Vikings provide guessing gameRICK LUBBERS: Leave it to Minnesota to spice up the typically uneventful bye week.
By: Rick Lubbers, Duluth News Tribune
Leave it to the Minnesota Vikings to spice up the typically uneventful bye week. About 10 seconds into the Vikings-Steelers game on Sept. 29, Minnesota fans placed their unified support behind backup quarterback Matt Cassel. Then, even after Cassel looked sharp and performed more than well enough to grab the starting job from wobbly Christian Ponder, Vikings coaches insisted that Ponder is the team’s starter provided he is healthy (wink, wink). And if a two-headed QB controversy wasn’t enough, the Vikes signed former Tampa Bay signal caller Josh Freeman on Monday. Second-guessing the Vikings coaching staff has never been this much fun:
Carolina Panthers (1-3) at Minnesota Vikings (1-3)
If the Vikings hadn’t panicked and drafted Ponder (“the most NFL-ready quarterback in the draft”) when Colin Kaepernick and Andy Dalton were still on the draft board two years ago, then they wouldn’t have the underwhelming three-headed monster of Ponder, Cassel and Freeman to deal with (sounds like a bad law firm). Fortunately for them, about 80 percent of the Vikings’ QB job description involves handoffs to Adrian Peterson.
Green Bay Packers (2-2) at Baltimore Ravens (3-2)
Both the Packers and Ravens have been inconsistent, to say the least. Green Bay looked sluggish on offense — coming off a bye week — against the Lions on Sunday before taking advantage of a couple of defensive miscues to pull away in the second half. But while the Ravens often appear lost on the road, they are one of the best home teams in the league, going 25-3 since 2010 and averaging an 11-point victory margin in that span. Throw in the loss of Clay Matthews’ golden mane from the Packers defense and you have a minor upset brewing in Baltimore.
N.Y. Giants (0-5) at Chicago Bears (3-2)
The turnover-prone Giants face the Bears, who are prone to collecting turnovers. Not a good matchup for New York. The Giants are so bad that they’ll make even Chicago QB Jay Cutler look impressive.
Cincinnati Bengals (3-2) at Buffalo Bills (2-3)
The Bengals are a very talented squad on both sides of the ball, so talented, in fact, that they should be better than 3-2. The Bills have played well in spurts, but the Bengals have a lot more ammo than your average NFL squad.
Detroit Lions (3-2) at Cleveland Browns (3-2)
The Lions have asked center Dominic Raiola to stay at least 100 feet away from any marching bands after he engaged in a little over-the-top trash talking with the University of Wisconsin marching band prior to Detroit’s loss at Green Bay last week. Raiola’s hoping that none of the Browns’ defensive linemen have a little brother or sister in a band. He would hate to give one of the league’s tougher defenses an incentive to flatten him every play.
Oakland Raiders (2-3) at Kansas City Chiefs (5-0)
There are only three undefeated teams left in the NFL and odds are good that one of them will fall from those ranks this weekend. The Chiefs are not one of them, especially at home when they are trying to keep up with fellow AFC West Division rival Denver.
Philadelphia Eagles (2-3) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-4)
The Buccaneers’ best QB is now on the Vikings roster, so Tampa Bay will not possess the necessary firepower to keep up with the potent Eagles.
St. Louis Rams (2-3) at Houston Texans (2-3)
The Texans finally draw an opponent they can sink their teeth into after losing to the Ravens, Seahawks and 49ers in successive weeks. Houston QB Matt Schaub likely won’t have any angry fans yelling obscenities at his house after this game.
Pittsburgh Steelers (0-4) at N.Y. Jets (3-2)
It looks like a misprint to see “0-4” next to the Steelers in the NFL standings. But, then again, so will “4-2” next to the Jets on Monday. Meanwhile, the Steelers are petitioning the NFL to have Jacksonville added to this year’s schedule.
Jacksonville Jaguars (0-5) at Denver Broncos (5-0)
The Jaguars couldn’t win this game if the Broncos spotted them 28 points. Denver QB Peyton Manning is so hot right now that the NFL has scheduled his Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement for halftime.
Tennessee Titans (3-2) at Seattle Seahawks (4-1)
The Titans have put together a solid start to the season and reside a notch above .500. But they’ll spend the next two weekends playing two of the NFC’s top teams —Seattle and San Francisco. They will receive a less-than-friendly welcome in the Pacific Northwest this weekend as an angry, snarling Seahawks bunch wants revenge for a bitter loss to the Colts. Fortunately for the Titans, the Rams and Jaguars are on deck.
New Orleans Saints (5-0) at New England Patriots (4-1)
Is it really an upset pick to take the Patriots at home? It is if the undefeated Saints are in town. QB Drew Brees and New Orleans were impressive on the road against the Bears last weekend, but they’ll face a future Hall of Fame QB in Tom Brady and the evil defensive genius of New England coach Bill Belichick. Brady might get his best friend back … the Gronk (tight end Rob Gronkowski).
Arizona Cardinals (3-2) at San Francisco 49ers (3-2)
For as poorly as the 49ers played earlier this year against the Seahawks and Colts, they now resemble the 2012 team that rolled to last season’s Super Bowl. The Cardinals are improved and may make this game close, but the 49ers seem poised to continue piling up victories.
Washington Redskins (1-3) at Dallas Cowboys (2-3)
Redskins fans may be drinking more than usual on Sunday. A Washington, D.C., watering hole called Duffy’s Irish Pub apparently will give every patron draped in Redskins’ gear a free Irish whiskey shot for every interception that Dallas QB Tony Romo tosses. That may be a savvy marketing ploy, considering the beleaguered QB of America’s team has tossed only two picks in five games and the Redskins sport one of the league’s worst pass defenses. If Duffy’s Irish Pub was truly generous, it would give away a free shot for every interception Eli Manning throws or every pick-6 that Schaub gives up.
Indianapolis Colts (4-1) at San Diego Chargers (2-3)
Playing in the AFC with the high-scoring Broncos, the surprisingly undefeated Chiefs and the always overpublicized Patriots, the 4-1 Colts might feel virtually ignored by the major media outlets. Maybe a 5-1 mark will get them more attention.
Survivor Pick: San Francisco 49ers — I’ve already used Indy, Baltimore, Denver, Green Bay and Seattle, so considering my dwindling options, the 49ers are the closest thing to a lock on this weekend’s docket.
Last week: 8-6
Contact News Tribune sports editor Rick Lubbers at email@example.com or (218) 723-5317. Follow him @ricklubbersdnt on Twitter. All predictions are for entertainment purposes only. Bet at the risk of losing your shirt.