ESPN's John Clayton raised eyebrows around here when he ranked the Atlanta Falcons atop his power rankings ballot last week.
The Falcons had just suffered a 30-20 defeat to Carolina, after all. They were looking as if they would again become playoff chumps, not potential Super Bowl champs.
The view is a little different this week after the Falcons scored a 34-0 victory over the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants in Week 15. But with San Francisco knocking off previously top-ranked New England, the 49ers have assumed the No. 1 spot in ESPN's NFL Power Rankings heading into Week 16.
The Falcons remained stuck at No. 5 despite again getting Clayton's highest regards. Atlanta might have to prove itself in the playoffs before our other voters come around.
Jamison Hensley, Ashley Fox and I ranked the 49ers first on our ballots. Dan Graziano became the first of our voters to rank the Denver Broncos No. 1 this season. That helped the Broncos rank second overall, ahead of Houston, New England and those potentially underrated Falcons. Green Bay held firm at No. 6, and Seattle jumped three spots into the seventh slot after its second consecutive game with at least 50 points. Graziano moved Seattle up five spots, the largest jump for any team on his ballot.
Falling (12): New York Giants (-5), New England Patriots (-3), Baltimore Ravens (-3), Chicago Bears (-3), Detroit Lions (-3), Tampa Bay Bucs (-2), New York Jets (-2), Cleveland Browns (-2), Philadelphia Eagles (-2), Pittsburgh Steelers (-1), San Diego Chargers (-1), Buffalo Bills (-1).
Rising (11): Washington Redskins (+4), New Orleans Saints (+4), San Francisco 49ers (+3), Seattle Seahawks (+3), Dallas Cowboys (+3), Carolina Panthers (+3), Miami Dolphins (+2), Tennessee Titans (+2), Arizona Cardinals (+2), Cincinnati Bengals (+1), Minnesota Vikings (+1).
Deadlocked: We broke no ties this week.
Like minds: All five panelists ranked the Seahawks seventh and the Rams 17th.
Agree to disagree: At least five spots in the rankings separated high and low votes for eight teams. The Jets produced the widest disparity.
A look at the highest and lowest votes for the eight teams in question:
Jets (6): Clayton and Hensley 18th, Sando and Graziano 24th.
Falcons (5): Clayton first, Sando sixth.
Ravens (5): Clayton eighth, Fox 13th.
Giants (5): Fox ninth, Clayton 14th.
Bears (5): Clayton 10th, Fox 15th.
Panthers (5): Sando 20th, Fox 25th.
Chargers (5): Clayton 22nd, Fox 27th.
Titans (5): Sando 23rd, Graziano 28th.
Power Rankings histories: These colorful layered graphs show where each NFL team has ranked every week since the 2002 season.
Ranking the divisions: The NFC West overtook the NFC North and AFC North as the highest-rated division on average. The NFC East was second, followed by the AFC North, NFC North, NFC South, AFC South, AFC East and AFC West. The AFC East and AFC South tied for sixth with an average ranking of 17.25.
A voter-by-voter look at changes of at least five spots since last week:
Sando: Cardinals (+5), Titans (+5), Saints (+6).
Clayton: Giants (-6), Lions (-5), Buccaneers (-5), Panthers (+5).
Graziano: Bears (-5), Seahawks (+5).
Hensley: Dolphins (+5).
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.
For example, the Packers and Patriots outrank the Seahawks even though Seattle defeated both teams.
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.
Resort 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.