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Rick Lubbers column: No need to panic, Vikings poised to blast Browns

Get your hand off that panic button, Vikings' fans. It's too early in the season to push that. Last year Minnesota was a mediocre 1-1 before rattling off three straight wins en route to a playoff berth. Besides, this week is the next best thing t...

Rick Lubbers
Contact News Tribune sports editor Rick Lubbers at rlubbers@duluthnews.com or (218) 723-5317.

Get your hand off that panic button, Vikings' fans. It's too early in the season to push that.

Last year Minnesota was a mediocre 1-1 before rattling off three straight wins en route to a playoff berth.

Besides, this week is the next best thing to a bye week ... the Cleveland Browns are coming to town.

Here are some thoughts on that game and the rest of this week's NFL schedule:

Cleveland Browns (0-2) at Minnesota Vikings (0-2)

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The Vikings finally return home -- licking their wounds after two road division losses to the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears. The good news for people with purple passion is the Vikings play the equally winless Browns, who are starting their third-string quarterback and traded their top running back to the Indianapolis Colts. Although Minnesota fell short against Chicago last week, embattled signal caller Christian Ponder played well enough to extinguish talk of backup QB Matt Cassel for now. The Vikings also showed the blueprint they will have to follow to win this season: scoring on special teams, defense and offense. That triumvirate -- and a liberal dosage of running back Adrian Peterson -- should be more than enough to handle Cleveland.

Winner: Vikings

Green Bay Packers (1-1) at Cincinnati bengals (1-1)

Another week, another 2012 playoff team as an opponent. The Bengals reside somewhere between San Francisco and Washington on the scale of difficulty though. Cincy quarterback Andy Dalton has some fun weapons at his disposal, most notably wide receiver A.J. Green (Megatron, Part II), but the Bengals defense will face a much stiffer test in Aaron Rodgers and company than they did against the erratic Bears' and woeful Steelers' offenses.

Winner: Packers

Kansas City chiefs (2-0) at Philadelphia eagles (1-1)

How will Eagles' fans greet their former coach, Andy Reid, when he returns to town with the Chiefs? Remember, this is the same fan base that booed Santa Claus. Regardless of how Reid is greeted, the Eagles speed on offense with quarterback Michael Vick, running back LeSean McCoy and wide receiver DeSean Jackson will be tough for Kansas City's defense to slow down coming off a short week of preparation.

Winner: Eagles

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St. Louis Rams (1-1) at Dallas cowboys (1-1)

The Cowboys return to their Taj Mahal, where they are much tougher than on the road. Dallas QB Tony Romo has some dinged up ribs and Dez Bryant has ailments of his own, but they'll find enough offense to hold off the pesky Rams. St. Louis QB Sam Bradford has enjoyed a couple of big games so far, but he hasn't faced a pass rush like Dallas (seven sacks already).

Winner: Cowboys

San Diego chargers (1-1) at Tennessee titans (1-1)

San Diego's Philip Rivers and Tennessee's Jake Locker must be licking their chops ... their respective teams have two of the worst pass defenses in the league. But this high-scoring game might be decided by the running game. Tennessee RB Chris Johnson is well overdue for a big game, and that would trump San Diego's three-headed monster of Ryan Mathews, Danny Woodhead and Ronnie Brown.

Winner: Titans

Tampa Bay buccaneers (0-2) at New England Patriots (2-0)

New England might be the worst 2-0 squad in the league, but the Patriots are still a touchdown or two better than the winless Bucs. However, there is no truth to the rumor that New England QB Tom Brady is begging future Hall of Fame WR Randy Moss to rejoin the team.

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Winner: Patriots

Arizona Cardinals (1-1) at New Orleans Saints (2-0)

Last week the Cardinals rallied to slip past the limping Lions who hobbled through the second half without running back Reggie Bush. This week the Cards are on the road at the high-powered Saints, who are anything but limping.

Winner: Saints

Detroit lions (1-1) at Washington Redskins (0-2)

There are two places the Lions rarely win -- Green Bay and Washington. The Leos haven't won in Wisconsin since 1991, but their road woes in D.C. are abysmal even by their low standards. Detroit has lost 21 straight road games in Washington, dating to 1939. In fact, the last time the Lions won a road game in this series, it was 1935 and against the Boston Redskins at Fenway Park. It would take an act of Congress to break Detroit's Washington road curse.

Winner: Redskins

New York Giants (0-2) at Carolina Panthers (0-2)

Now that Little Manning has once again been beaten by Older Manning, can we please put the debate to rest? Peyton Manning is a better quarterback than Eli Manning. With that said, Eli will be the better quarterback in this matchup of winless teams. Carolina QB Cam Newton has struggled to find running room against the Giants in the past and was picked off three times a year ago by the New York defense.

Winner: Giants

Houston Texans (2-0) at Baltimore Ravens (1-1)

The Ravens are fortunate to be 1-1 after avoiding disaster with the Cleveland Browns. Some NFL fans blamed the Ravens' poor performance on QB Joe Flacco's wife, Dana, giving birth to their second child about an hour before kickoff. Apparently Flacco was preoccupied with prospective baby names rather than calling plays in the huddle. This week he will be preoccupied with RB Ray Rice's hip flexor injury. Houston is 1-6 all-time versus Baltimore, but QB Matt Schaub, RB Arian Foster and friends handily won their last meeting a year ago, 43-13.

Winner: Texans

Atlanta Falcons (1-1) at Miami Dolphins (2-0)

The Dolphins are a bit of a surprise after opening the season at 2-0, but do they have enough firepower to survive a shootout with the Falcons? Atlanta's hurting a bit and will be without running back Steven Jackson, but quarterback Matt Ryan should have enough targets to hit with tight end Tony Gonzalez and wide receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones.

Winner: Falcons

Buffalo Bills (1-1) at New York Jets (1-1)

This all-New York matchup wins this week's award for the game with the least amount of national interest. Unless you live in Buffalo or The Big Apple, this contest has about as much appeal as watching last year's Jacksonville Jaguars highlights to a Justin Bieber soundtrack. Still, someone has to triumph, and Gang Green will find a way to win a low-scoring game.

Winner: J-E-T-S ... Jets, Jets, Jets

Indianapolis Colts (1-1) at San Francisco 49ers (1-1)

Quarterback Andrew Luck and the Colts are off to a wobbly start. Unfortunately, they travel to an angry hornets' nest still buzzing from getting stomped on by Seattle last Sunday night. That ticked off 49ers defense will not show mercy to Peyton Manning's heir apparent.

Winner: 49ers

Jacksonville Jaguars (0-2) at Seattle seahawks (2-0)

The last time Jacksonville traveled to Seattle, it was 2009 and I was in the stands to witness the Seahawks throttle the hapless Jaguars 41-0. Not much has changed in four years.

Winner: Seahawks

Oakland Raiders (1-1) at Denver Broncos (2-0)

Oakland is improved and playing better than many people thought they would, but a road trip to Denver is a sure recipe for a 1-2 record. By the way, is it me or does it seem like Denver QB Peyton Manning has thrown 20 touchdown passes already this season?

Winner: Broncos

chicago Bears (2-0) at Pittsburgh Steelers (0-2)

Quarterback Jay Cutler and the Bears already have two fourth quarter comebacks this season, against the Bengals and Vikings, but now they travel to Pittsburgh where the Steelers are reeling after opening 0-2. But even though the Steel Curtain is rusty and showing its age, it can still do damage to the inconsistent Bears offense. Despite lacking any semblance of a running game --paging Jerome Bettis! --Big Ben Roethlisberger should be able to make enough big plays to pull off the upset.

Winner: Steelers

Survivor Pick: Seattle Seahawks --Seattle never loses at home; Jacksonville never wins anywhere.

Last week: 13-3

Season: 22-10

Contact News Tribune sports editor Rick Lubbers at rlubbers@duluthnews.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.

Related Topics: FOOTBALL
Rick Lubbers has been in his role since 2014 and at the News Tribune since 2005. Previous stops include the Superior Telegram (1999-2005) and Budgeteer News (1997-1999). Prior to that, he worked at the St. Cloud Times and Annandale Advocate in Minnesota, and the Greenville Daily News and Grand Rapids Press in Michigan. He received his journalism degree at Central Michigan University.
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