NFL Power Rankings: How they voted

September, 11, 2012
9/11/12
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The San Francisco 49ers opened Alex Smith's rookie season dead last in ESPN's 2005 NFL Power Rankings.

Seven years later, the 49ers have emerged from Week 1 with two first-place votes from our five panelists -- nearly enough to overtake New England for the top spot.

There was a tie at the top and the Patriots prevailed on the fourth and final tiebreaker, previous week's ranking. The teams had not played head to head. They had the same 1-0 record. Both won last week.

John Clayton, Jamison Hensley and Ashley Fox listed the Patriots atop their ballots. Dan Graziano and I moved up the 49ers from fourth to first following San Francisco's 30-22 victory over the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field.

Clayton moved up the 49ers from fourth to second, leaving New England at No. 1.

Hensley moved the 49ers from ninth to second. He dropped the Packers from first to fourth. He bumped the Patriots from second to first.

Fox moved up the 49ers three spots to No. 2. She dropped the New York Giants from first to fifth. She moved the Patriots up one spot into first on her ballot.

"I gave serious consideration to having the Niners leapfrog the Patriots," Fox said. "They looked like the most complete team in Week 1. But ultimately, I kept New England higher because I know what I'm getting with their offense. Does that make me an Alex Smith non-believer? I don't think so, but I do want to see more from him and the San Francisco offense."

Graziano saw the 49ers frequently last season while covering the NFC East. Why did he rank them first?

"I thought they deserved the top spot for now," he said, "based on last year's performance, which included a tough playoff win and an OT playoff loss, plus the way they looked IN Green Bay against the team I had No. 1 last week, plus where they were already ranked, plus the disappointing openers by the Giants and Eagles."

The 49ers haven't held the top spot in our rankings since at least 2002, the earliest year for which we track results. What's the hurry?

The 49ers are home against Detroit in Week 2. The Patriots are home against Arizona.

And now, a closer look at the rankings for this week:

Falling (13): Seattle Seahawks (-6), Philadelphia Eagles (-5), New Orleans Saints (-5), Buffalo Bills (-5), Green Bay Packers (-4), New York Giants (-4), Tennessee Titans (-4), Pittsburgh Steelers (-3), Miami Dolphins (-3), Cincinnati Bengals (-2), Kansas City Chiefs (-2), Detroit Lions (-1), Carolina Panthers (-1).

Rising (16): Washington Redskins (+9), Atlanta Falcons (+4), Denver Broncos (+4), Dallas Cowboys (+4), New York Jets (+4), Tampa Bay Bucs (+4), Baltimore Ravens (+3), Arizona Cardinals (+3), San Francisco 49ers (+2), Minnesota Vikings (+2), New England Patriots (+1), Houston Texans (+1), Chicago Bears (+1), San Diego Chargers (+1), Oakland Raiders (+1), St. Louis Rams (+1).

Unchanged (3): Jacksonville Jaguars, Cleveland Browns, Indianapolis Colts.

Don't scratch that head yet: Teams rise and fall in relation to other teams, not just in relation to their own performances. For example, the Cardinals dropped one spot in the rankings despite ranking higher on all five ballots. The Redskins and Jets leapfrogged them.

Deadlocked: We broke three ties this week. New England prevailed over San Francisco at No. 1. Cincinnati edged Kansas City at No. 18. Tennessee emerged over Carolina and Buffalo in a three-way tie at No. 22.

Like minds: The 49ers were first or second on every ballot. Two spots separated high and low votes for the Patriots, Texans, Saints, Jets and Colts.

Agree to disagree: Five teams generated disparities of seven spots between high and low votes.

A look at the teams generating high-low disparities of at least six spots in the rankings:
  • Panthers (7): Fox had them 20th, higher than any other voter ranked them. Graziano had them 27th, lower than any other voter had them.
  • Cardinals (7): Hensley 18th, Clayton 25th.
  • Chiefs (7): Graziano 17th, Hensley 24th.
  • Cowboys (7): Hensley sixth, Fox 13th.
  • Giants (7): Graziano and Fox fifth, Sando and Clayton 12th.
  • Rams (6): Graziano 23rd, Hensley 29th.
  • Seahawks (6): Sando 22nd, Graziano 28th.
  • Raiders (6): Hensley 21st, Fox 27th.
  • Chargers (6): Fox 10th, Clayton 16th.
  • Eagles (6): Clayton eighth, Fox 14th.
  • Falcons (6): Clayton fifth, Hensley 11th.
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 East averaged a league-high 11.0 ranking, up from 11.5 last week and well ahead of the runner-up NFC North (13.3).

Our divisional bloggers on the panel -- Graziano (NFC East), Hensley (AFC North) and me (NFC West) -- ranked the divisions we cover as high or higher than other voters ranked them. Are we right?

A voter-by-voter look at changes of at least four spots since last week:
  • Sando: Giants (-9), Seahawks (-8), Bills (-6), Eagles (-6), Titans (-4), Jets (+4), Falcons (+6), Cowboys (+6), Redskins (+9).
  • Clayton: Seahawks (-10), Giants (-6), Eagles (-5), Bills (-4), Saints (-4), Packers (-4), Ravens (+4), Vikings (+4), Falcons (+5), Buccaneers (+5), Broncos (+8), Redskins (+9).
  • Graziano: Eagles (-6), Panthers (-5), Chiefs (-5), Saints (-5), Seahawks (-5), Dolphins (-4), Buccaneers (+4), Cowboys (+5), Broncos (+6), Rams (+6), Redskins (+6).
  • Hensley: Bengals (-9), Titans (-8), Saints (-6), Steelers (-6), Bills (-4), Giants (-4), Falcons (+4), Broncos (+4), 49ers (+7), Redskins (+11).
  • Fox: Eagles (-5), Steelers (-5), Panthers (-4), Giants (-4), Jets (+6), Redskins (+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.

For example, the Cowboys rank lower than the Giants even after defeating them. No other team ranks lower than a team it has defeated. That will change as the season progresses. As much as voters might want to honor head-to-head results, the best team on a given day isn't always the best team overall. A Cardinals upset over the Patriots wouldn't vault Arizona into the No. 1 spot, for example.

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.

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