- Mike Sando, NFL Insider
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A few thoughts on NFC West teams and some opponents in relation to the NFL Power Rankings ballot I submitted:
San Francisco 49ers: They moved up eight spots to No. 9 on my ballot following a 48-3 victory over Tampa Bay. Improved play from the 49ers' offensive line and defensive secondary stood out. The obvious difference in coaching has exceeded reasonable expectations for the short term. The 49ers have one of the very best defenses in the league and a quarterback learning to limit turnovers. Anything less than an NFC West title will stand as a disappointment following the promise of this 4-1 start. I knocked down the Buccaneers six spots to No. 20 after what ranks as one of the least competitive performances in memory. Two of their three victories came in close games against Indianapolis and Minnesota. There is no argument for 48-3.
Seattle Seahawks: They jumped seven spots to No. 17 on my ballot, higher than any other ESPN.com voter ranked them. It's easy for those watching from afar to dismiss Seattle based on perceptions about the quarterback situation. Tarvaris Jackson and Charlie Whitehurst have avoided killer turnovers and they've increasingly made positive plays. The Seahawks had to sweat out their 36-25 victory over the New York Giants primarily because their running backs lost fumbles in the red zone twice. The offensive line is young and improving. The receivers are catching everything. The defense is young and already among the better units in the league. I knocked down the Giants nine spots to No. 18 because this outcome exposed shortcomings the team had ultimately overcome against Arizona in particular.
Arizona Cardinals: They fell four spots to No. 29 on my ballot after losing 34-10 to the previously winless Minnesota Vikings. That performance followed three consecutive narrow defeats. Critical mistakes on offense, defense and special teams made this a complete collapse. The Cardinals play four of six on the road following their bye, with home games against Pittsburgh and St. Louis. The Vikings moved up three spots on my ballot following this game.
St. Louis Rams: They were 32nd on my ballot heading into the bye and 32nd coming out. Losing starting cornerback Bradley Fletcher to a season-ending knee injury downgrades their prospects. Top receiver Danny Amendola also went on injured reserve.
I've posted by ballots from the first six weeks below, ordered by where I ranked them this week.
2011 NFL Power Rankings: Sando by Week