- Mike Sando, NFL Insider
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Step aside, AFC. There's an NFC team atop ESPN.com's NFL Power Rankings for the first time since Week 3.
The Atlanta Falcons, never higher than third in the recorded history of previous ESPN.com rankings, moved up two spots to No. 1 with a comeback victory over the previously top-ranked Baltimore Ravens.
The Falcons are the first NFC team to hold the No. 1 ranking since the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints in Weeks 2 and 3 this season.
The NFC South might not get much attention elsewhere, but we ranked teams from the division 12.6 on average -- even with I-AA Carolina lagging at No. 32. No other division's teams ranked higher than 13.3 on average.
Atlanta becomes the sixth team to hold the top spot in ESPN.com's rankings since the regular season opened. Indianapolis, New Orleans, Pittsburgh, New England and Baltimore have also ranked first, although the Patriots and Ravens lasted only a week. New England moved up to No. 2 after its impressive victory over Pittsburgh.
Let's dig deeper inside the rankings heading into Week 11 ...
Rising (14): Seattle Seahawks (+4), New England Patriots (+4), Denver Broncos (+3), San Francisco 49ers (+3), Miami Dolphins (+3), Buffalo Bills (+2), Jacksonville Jaguars (+2), Tampa Bay Bucs (+2), Chicago Bears (+2), Philadelphia Eagles (+2), Atlanta Falcons (+2), New York Jets (+2), Cleveland Browns (+1), Dallas Cowboys (+1).
Falling (13): Houston Texans (-4), New York Giants (-4), Detroit Lions (-4), Baltimore Ravens (-3), Pittsburgh Steelers (-3), Washington Redskins (-3), Tennessee Titans (-2), Minnesota Vikings (-2), Cincinnati Bengals (-2), Arizona Cardinals (-2), St. Louis Rams (-2), Kansas City Chiefs (-1), Carolina Panthers (-1).
Deadlocked: We broke one tie this week. Kansas City prevailed over San Diego at No. 15 based on head-to-head results.
Like minds: Only Kuharsky did not vote the Falcons first. Only Clayton did not vote the Patriots second. The teams ranked ninth through 12th received identical votes from three panelists. All four panelists voted the Bills, Lions and Panthers as the bottom three teams, in that order.
Agree to disagree: The Chicago Bears generated the biggest gap between highest and lowest votes. Kuharsky had them 12th. I had them 21st. The Bears are 6-3, but five of their victories came against the Vikings, Bills, Panthers, Cowboys and Lions. The Bears and five other teams produced high-low disparities of at least six places.
Bears (9): Kuharsky ranked them 12th, higher than any other voter ranked them. Sando ranked them 21st, lower than any voter ranked them.
Saints (6): Walker fourth, everyone else 10th.
Chargers (6): Sando 13th, Clayton 19th.
Seahawks (6): Clayton 16th, Kuharsky 22nd.
Redskins (6): Clayton 18th, Sando 24th.
Rams (6): Sando 19th, Walker 25th.
Power rankings histories: These colorful layered graphs show where each NFL team has ranked every week since the 2002 season.
Ranking the divisions: Teams from the NFC South enjoyed the highest rankings on average. 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 at least five spots since last week:
Sando: 49ers (+5), Seahawks (+5)
Clayton: Texans (-5), Titans (-5)
Kuharsky: Texans (-7)
Walker: Steelers (-5), Giants (-5), Titans (-5), Chiefs (-5), Cardinals (-5), Patriots (+5), Bears (+5), Bucs (+5), Seahawks (+5)
For download: An Excel file -- available here -- showing how each voter voted this week and in past weeks.
I have also added a "sked" sheet showing remaining schedule strengths based on current power rankings. For example, the Panthers' remaining opponents ranked 11.4 on average in Week 11, giving Carolina the toughest remaining schedule. The Cardinals' remaining opponents ranked 25.0 on average, giving Arizona the easiest remaining schedule.
The file also 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.