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Tuesday, October 5, 2010
Power Rankings: How the voters voted

By Mike Sando

Let the debate begin after three NFL teams received first-place votes in ESPN.com's NFL Power Rankings for Week 5.

The man standing alone on a limb this week, John Clayton, moved the New York Jets into the top spot on his ballot.

The Pittsburgh Steelers held onto the top spot overall, even though they lost in Week 4 and Clayton ranked them only sixth after having them first a week earlier.

"In a league of parity in which no one team has dominated, the Jets, over the last three weeks, have stepped up with an improved offense and a defense that merits the top spot," Clayton explained. "Their offense should now get better with Santonio Holmes coming off suspension."

I moved up the Steelers one place to No. 1 after New Orleans again looked ordinary (by its standards) and Pittsburgh prepared to welcome back Ben Roethlisberger heading into a bye week. Paul Kuharsky left the Steelers No. 1 on his ballot. AFC North blogger James Walker moved up the Steelers two places to No. 2, but he wasn't going to move them into the top spot.

"It’s hard voting a team No. 1 coming off a loss -- especially a loss at home," Walker explained. "The Steelers will be a force with Ben Roethlisberger back. But when breaking ties like this, the nod should go to the defending Super Bowl champs. If Garrett Hartley doesn’t shank an easy field goal, the Saints would be 4-0 anyway and there's no debate."

Four of the seven highest-ranked teams generated disagreements of five spots across various ballots, a significant disparity reflecting uncertainty at the top.

Let's dig deeper inside the rankings heading into Week 4 ...

Rising (15): The Chargers moved up six spots to No. 6 after dominating the Arizona Cardinals, the largest gain from last week. The Kansas City Chiefs moved up five spots to N0. 10 without even playing. The Washington Redskins also rose five places. The Jacksonville Jaguars and New York Giants climbed four spots apiece. The Cleveland Browns, Jets and St. Louis Rams rose three places each. The Baltimore Ravens, Dallas Cowboys, Denver Broncos, Houston Texans, Minnesota Vikings and New England Patriots each climbed two places. The Green Bay Packers rose one.

Falling (12): The Seattle Seahawks dropped seven places, the largest fall from last week. The Tennessee Titans, Indianapolis Colts and Cincinnati Bengals dropped six spots apiece. The Chicago Bears fell five. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, San Francisco 49ers, Philadelphia Eagles and Cardinals fell three spots each. The Miami Dolphins dropped two. The Carolina Panthers and Oakland Raiders fell one.

Unchanged (5): Rankings for the Atlanta Falcons, Buffalo Bills, Detroit Lions, New Orleans Saints and Steelers did not change.

Deadlocked: We broke three ties this week. Tiebreakers include, in order, head-to-head results, overall record, which team won most recently and previous rankings. The Falcons prevailed over the Ravens for No. 5 because they were ranked higher last week. The Dolphins prevailed over the Cowboys for No. 13 because they have a better record. The Redskins prevailed over the Eagles for No. 16 because they beat Philadelphia.

Groupthink: All four panelists ranked the Panthers 30th, the Lions 31st and the Bills 32nd. Three of four had the Browns 28th, the Eagles 18th, the Chiefs 10th and the Colts ninth.

Agree to disagree: The Redskins generated the largest gap between high and low votes. Clayton and Kuharsky had them 13th. I had them 23rd. Seven other teams produced disparities of at least six places: 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 North overtook the AFC South as the highest-ranked division 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 more than five spots since last week: 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: