- Mike Sando, NFL Insider
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AFC teams claimed the top three spots in ESPN.com's NFL Power Rankings heading into Week 6, with the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints tumbling seven spots to No. 9, their lowest ranking since Week 2 last season.
Voters marked down the Saints dramatically -- John Clayton voted them 14th -- without giving the Arizona Cardinals a corresponding bounce for knocking off New Orleans, 30-20. The Cardinals became the second team in NFL history to score 30 or more points without a rushing or passing touchdown.
The idle Pittsburgh Steelers held onto the No. 1 spot for a third consecutive week. Ben Roethlisberger's return becomes a top storyline for Week 6. Beating Cleveland at home shouldn't be too much to ask. The Steelers are the only team ranked among the top five with a home game on the schedule in Week 6.
"The Steelers are essentially getting two bye weeks with the Browns likely starting rookie Colt McCoy at quarterback," said AFC North blogger James Walker, who moved the Steelers into the top spot on his ballot for the first time this season.
If the Steelers falter, will any other team emerge as a clear choice as the best team in the league? Second-ranked Baltimore can make a strong case by winning at New England. The third-ranked Jets, voted first on Clayton's ballot for a second consecutive week, visit the Denver Broncos. The fourth-ranked Atlanta Falcons visit Philadelphia and the fifth-ranked Indianapolis Colts visit Washington.
Let's dig deeper inside the rankings heading into Week 6 ...
Rising (15): The Tennessee Titans and Tampa Bay Buccaneers each rose seven places, the largest gains from last week. The Washington Redskins and New York Giants rose five spots apiece. The Oakland Raiders, Jacksonville Jaguars, Colts, Chicago Bears and Baltimore Ravens each improved four places. The Philadelphia Eagles and Detroit Lions rose three spots apiece. The New England Patriots rose two places. The New York Jets, Falcons and Cardinals improved by one spot each.
Falling (14): The San Diego Chargers fell nine spots, the largest decline since last week. The Saints fell seven spots. The Houston Texans fell six. The Dallas Cowboys, Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings each dropped five places. The Cincinnati Bengals and Miami Dolphins fell four spots each. The Cleveland Browns, Broncos, San Francisco 49ers and St. Louis Rams each fell two places. The Carolina Panthers and Seattle Seahawks fell one spot each.
Deadlocked: We broke five ties this week. The Rams edged the Seahawks at No. 26 on the first tiebreaker (head-to-head results). The Bucs edged Miami at No. 16, the Jaguars edged the Cowboys at No. 18 and the Browns edged the 49ers at No. 29 on the second tiebreaker (overall record). The Titans prevailed over the Texans at No. 12 on the third tiebreaker (which team won most recently). The fourth tiebreaker, previous ranking, did not come into play.
Like minds: Three panelists ranked the Steelers first. Three ranked the Ravens second. Three ranked the Panthers 31st. Three ranked the Bills 32nd.
Agree to disagree: The Saints and Texans generated the largest gaps between high and low votes. Six other teams produced disparities of at least six places:
Saints (9): Kuharksy fifth, Clayton 14th.
Texans (9): Kuharsky seventh, Sando 16th.
Chargers (8): Walker 16th, Sando and Clayton 24th.
Redskins (7): Clayton seventh, Kuharsky 14th.
Eagles (7): Kuharsky 10th, Walker 17th.
Dolphins (7): Kuharsky 15th, Walker 22nd.
Jaguars (6): Walker 15th, Sando and Kuharsky 21st.
Cowboys (6): Sando 15th, Clayton 21st.
Power rankings histories: These colorful layered graphs show where each NFL team has ranked every week since the 2002 season.
Ranking the divisions: The AFC South, displaced by the AFC North last week as the highest-ranked division on average, took back the top spot. The chart below shows how each voter ranked each division on average. Highest votes in red. Lowest votes in blue.
A voter-by-voter look at changes of more than five spots since last week:
Sando: Chargers (-13), Texans (-9), Saints (-7), Eagles (+6), Bucs (+7), Redskins (+10)
Clayton: Texans (-12), Bengals (-7), Saints (-7), Chargers (-7), Packers (-6), Dolphins (-6), Vikings (-6), Redskins (+6), Giants (+7), Titans (+12)
Kuharsky: Giants (+6)
Walker: Titans (+8)
For download: An Excel file -- available here -- showing how each voter voted this week and in past weeks.
The file includes a "powerflaws" sheet pointing out potential flaws in voters' thinking by showing how many higher-ranked opponents each team defeated this season.
A quick primer on the "powerflaws" sheet:
Column Y features team rankings.
Column Z shows how many times a team has defeated higher-ranked teams.
Change the rankings in column Y as you see fit.
Re-sort column Y in ascending order (1 to 32) using the standard Excel pull-down menu atop the column.
The information in column Z, which reflects potential ranking errors, will change (with the adjusted total highlighted in yellow atop the column).
The lower the figure in that yellow box, the fewer conflicts.