so far. So we’ll see how it goes.”
The Vikings might have to rely on Tate against the Packers with running back Matt Asiata likely out with a concussion. He’ll only have three days to become acclimated with the playbook, and his teammates, if the Vikings do activate him on Sunday.
“I’ve never been in this type of situation before,” Tate said. “So just try to interact with everybody as much as I can and get to know everybody as much as I can so I can get comfortable and they can get comfortable with me faster.”
Tate isn’t sure how much his comfort with his other teammates will help his play if he serves as rookie running back Jerrick McKinnon’s backup, with Joe Banyard as another option, but he’s mainly concerned with understanding his assignments when the Vikings need him in the backfield.
“I’ve got to all focus on football and let everything else happen,” said Tate, dealing with the hectic off-the-field ramifications of switching teams during the middle of the season. “Whatever I got to do outside of that is secondary. The first thing is making sure I understand my plays and just coming out here ready to go, full speed, and being ready to help in any aspect needed.”
Last Sunday, the Vikings ran their first fake punt in nearly a decade. It paid off with backup safety Andrew Sendejo, the right wing in the punt formation, running 48 yards before tackling himself at the Bears’ 7-yard line. The well-executed fake set up a Teddy Bridgewater touchdown pass.
Yesterday, special teams coordinator Mike Priefer explained why the play worked — and why it had been so long since the Vikings ran a fake punt.
Priefer, who is in his fourth season with the Vikings, said that head coach Mike Zimmer is more aggressive than this predecessor, Leslie Frazier, when it comes to trickery on special teams.
Back in the spring, as Zimmer was just settling in, he asked Priefer and his assistant, Ryan Ficken, to come up with some clever plays to exploit any weaknesses they would see on special teams.
“We’ve been more creative and Ryan Ficken, my assistant, does a great job because he’s got an offensive mind,” Priefer said. “He has an offensive background so he and I tinker with stuff and talk about things and look at what people are doing on punt return and what they’re doing on field goal block and get ideas every week.”
On the fake against the Bears, wide receiver Adam Thielen, who was lined up as the upback, caught a direct snap and handed it off to Sendejo, who ran right to left from his right wing spot. The trick play was executed to perfection. It was also designed to perfection, as Priefer kept Thielen and Sendejo in their normal spots to handle the ball to ensure the Bears weren’t tipped off.
“I think we’ve probably worked on it the past month,” Priefer said. “Wanted to run it earlier. It was just a great opportunity to run it — good time and area of the field. We have an aggressive head coach who wants to run those things and that’s great for me. It obviously turned out well for us.”
Priefer said the Vikings typically have two or three fakes in the special-teams game plan every week. And if their opponent shows the look they are hoping for, they will sometimes bust one out.
“I don’t think I have to sell [Zimmer]. Like I said, he’s been aggressive since he got here. He asked me back in the offseason about running fakes — field goal fakes, punt fakes, surprise onsides — and it has forced me to be more creative, which is good,” Priefer said. “It’s a good opportunity for me to get our guys excited about a big play like that, and obviously they were very excited to run it and succeed with it.”
|Green Bay||12:00 PM|
|Tampa Bay||12:00 PM|
|St. Louis||3:05 PM|
|NY Jets||11/24/14 6:00 PM|
|Baltimore||11/24/14 7:30 PM|
|Chicago||11/27/14 11:30 AM|
|Philadelphia||11/27/14 3:30 PM|
|Seattle||11/27/14 7:30 PM|
|SE Missouri St||74||FINAL|
|San Jose St||66||FINAL|
|Cal State Fullerton||70|
|Bob Jones Univ||50||FINAL|
|Mount St Marys||73||FINAL|
|UC Santa Barbara||91|
|East Tenn St||98|
|Sam Houston St||74||FINAL|
|Central Conn St||50||FINAL|
|William & Mary||69||FINAL|
|North Dakota St||74|
|St Thomas Aquinas||55||FINAL|
|Utah Valley U||85||FINAL|
|New Mexico St||76||FINAL|
|San Diego St||30|
|San Jose St||7||FINAL|
|(10) Michigan State||45|
|(7) Ohio State||42|
|(14) Eastern Ky||3||FINAL|
|(13) Arizona State||52|
|(22) Colorado State||58|
|(8) Ole Miss||0||FINAL|
|(1) Florida State||20|
|New Mexico St||17|
|(4) Miss State||51|
|Ohio U||11/25/14 6:00 PM|
|LSU||11/27/14 6:30 PM|
|(5) TCU||11/27/14 6:30 PM|
|Northern Ill||11/28/14 10:00 AM|
|(21) Nebraska||11/28/14 11:00 AM|
|Western Ky||11/28/14 11:00 AM|
|UCF||11/28/14 11:00 AM|
|Houston||11/28/14 11:00 AM|
|Akron||11/28/14 12:00 PM|
|Ball State||11/28/14 12:00 PM|
|Buffalo||11/28/14 12:00 PM|
|Toledo||11/28/14 12:00 PM|
|Arkansas||11/28/14 1:30 PM|
|Navy||11/28/14 2:00 PM|
|(13) Arizona State||11/28/14 2:30 PM|
|Stanford||11/28/14 2:30 PM|
|(22) Colorado State||11/28/14 2:30 PM|
|Virginia||11/28/14 7:00 PM|
|East Carolina||11/28/14 7:30 PM|
|BYU||11/29/14 2:00 AM|
|(20) Utah||11/29/14 2:00 AM|
|(3) Oregon||11/29/14 2:00 AM|
|Notre Dame||11/29/14 2:00 AM|
|North Texas||11/29/14 11:00 AM|
|Old Dominion||11/29/14 11:00 AM|
|(17) Georgia Tech||11/29/14 11:00 AM|
|Kentucky||11/29/14 11:00 AM|
|So Carolina||11/29/14 11:00 AM|
|West Virginia||11/29/14 11:00 AM|
|Rice||11/29/14 11:00 AM|
|Michigan||11/29/14 11:00 AM|
|(7) Ohio State|
|Purdue||11/29/14 11:00 AM|
|Illinois||11/29/14 11:00 AM|
|Cincinnati||11/29/14 11:00 AM|
|NC State||11/29/14 11:30 AM|
|Syracuse||11/29/14 11:30 AM|
|Louisiana||11/29/14 11:30 AM|
|Texas State||11/29/14 1:00 PM|
|Idaho||11/29/14 1:00 PM|
|Wyoming||11/29/14 2:00 PM|
|New Mexico St||11/29/14 2:00 PM|
|UAB||11/29/14 2:30 PM|
|(4) Miss State||11/29/14 2:30 PM|
|(8) Ole Miss|
|(10) Michigan State||11/29/14 2:30 PM|
|Minnesota||11/29/14 2:30 PM|
|(6) Baylor||11/29/14 2:30 PM|
|Florida||11/29/14 2:30 PM|
|(1) Florida State|
|Rutgers||11/29/14 2:30 PM|
|San Jose St||11/29/14 2:30 PM|
|San Diego St|
|Tennessee||11/29/14 3:00 PM|
|Kansas||11/29/14 3:00 PM|
|(12) Kansas State|
|Connecticut||11/29/14 3:00 PM|
|ULM||11/29/14 5:00 PM|
|Middle Tennessee||11/29/14 6:00 PM|
|Hawaii||11/29/14 6:00 PM|
|Wake Forest||11/29/14 6:00 PM|
|Pittsburgh||11/29/14 6:00 PM|
|(16) Auburn||11/29/14 6:45 PM|
|Utah State||11/29/14 9:15 PM|
|Washington||11/29/14 9:30 PM|
|Nevada||11/29/14 9:30 PM|
|Central Conn St||81||FINAL|
|(21) Oklahoma St||77|
|San Jose St||91||FINAL|
|(20) Oregon State||92|
|Utah Valley U||61|
|South Dakota St||62||FINAL|