- Mike Sando, NFL Insider
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The top four teams in ESPN's final 2012 NFL Power Rankings should come as no surprise.
All four have first-round byes in the playoffs.
The top three -- Denver, Atlanta and San Francisco -- remain unchanged from last week. New England is fourth.
It's outside the top four where our rankings depart from the conference seedings for the postseason.
Seattle, only the fifth seed in the NFC, checks in at No. 5 in the power rankings after winning the seventh of its final eight games.
The Seahawks own the NFL's highest strength of victory. That means the teams they defeated -- San Francisco, New England, Chicago, Minnesota, Green Bay, Carolina, Dallas, St. Louis, Arizona, Buffalo and the New York Jets -- had a higher combined winning percentage (.534) than the opponents any other team defeated.
For comparison, consider that Denver (.385) and Cincinnati (.381) enter the playoffs with the lowest strength of victory percentages of any teams to qualify for the postseason.
Houston, meanwhile, stands only ninth in our rankings despite holding the third seed in the AFC. The Texans lost three of their final four games, all to playoff teams.
With that, let's take a closer look at the rankings through Week 17:
Rising (10): Carolina Panthers (+2), Buffalo Bills (+2), New England Patriots (+1), Seattle Seahawks (+1), Indianapolis Colts (+1), Washington Redskins (+1), New York Giants (+1), Pittsburgh Steelers (+1), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+1), Tennessee Titans (+1).
Unchanged (14): Denver Broncos, Atlanta Falcons, San Francisco 49ers, Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Minnesota Vikings, Chicago Bears, St. Louis Rams, Cleveland Browns, Detroit Lions, Philadelphia Eagles, Oakland Raiders, Jacksonville Jaguars, Kansas City Chiefs.
Deadlocked: We broke one tie this week. Buffalo prevailed over Cleveland for the 23rd spot based on head-to-head results this season.
Like minds: All five panelists -- John Clayton, Dan Graziano, Jamison Hensley, Ashley Fox and I -- ranked Denver first, Atlanta second and Chicago 13th.
Agree to disagree: Six spots separated high and low votes for the Titans. That was the largest gap for any team. Baltimore (five) was the only other team to generate a gap of more than four spots. Voters found some consensus as the season concluded.
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 remained the highest-ranked division with a 12.8 average ranking for its teams.
The NFC North was next at 14.4, followed by the NFC South (15.0), AFC North (15.7), NFC East (16.7), AFC East (18.1), AFC South (18.3) and AFC West (21.1).
A voter-by-voter look at changes of at least five spots since last week:
Sando: Saints (-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 Broncos are ranked higher than the Falcons even though Atlanta defeated Denver this season. Seattle has defeated two higher-ranked teams this season, New England and San Francisco. The Seahawks are the only team ranked among the top eight with more than one victory over a higher-ranked team.
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.