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Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Power Rankings: How the voters voted

By Mike Sando

The New England Patriots remained the unanimous No. 1 choice in ESPN.com's NFL Power Rankings heading into Week 17.

The Patriots have never ranked lower than 10th this season. Only three teams -- Buffalo, Baltimore and Detroit -- have seen narrower fluctuations in their standing since our 2010 rankings debuted in late April.

Dallas has proved the most confounding, ranking as high as fourth and as low as 30th. Minnesota's 23-spot gap between highest (third) and lowest (26th) rankings gives the Vikings the second-largest fluctuation.

Teams have fluctuated 15 spots on average.

The Bills have fallen between 27th and 32nd each week, making them the most consistently ranked team. Baltimore (first and eighth) and Detroit (24th and 31st) have stayed within a seven-spot range. The Jets (second and 11th) join the Patriots as the only other teams with fluctuations smaller than 10 places.

I'll break down the variances by team and category.

They are who we thought they were

Six teams have fluctuated 10 or fewer spots: Buffalo (5), Baltimore (7), Detroit (7), New England (9), New York Jets (9) and Seattle (10).

OK, so circumstances change a little

Eleven teams have fluctuated between 11 and 15 spots: Denver (11), Cleveland (11), Atlanta (12), New Orleans (13), Green Bay (13), Indianapolis (14), Carolina (14), Philadelphia (15), Tennessee (15), Miami (15), Washington (15) and Jacksonville (15).

It's not our fault they were inconsistent

Eight teams have fluctuated between 16 and 19 spots: Chicago (16), St. Louis (16), Oakland (17), Arizona (17), Pittsburgh (18), Kansas City (19), Tampa Bay (19), San Francisco (19).

Who keeps moving the dartboard?

Six teams have fluctuated 20 or more spots: Houston (20), New York Giants (20), San Diego (20), Cincinnati (20), Minnesota (23) and Dallas (26)

And now, a closer look at the rankings heading into Week 17 ...

Rising (11): Minnesota Vikings (+5), Washington Redskins (+5), Detroit Lions (+4), St. Louis Rams (+4), Green Bay Packers (+3), Indianapolis Colts (+3), New Orleans Saints (+3), Chicago Bears (+2), Tampa Bay Bucs (+2), Baltimore Ravens (+1), Pittsburgh Steelers (+1).

Falling (14): Dallas Cowboys (-4), Philadelphia Eagles (-4), San Diego Chargers (-4), Cleveland Browns (-3), New York Giants (-3), New York Jets (-3), Seattle Seahawks (-3), Houston Texans (-2), San Francisco 49ers (-2), Buffalo Bills (-1), Jacksonville Jaguars (-1), Miami Dolphins (-1), Oakland Raiders (-1), Tennessee Titans (-1).

Unchanged (7): Arizona Cardinals, Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, Cincinnati Bengals, Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs, New England Patriots.

Deadlocked: We broke no ties this week.

Like minds: All four panelists had the Patriots first, the Falcons second, the Packers ninth and the Panthers 32nd. Only one ranking spot separated votes for the Steelers, Eagles, Jets, Colts, Chiefs, Bucs, Chargers, Jaguars and Cardinals.

Agree to disagree: The Redskins generated the largest gap between high and low votes after their upset victory over Jacksonville. Eight other teams generated high-low disparities of at least five spots. 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 averaged a 12.8 ranking, higher than the second-ranked AFC East (13.9) and every other division. Teams from the NFC West again ranked lowest on average at 24.3. 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: For download: An Excel file -- available here -- showing how each voter voted this week and in past weeks.

The worksheet labeled "sked" shows remaining schedule strengths based on current Power Rankings, albeit with only one week remaining.

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: