NFC West: 2011 week 6 power rankings

NFL Power Rankings: NFC West focus

October, 11, 2011
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 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.


NFL Power Rankings: How they voted

October, 11, 2011
The West is not yet won in the NFL, but it's winning.

Teams from the two Western divisions climbed a combined 13 spots from last week in ESPN's NFL Power Rankings, with teams from their Southern counterparts falling 23 places in all.

That was the theme for the week after John Clayton, Paul Kuharsky, James Walker and Ashley Fox joined me in casting ballots heading into Week 6.

The top five teams remained in the top five, with New England overtaking New Orleans for the second spot after Walker, the AFC East blogger, dropped the Saints two places to No. 4 on his ballot. Walker also made a statement by ranking the Dallas Cowboys 11th, four spots higher than anyone else ranked them.

"Of all the NFC East teams, I think the Cowboys are the most believable," Walker said. "I don’t trust the Redskins’ offense or the Giants in general. And the Eagles may have dug themselves too big a hole. Dallas is getting healthy and can be pretty good once it puts it all together."

There was significant volatility outside the top five, with the San Francisco 49ers climbing a league-high seven spots following their 48-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They would threaten the top five with a victory at Detroit in Week 6.

The bar is considerably lower for the Cincinnati Bengals. They can get to 4-2 and likely continue their methodical climb in the rankings with a victory over Indianapolis. The Bengals are the only team to move up every Tuesday since Week 1 (32, 30, 28, 27, 21, 20).

And now, a closer look at the rankings heading into Week 6 ...

Rising (13): San Francisco 49ers (+7), Pittsburgh Steelers (+5), Minnesota Vikings (+4), Oakland Raiders (+4), Buffalo Bills (+3), Kansas City Chiefs (+3), Seattle Seahawks (+3), Dallas Cowboys (+2), Washington Redskins (+2), Cincinnati Bengals (+1), Miami Dolphins (+1), New England Patriots (+1), St. Louis Rams (+1).

Falling (11): Houston Texans (-6), Arizona Cardinals (-5), Tampa Bay Bucs (-5), Tennessee Titans (-5), New York Giants (-4), Indianapolis Colts (-3), Jacksonville Jaguars (-3), New York Jets (-3), Cleveland Browns (-1), New Orleans Saints (-1), Philadelphia Eagles (-1).

Unchanged (8): Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore Ravens, Carolina Panthers, Chicago Bears, Denver Broncos, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, San Diego Chargers.

Deadlocked: We broke two ties this week. The Giants prevailed over the Cowboys at No. 14 based on the second tiebreaker, overall record. The Dolphins edged the Rams at No. 30 based on the fourth tiebreaker, previous ranking.

Like minds: All five voters ranked the Packers first. Only one spot separated votes for the Patriots (second or third on all ballots) and Colts (31st or 32nd on all ballots).

Agree to disagree: Seven spots separated high and low votes for the Cowboys. Nine other teams produced high-low disparities of at least six places. Let's take a look:
  • Cowboys (7): Walker ranked them 11th, higher than any voter ranked them. Fox ranked them 18th, lower than any voter ranked them.
  • Chargers (6): Sando, Walker and Fox sixth, Kuharsky 12th.
  • Texans (6): Kuharsky eighth, Walker 14th.
  • Giants (6): Fox 13th, Sando 19th.
  • Buccaneers (6): Kuharsky 14th, Sando 20th.
  • Jets (6): Walker and Fox 15th, Sando 21st.
  • Eagles (6): Clayton 18th, Fox 24th.
  • Seahawks (6): Sando 17th, Clayton and Walker 23rd.
  • Panthers (6): Walker 22nd, Fox 28th.
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 North rank 12.2 on average, well ahead of teams from the runner-up AFC North (13.9). 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:
  • Sando: Giants (-11), Texans (-6), Buccaneers (-6), Jaguars (-5), Seahawks (+7), 49ers (+8).
  • Clayton: Texans (-7), Titans (-5), 49ers (+6), Steelers (+7).
  • Kuharsky: Buccaneers (-7), Bengals (+5).
  • Walker: Texans (-8), Buccaneers (-7), Cardinals (-6), Giants (-5), Vikings (+5), Raiders (+7), Steelers (+7), 49ers (+7).
  • Fox: Falcons (-5), Texans (-5), Buccaneers (-5), Chiefs (+5), Vikings (+6), Steelers (+6), Raiders (+8), 49ers (+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.

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.