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.
Two of the Vikings offensive linemen suffered injuries on the same play in the first quarter against the Bills.
Center John Sullivan will not return due to a concussion, while right guard Vladimir Ducasse is questionable with a knee injury. They both left the game on the first play of the Vikings’ third drive following linebacker Anthony Barr’s fumble recovery. McKinnon gained three yards on the play, but Sullivan and Ducasse headed for the sideline with 3:49 left in the opening quarter.
Joe Berger has replaced Sullivan at center, and Mike Harris has filled in at right guard for Ducasse, who replaced Brandon Fusco this season at the position. Fusco is on injured reserve with a torn pectoral and is out for the year.
Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway will be active for the first time in three weeks after recovering from a rib injury. He will start on Sunday against the Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
Greenway was a full participant at practice all week but listed as questionable on Friday. Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, who was also listed as questionable, is also active after dealing with an elbow/ankle injury.
Defensive end Corey Wootton will be out with a back injury, allowing rookie defensive end Scott Crichton to be active for the second time this season. Linebacker Gerald Hodges is also out with a hamstring injury he suffered last week against the Lions.
Here’s the complete inactive list for both teams:
FB Zach Line
LB Gerald Hodges
LB Brandon Watts
G David Yankey
G Austin Wentworth
TE Kyle Rudolph
DE Corey Wootton
CB Ross Cockrell
S Kenny Ladler
RB Bryce Brown
LB Ty Powell
T Cyrus Kouandjio
WR Marcus Easley
WR Marquise Goodwin
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. Chargers (5-1)
Why: Assuming the Chiefs don’t pull an upset today in San Diego, we should be able to stick with early MVP front-runner Philip Rivers, the No. 3-ranked defense and those league-low two giveaways for at least four more days. Then San Diego travels to Denver for what will be the best game of the season to that point.
2. Broncos (4-1); 3. Cardinals (4-1); 4. 49ers (4-2); 5. Eagles (5-1); 6. Cowboys (5-1); 7. Seahawks (3-2); 8. Colts (4-2); 9. Patriots (5-2); 10. Panthers (3-2-1); 11. Bengals (3-1-1); 12. Ravens (4-2); 13. Lions (4-2); 14. Packers (4-2); 15. Browns (3-2); 16. Bears (3-3); 17. Giants (3-3); 18. Texans (3-3); 19. Bills (3-3); 20. Titans (2-4); 21. Chiefs (2-3); 22. Saints (2-3); 23. Steelers (3-3); 24. Dolphins (2-3).
25. Vikings 2-4 (Last week: 24): The Vikings fell another spot after failing to compete at home against the Lions. It’s amazing that a road team can put together one solid four-minute drive to start the game and then protect that lead by doing nothing offensively for 56 minutes. Add it up and you have a 17-3 outcome, not to mention one of the dullest NFL games in recent memory. Having lost four games by double digits, the Vikings could tumble further down the rankings. Of course, that also would require some of the seven stinkers below them — particularly Atlanta, which got mauled by the Vikings — to start winning some games.
THE REST OF THE REST
26. Falcons (2-4); 27. Rams (1-4); 28. Redskins (1-5); 29. Jets (1-6); 30. Raiders (0-5); 31. Jaguars (0-6).
WORST OF THE BUNCH
32: Buccaneers (1-5): Welcome back, Tampa Bay. The Bucs missed the bottom rung so much that they managed to allow the words “Joe Flacco” and “could set the NFL record for touchdown passes in a single game” to be uttered together in the same sentence during the first half of last week’s game. Last week’s Worst of the Bunch, Oakland, showed a strong pulse against the Chargers. So we’ll push them up a couple of notches and slide the Bucs back to the bottom.
THREE REASONS FOR VIKINGS FANS TO BE HOPEFUL
1, Honestly, three reasons might be stretching it at this point. But, looking long-term, quarterback Teddy Bridgewater appears to have the personality to use painful experiences such as last week to improve. So even if the Vikings lose at Buffalo today, there’s something to gain from Bridgewater’s first NFL road start.
2, The defense is much better than last season. Yeah, we know. That’s not saying much. It has improved from 32nd in points allowed last season (30.0) to 20th (23.8). Mike Zimmer’s schemes, calls, adjustments and teaching techniques are making a difference. But it would help if the defense played better coming out of the gate.
3, Blair Walsh has quietly stabilized his game. He has made 11 of 13 field goal attempts, including 2 of 2 from 50 yards and beyond. Opponents also have been able to return only four of his kickoffs.
THREE REASONS FOR VIKINGS FANS TO BE NERVOUS
1, The Vikings haven’t been able to provide a safe environment for their quarterback. That’s the nice way of saying the offensive line is getting the QB clobbered. There have been 14 sacks the past two games. Keep that up and Christian Ponder will be starting again real soon.
2, Not sure if you’ve heard this the few million times that it’s been stated, but this team is struggling with getting the ball to Cordarrelle Patterson. Patterson could help the situation by getting open more often.
3, Buffalo won at Detroit, which won at Minnesota. Also, the Lions’ defensive line has 14 ½ sacks, a total that’s two fewer than Buffalo’s defensive line.
Vikings plus-5 ½ at Bills: Bills 24, Vikings 17.
Why: We picked the Vikings here last week because we clearly overestimated their offensive line’s ability to perform against one of the best defensive fronts in the league. So we’re not going to make that mistake again. Especially with the Vikings being on the road.
Last week: Lions minus-1 ½ at Vikings: The pick: Vikings 27, Lions 24. The final: Lions 17, Vikings 3. Vikings pick record: 3-3.
Saints plus-2 ½ at Lions: Saints 31, Lions 28
Why: Wow, this guy just won’t learn his lesson when it comes to not trusting the Lions. Yeah, that’s a risky thing to keep doing. But it’s also hard to picture Drew Brees falling to 2-4.
Last week: Packers minus-3 ½ at Dolphins. The pick: Dolphins 24, Packers 21. The final: Packers 27, Dolphins 24. Record: 1-5.
Bengals plus-3 at Colts: Colts by 6
Seahawks minus-6 ½ at Rams: Seahawks by 10
Falcons plus-7 at Ravens: Ravens by 14
Dolphins plus-3 at Bears: Bears by 7
Browns minus-5 ½ at Jaguars: Jaguars by 3
Panthers plus-6 ½ at Packers: Packers by 7
Titans plus-5 at Redskins: Redskins by 3
Chiefs plus-4 at Chargers: Chargers by 7
Giants plus-6 ½ at Cowboys: Cowboys by 3
49ers plus-7 at Broncos: Broncos by 3
Texans plus-3 at Steelers: Steelers by 6
Cardinals minus-3 ½ at Raiders: Cardinals by 7
Record: Last week/overall: 8-5-1/49-35-1. Versus spread: Last week/overall: 10-4/40-45.
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer wasn’t happy with his offensive line this week. And for good reason. The starting five has underachieved in the team’s four losses and played well enough in the two wins to suggest Zimmer has every right to demand a whole lot more than last week’s effort in a 17-3 loss to the Lions at home.
Zimmer was asked this week if there would be any personnel changes on the offensive line. He said one word: “Possibly.”
Apparently, changes won’t happen this week. Asked Friday if the same five guys will be starting on Sunday in Buffalo, left guard Charlie Johnson said, “Yeah. That’s how we’ve been practicing. So no changes.”
Meanwhile, Johnson said the offensive line has moved on from last week’s performance, which contributed to quarterback Teddy Bridgewater being sacked eight times.
“We just handled it the way we can,” he said. “Just work. Come to work and try to get better. Work on the things that have been giving us problems. At this point, that’s all you can do. You can’t worry about what happened last week. You have to move forward.
“I think Sunday [at Buffalo] will be a similar challenge to last week. They have first-rounders and Pro Bowlers just like Detroit had last week.”
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer had an unscheduled minor procedure performed earlier this morning after pain from a kidney stone, according to an NFL source, and is feeling well enough to return to the team Saturday morning.
Offensive coordinator Norv Turner talked to reporters after practice at Winter Park without specifying the nature of Zimmer’s malady.
“He was uncomfortable and he wasn’t feeling real good [this morning],” Turner said. “So, obviously, that’s where that’s at. I just talked to [head athletic trainer Eric] Sugarman and [Zimmer] is doing great and will be ready to go in the morning.”
Asked what was wrong with Zimmer, Turner said, “Right now, nothing because he’s gone through the procedure.”
Zimmer was doing well enough for Turner to crack a joke when asked what he told the 2-4 Vikings about Zimmer when he huddled them after today’s practice.
“I told them six weeks with them and look what they’re doing to the guy,” Turner said. ” So let’s go play better and win. Right?”
Greenway likely a game-time decision
Listed as out on the injury report are tight end Kyle Rudolph (hernia surgery), defensive end Corey Wootton (lower back) and linebacker Gerald Hodges (hamstring).
Listed as questionable are defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd (elbow), who was limited in practice today after missing practice on Thursday, and linebacker Chad Greenway, who had full participation all week but might still be a game-time decision because of his broken ribs and broken wrist.
“It’s going to be a deal where they continue to evaluate [Greenway],” Turner said. “It’ll probably be a decision made Sunday morning.”
Listed as probable are nose tackle Linval Joseph (ankle), receiver Cordarrelle Patterson (hip), cornerback Jabari Price (hamstring), tight end Chase Ford (foot), free safety Harrison Smith (ankle) and linebacker Michael Mauti (illness).
|San Francisco||3||2nd Qtr 6:57|
|Houston||10/20/14 7:30 PM|
|San Diego||10/23/14 7:25 PM|
|Detroit||10/26/14 8:30 AM|
|Golden State||46||3rd Qtr 10:07|
|Charlotte||55||3rd Qtr 7:42|
|Calgary||4||3rd Prd 3:29|
|St. Louis||0||2nd Prd 5:28|
|(22) West Virginia||41|
|(11) Kansas State||31||FINAL|
|(13) Ohio State||56|
|(8) Michigan State||56||FINAL|
|San Jose St||27||FINAL|
|New Mexico St||17||FINAL|
|(3) Ole Miss||34|
|(7) Notre Dame||27||FINAL|
|(2) Florida State||31|
|(14) Arizona State||26|
|San Diego St||20|
|Arkansas State||10/21/14 7:00 PM|
|Connecticut||10/23/14 6:00 PM|
|(18) East Carolina|
|Miami-Florida||10/23/14 7:00 PM|
|So Florida||10/24/14 6:00 PM|
|Troy||10/24/14 6:30 PM|
|BYU||10/24/14 8:00 PM|
|(6) Oregon||10/24/14 9:00 PM|
|North Texas||10/25/14 11:00 AM|
|UAB||10/25/14 11:00 AM|
|Rutgers||10/25/14 11:00 AM|
|Maryland||10/25/14 11:00 AM|
|Texas||10/25/14 11:00 AM|
|(11) Kansas State|
|Minnesota||10/25/14 11:00 AM|
|Memphis||10/25/14 11:00 AM|
|North Carolina||10/25/14 11:30 AM|
|San Jose St||10/25/14 12:00 PM|
|Northern Ill||10/25/14 12:00 PM|
|(25) UCLA||10/25/14 1:00 PM|
|Akron||10/25/14 1:00 PM|
|Massachusetts||10/25/14 1:00 PM|
|Ohio U||10/25/14 1:00 PM|
|Ga Southern||10/25/14 1:00 PM|
|Kent State||10/25/14 1:30 PM|
|Oregon State||10/25/14 2:30 PM|
|Fla Atlantic||10/25/14 2:30 PM|
|Louisiana Tech||10/25/14 2:30 PM|
|(1) Miss State||10/25/14 2:30 PM|
|Georgia Tech||10/25/14 2:30 PM|
|(22) West Virginia||10/25/14 2:30 PM|
|Texas Tech||10/25/14 2:30 PM|
|Michigan||10/25/14 2:30 PM|
|(8) Michigan State|
|Boston College||10/25/14 2:30 PM|
|Central Mich||10/25/14 2:30 PM|
|Vanderbilt||10/25/14 3:00 PM|
|Old Dominion||10/25/14 3:00 PM|
|UNLV||10/25/14 3:00 PM|
|Temple||10/25/14 4:00 PM|
|(15) Arizona||10/25/14 5:00 PM|
|Texas-El Paso||10/25/14 6:00 PM|
|Wyoming||10/25/14 6:00 PM|
|Syracuse||10/25/14 6:00 PM|
|Texas State||10/25/14 6:00 PM|
|(3) Ole Miss||10/25/14 6:15 PM|
|(4) Alabama||10/25/14 6:30 PM|
|So Carolina||10/25/14 6:30 PM|
|(13) Ohio State||10/25/14 7:00 PM|
|(20) USC||10/25/14 9:00 PM|
|(14) Arizona State||10/25/14 9:45 PM|
|Nevada||10/25/14 10:59 PM|
|Red Bull New York||1|