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Monday, December 24, 2012
NFL Power Rankings: How they voted

By Mike Sando

The Seattle Seahawks and the NFL won big Sunday night.

That 42-13 victory Seattle posted over the San Francisco 49ers made Green Bay a strong favorite to secure the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoff race.

If the Packers do secure that second seed, they will have finished the season right where they likely would have finished even if replacement officials hadn't awarded a touchdown to the Seahawks' Golden Tate in that Monday night game way back in Week 3. That would have to come as a relief to the NFL, which has taken heat for its handling of the officials.

Think of it this way: The Packers are in prime position to secure that second seed and a first-round playoff bye because Seattle beat a very good team, the 49ers, legitimately.

The Seahawks, winners of four straight and six of seven, are clearly one of the NFL's best teams. They are likely going to be the fifth seed in the NFC, right where they probably would have been even had they lost that game to the Packers.

Had Seattle lost to Green Bay and had nothing else about the season changed, the Seahawks would be 9-6 with a 6-5 conference record, same as the Bears and Vikings. In that case, they would need a Week 17 victory at home over St. Louis to secure the fifth seed. Their victory over Chicago at Soldier Field would prevent the Bears from beating out Seattle under that scenario.

Nothing is set just yet. Seattle could still miraculously win the NFC West and even the No. 2 seed, but only if the Seahawks beat St. Louis, the Packers lose to Minnesota and San Francisco loses at home to Arizona. If those unlikely things happen, you can bet some will blame replacement officials more than they blame, say, a Green Bay defeat to the 49ers at Lambeau. Or the lead Green Bay blew at Indianapolis. Or the small detail of what would be a Week 17 Packers defeat to a Vikings team with Christian Ponder behind center.

The NFL could live with that, particularly amid at least some thought that the Week 3 ruling in Seattle wasn't nearly as bad as advertised.

Those were among my thoughts Monday while listing the Seahawks third on my power rankings ballot. That was higher than the other voters ranked them. I offer no apologies after watching Russell Wilson dominate while Seattle has put up 150 points over its past three games.

That disputed Seattle victory over the Packers has done the Seahawks more harm than good from a national perception standpoint. But when I see Seattle ranked sixth in ESPN's NFL Power Rankings heading into Week 17, I notice that the Seahawks have defeated three of the top five teams. No other team can make that claim.

With that, let's take a closer look at the rankings heading into Week 17:

Falling (11): Dallas Cowboys (-4), Houston Texans (-4), New York Giants (-3), Cleveland Browns (-2), New York Jets (-2), Pittsburgh Steelers (-2), San Francisco 49ers (-2), Tampa Bay Bucs (-2), New England Patriots (-1), Tennessee Titans (-1), Washington Redskins (-1).

Rising (14): Atlanta Falcons (+3), Carolina Panthers (+3), Minnesota Vikings (+3), San Diego Chargers (+3), Cincinnati Bengals (+2), Green Bay Packers (+2), Arizona Cardinals (+1), Baltimore Ravens (+1), Chicago Bears (+1), Denver Broncos (+1), Indianapolis Colts (+1), New Orleans Saints (+1), Seattle Seahawks (+1), St. Louis Rams (+1).

Unchanged (9): Buffalo Bills, Detroit Lions, Jacksonville Jaguars, Kansas City Chiefs, Miami Dolphins, Oakland Raiders, Philadelphia Eagles.

Deadlocked: We broke no ties this week.

Like minds: All five panelists ranked the Rams 16th. All five had the Broncos or Falcons first or second. All five had the 49ers third or fourth. All five had the Texans sixth or seventh. All five had the Vikings 12th or 13th. All five had the Chiefs 31st or 32nd.

Agree to disagree: At least five spots in the rankings separated high and low votes for two teams, an unusually low number. I ranked the Saints 14th, higher than anyone else ranked them. John Clayton had them 19th, lower than anyone else ranked them. I also had Tennessee higher than anyone at 25th, while Dan Graziano ranked them 30th.

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 on average with a 12.9 average ranking. The NFC North was second at 14.2, followed by the AFC North (15.2), NFC South (15.4), NFC East (16.9), AFC East (17.9), AFC South (18.5) and AFC West (21.2).

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.

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, 49ers and Patriots outrank the Seahawks even though Seattle defeated all three teams. The Giants, Steelers and Titnas have each defeated a league-high four teams ranked higher than them. Those teams rank no higher than 15th, however, so there are more candidates.

A quick primer on the "powerflaws" sheet: