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Tuesday, January 4, 2011
Final analysis: AFC East Power Rankings

By Tim Graham

Mailing in a performance in a meaningless season finale makes a more lasting impression on Power Rankings than previous results.

Blowout losses will leave a bitter taste heading into the offseason, and they were distasteful to the Power Rankings commission.

As expected, the New England Patriots closed out the 2010 season atop ESPN.com's final Power Rankings. The New York Jets also maintained their No. 8 position from the week before.

But the Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills each plummeted in the Power Rankings for their abysmal performances Sunday.

The Dolphins dropped four spots after losing 38-7 to the Patriots. Only the Washington Redskins fell further from last week.

The Bills dropped two spots to No. 30, leaving them rated beneath three of the four teams they defeated.

Those negative changes knocked the AFC East down a peg, too.

Here are the final division Power Rankings based on average poll position of the four teams:
  1. NFC South
  2. NFC North
  3. AFC East
  4. AFC North
  5. NFC East
  6. AFC South
  7. AFC West
  8. NFC West

The Power Rankings panel consists of senior writer John Clayton, AFC South blogger Paul Kuharsky, AFC North blogger James Walker and NFC West blogger Mike Sando.

1. New England Patriots

Previous rank: 1

My take: Nothing to discuss. They're clearly the NFL's best team entering the postseason. They've scored at least 31 points eight straight games. They've dominated good teams for two months, with the only exception a subpar first half against the Green Bay Packers in Week 15.

8. New York Jets

Previous rank: 8

My take: Three teams jockeyed positions ahead of the Jets, but none fell behind them in the poll. As I've mentioned in recent Power Rankings breakdowns, top 10 seems ambitious to me. As impressive as their backups looked against the Bills, the Jets have lost three of their past five games, including a 45-3 loss to the Patriots in Week 13. The Jets did recover to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field in Week 15, but overall the Jets went 2-4 against playoff teams.

22. Miami Dolphins

Previous rank: 18

My take: Bottom third of the NFL seems appropriate for the Dolphins after several weeks of being overrated in the poll. They went 1-7 at home, with three of those losses coming to teams ranked 24th or worse. Maybe No. 22 still is too generous for the Dolphins.

30. Buffalo Bills

Previous rank: 28

My take: The Bills were showing so much promise down the homestretch that I was lobbying for them to be rated higher for a few weeks. They never got higher than 27th, even when they won four out of six games in November and December and took three top 11 teams into overtime. Back-to-back awful losses to finish the season removes my right to argue.