Tuesday, January 3, 2012
NFL Power Rankings: How they voted
By Mike Sando
Take a bow, Green Bay Packers. You sailed through ESPN's NFL Power Rankings as the top team from Week 1 through the regular season.
There was lots of movement beneath you, however.
Our Power Rankings voters -- John Clayton, Paul Kuharsky, James Walker, Ashley Fox and I -- tip our caps to the four teams making double-digit jumps from Week 1 to the present.
The San Francisco 49ers finished a league-high 23 spots higher than they started, settling in at No. 3 after peaking one spot higher. The Cincinnati Bengals finished 11th after starting dead last at No. 32. Denver (plus-13) and Tennessee (plus-11) also outperformed initial expectations relative to other teams.
These four surprise teams invited skepticism for various reasons.
The 49ers were breaking in a new coaching staff following the lockout while sticking with Alex Smith at quarterback. The Bengals were transitioning from Carson Palmer to rookie Andy Dalton. Denver was coming off a disastrous season. Tennessee got more from Matt Hasselbeck than we might have expected.
There were underachievers, too.
The Indianapolis Colts finished 23 spots lower than anticipated, dropping from ninth amid preseason concerns over Peyton Manning's health to 32nd without their quarterback playing a single snap all season. Tampa Bay (-17), St. Louis (-14), the New York Jets (-12), Philadelphia (-11) and Minnesota (-10) also fell at least 10 places since Week 1.
Two teams, No. 1 Green Bay and No. 24 Miami, were exactly who we thought they would be. Their rankings finished right where they started. Sixteen other teams finished within five spots of where they started, with Cleveland, Dallas, Houston and Atlanta finishing within one spot of Week 1 expectations.
And now, a closer look at the rankings through Week 17, beginning with a look at how teams changed (or did not change) in the rankings from last week:
Falling (10): Oakland Raiders (-3), New York Jets (-3), Seattle Seahawks (-3), Dallas Cowboys (-2), Carolina Panthers (-2), Detroit Lions (-1), Houston Texans (-1), Cincinnati Bengals (-1), Denver Broncos (-1), Indianapolis Colts (-1).
Rising (9): Tennessee Titans (+3), San Diego Chargers (+3), New York Giants (+2), Philadelphia Eagles (+2), Arizona Cardinals (+2), Chicago Bears (+2), Atlanta Falcons (+1), Kansas City Chiefs (+1), St. Louis Rams (+1).
Unchanged (13): Green Bay Packers, New Orleans Saints, San Francisco 49ers, New England Patriots, Baltimore Ravens, Pittsburgh Steelers, Miami Dolphins, Buffalo Bills, Washington Redskins, Jacksonville Jaguars, Cleveland Browns, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Minnesota Vikings.
Deadlocked: We broke one tie this week. The Cowboys prevailed over the Broncos at No. 13 based on the third tiebreaker, which team won most recently. Head-to-head and overall record did not come into play.
Like minds: All five voters ranked the Packers first and the Saints second.
Agree to disagree: Some of the wildly inconsistent teams generated larger disparities on voters' ballots. Oakland finished 8-8, for example, but how good were the Raiders, anyway?
A look at the teams generating high-low disparities of at least five spots in the rankings:
Power Rankings histories: These colorful layered graphs show where each NFL team has ranked every week since the 2002 season.
- Cowboys (5): Clayton ranked them 12th, higher than any other voter ranked them. Fox ranked them 17th, lower than any other voter ranked them.
- Raiders (5): Clayton 14th, Sando and Fox 19th.
- Cardinals (5): Fox 16th, Walker 21st.
- Bears (5): Kuharsky 18th, Sando and Clayton 23rd.
- Seahawks (5): Sando 18th, Walker 23rd.
Ranking the divisions: Teams from the AFC North maintained the highest average ranking for any division, ahead of teams from the NFC North.
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.
- Sando: Chargers (+5).
- Clayton: none.
- Kuharsky: Jets (-5).
- Walker: none.
- Fox: Cowboys (-5), Eagles (+5), Chargers (+5).
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.
Buffalo, Kansas City and Seattle each defeated five teams ranked higher than them this week, tied for most in the league. The teams ranked second through fourth -- New Orleans, San Francisco and New England -- were 0-1 against higher-ranked teams (the Saints lost to the Packers, but the other teams in question did not play each other).
Eleventh-ranked Cincinnati was the lowest-ranked team without a victory over a team ranked higher this week.
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.