NFL Nation: 2010 Week 15 Power Rankings

AFC North Power Rankings Analysis

December, 14, 2010
12/14/10
2:21
PM ET
The AFC North went .500 in Week 14.

Here is how things turned out in ESPN.com's latest Power Rankings:

Pittsburgh Steelers (10-3)

Cumulative vote: No. 3

Walker's vote: No. 4

Analysis: The Steelers remained at No. 3 this week after beating the Cincinnati Bengals, 23-7. The AFC North blog predicted Monday that there would be no change in Pittsburgh's ranking after the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons both won this past Sunday. My vote for Pittsburgh at No. 4 has been consistent the past few weeks. I have the New Orleans Saints (10-3) rated one spot ahead of Pittsburgh. I watched both teams play on Halloween, and the Saints beat the Steelers pretty handily.

Baltimore Ravens (9-4)

Cumulative vote: No. 5

Walker's vote: No. 5

Analysis: My vote and the overall panel agreed the Ravens deserved to fall one spot to No. 5 this week after a close, overtime win over the Houston Texans on "Monday Night Football." Despite a 21-point lead, the Ravens failed to put the Texans away in the second half and nearly had an embarrassing collapse. But cornerback Josh Wilson saved Baltimore in overtime with a 12-yard interception return for a touchdown. This is a very talented team that is struggling to close games, and that is a concern down the stretch. Baltimore has a tough contest this week against New Orleans, where the Ravens have to play well for four quarters.

Cleveland Browns (5-8)

Cumulative vote: No. 21

Walker's vote: No. 26

Analysis: The Browns suffered their ugliest loss of the season to the lowly Buffalo Bills, 13-6. Cleveland could not get anything going against a team it should be able to beat at this point in the season. It was a major step back for the Browns in terms of their progression. With that offense, I think it's going to be hard for Cleveland to win more than one additional game down the stretch. Sunday's "Battle of Ohio" against Cincinnati will not be as easy as it looks on paper for the Browns.

Cincinnati Bengals (2-11)

Cumulative vote: No. 31

Walker's vote: No. 31

Analysis: There was no debate about how bad the Bengals are. All four voters rated Cincinnati No. 31, ahead of just the Carolina Panthers (1-12). The Bengals are on a NFL-high 10-game losing streak and all of these games are starting to look alike. Cincinnati is poor at executing and doesn't have the discipline it takes to win games. Ironically, the Bengals have a chance to end their 10-game skid this weekend against the same team that started it: Cleveland.
One spot.

Our four teams saw just one move of one spot in the new version of the ESPN NFL Power Rankings. Jacksonville slid up to 11 from 12. Everyone else stayed put.

The rest of the gang caught up on the Patriots a week late, and they are now a consensus No. 1.

Here’s a link to the mailbag for any complaints.

But please keep in mind I’m just one-fourth of the Power Rankings and these overall results do not match up with my ballot. You can see how I, and the other three panelists, voted here in Mike Sando’s post.

Recapping the division:

Week 15 Power Rankings: NFC North

December, 14, 2010
12/14/10
2:15
PM ET
ESPN.com's Week 15 Power Rankings put the NFC North in its place. I have no complaints this week. Do you?

The rankings through our divisional filter:

8. Chicago Bears
Trending:
No change after a 36-7 loss to the red-hot New England Patriots.

10. Green Bay Packers
Trending:
Down three after a 7-3 loss to the Detroit Lions.

26. Minnesota Vikings
Trending:
Down three after a 21-3 loss to the New York Giants.

29. Detroit Lions
Trending:
Up two after their victory over the Packers.

Panthers drag Falcons out of top spot

December, 14, 2010
12/14/10
2:00
PM ET
Largely due to the fact that you are NFC South fans and this is the NFC South blog, it seems like we often talk about the strength of the NFC South. Two teams already have double-digit wins and there is a chance three could end up in that territory and in the postseason.

It has been a banner year because of the way the Falcons, Saints and Buccaneers have played. However, sadly, it is time to talk about the weakness of the NFC South. That, of course, is the Carolina Panthers.

If Johnny Carson were still on late-night television, he could say, “You know, the Carolina Panthers are so bad ..." the crowd would inquire exactly how bad and the punch line that isn’t really funny would follow.

The Panthers are so bad that they cost the Atlanta Falcons the No. 1 spot in the ESPN.com Power Rankings. Yep, Atlanta had held the spot for four straight weeks, has won seven straight games and the Falcons went up to Charlotte on Sunday and defeated the Panthers 31-10.

For their efforts, the Falcons got dropped to No. 2 in the rankings. In a ballot where the four voters were unanimous in their votes for the top two, the New England Patriots jumped to No. 1 and the Falcons slipped, despite not doing anything to deserve to slip.

Atlanta’s only crime was playing the Panthers. I’m not even going to rip on the voters because they might have a point. New England’s been playing some great football recently. This isn’t the college voting system, and I’d like to think the voters simply went with the team they believe is playing best the best football in the league right now. They might have it right, and I admit I probably would say the Patriots are that team right now.

But, anyway, Power Rankings are what they are -- something to talk about. Despite Atlanta’s fall, the NFC South has two teams in the top four with New Orleans jumping up to No. 4 after winning its sixth straight game.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers stayed at No. 13, but I’ve got to give some praise to voter James Walker. He has the Bucs at No. 11. There will be 12 teams in the playoffs. With home games coming against Detroit and Seattle, I think Walker’s ahead of the curve in including the Bucs in the top 12.

Finally, there are the Panthers. They’re No. 32 for the fourth straight week. I guess the only thing I'm wondering is why it took voters so long to realize how bad the Panthers are.

Power Rankings: Patriots on top; Jets lag

December, 14, 2010
12/14/10
2:00
PM ET
The New England Patriots have regained authority in ESPN.com's Power Rankings.

The New York Jets, meanwhile, tumbled for a second consecutive week. They'd held a 14-spot lead over the Miami Dolphins for much of the season, but now the difference is half that.

The Buffalo Bills gave the AFC East three victories in Week 14, but they slipped for the first time in a month.

ESPN.com's influential Power Rankings consortium is comprised of senior writer John Clayton, AFC South blogger Paul Kuharsky, AFC North blogger James Walker and NFC West blogger Mike Sando.

1. New England Patriots

Previous rank: 2

My take: Who can argue with this placement after what we've seen? The Patriots dismantled their second straight division leader and returned to the top spot for the first time in six weeks. They'd been ranked No. 2 for the past four polls. With the way Tom Brady is conducting the offense, they look unbeatable.

9. New York Jets

Previous rank: 6

My take: The Power Rankings panel is forgiving. Last week, I wondered how the Jets could be justified in the top 10 after the Patriots utterly wiped them out. Rest assured, I don't think the Jets deserve it upon watching the Dolphins embarrass them at the Meadowlands. The Jets haven't scored a touchdown in back-to-back games and have failed to score a TD in three of their seven home games.

16. Miami Dolphins

Previous rank: 18

My take: For the sixth straight edition of the Power Rankings, the Dolphins moved at least two spots in the opposite direction from the week before. They moved up despite a mainly pathetic offensive performance because the Jets played worse. The Dolphins' defense seems to get better by the week, while their offense deteriorates.

28. Buffalo Bills

Previous rank: 27

My take: All right, this ranking makes zero sense. The Bills defeated the Cleveland Browns and dropped a spot, while the Browns remained at No. 21. The Bills were leapfrogged by the Arizona Cardinals, who beat the Denver Broncos, a team in crisis and rated lower than the Bills in last week's poll. So beat a team that's worse than Buffalo, rise up the standings. Beat a team that's six slots ahead and fall.
ESPN.com’s NFL Power Rankings heading into Week 15 were released Tuesday. Here are my thoughts on how the AFC West teams fared in the rankings:

San Diego Chargers

Power Ranking: 12

My Power Ranking range: 12-14

Why: There’s no denying the Chargers’ ability. They just need show they are serious about staying hot.

Kansas City Chiefs

Power Ranking: 14

My Power Ranking range: 12-14

Why: I don’t think that was the real Chiefs on the field in San Diego.

Oakland Raiders

Power Ranking: 17

My Power Ranking range: 16-18

Why: The Raiders weren’t embarrassed in Jacksonville, but they have to finish better moving forward.

Denver Broncos

Power Ranking: 30

My Power Ranking range: 29--31

Why: It gets worse every week in Denver.

Power rankings: How the voters voted

December, 14, 2010
12/14/10
2:00
PM ET
Move over, Atlanta Falcons. Your four-week run atop ESPN.com's NFL Power Rankings has ended -- through no fault of your own.

Blame the New England Patriots for this one.

Dominating performances in back-to-back weeks against teams ranked in our top 10 convinced panelists John Clayton and James Walker to move New England into the top spot on their ballots. Paul Kuharsky and I had already ranked the Patriots first.

Can there be any doubt?

New England is averaging 39.2 points per game over its last five. Tom Brady has 19 touchdown passes without an interception over the Patriots' last eight games.

Not that anyone should relax. The last time New England was No. 1 in our rankings -- heading into Week 9 -- the team fell unexpectedly at Cleveland, 34-14. The Patriots finish the season at home against Green Bay, at Buffalo and at home against Miami.

The Falcons have not lost since Week 6. They finish at Seattle, home against New Orleans and at Carolina.

And now, a closer look at the rankings heading into Week 15 ...

Rising (11): Dallas Cowboys (+4), Philadelphia Eagles (+3), New York Giants (+3), San Francisco 49ers (+3), San Diego Chargers (+2), Miami Dolphins (+2), Arizona Cardinals (+2), Detroit Lions (+2), Patriots (+1), New Orleans Saints (+1), Jacksonville Jaguars (+1).

Falling (12): Seattle Seahawks (-4), New York Jets (-3), Green Bay Packers (-3), Kansas City Chiefs (-3), Minnesota Vikings (-3), Denver Broncos (-2), Baltimore Ravens (-1), Falcons (-1), Cincinnati Bengals (-1), Oakland Raiders (-1), St. Louis Rams (-1), Buffalo Bills (-1).

Unchanged (9): Pittsburgh Steelers, Indianapolis Colts, Houston Texans, Chicago Bears, Tennessee Titans, Washington Redskins, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Cleveland Browns, Carolina Panthers.

Deadlocked: We broke no ties this week.

Like minds: All four voters ranked the Patriots first, the Falcons second, the Broncos 30th, the Bengals 31st and the Panthers 32nd. Three ranked the Ravens fifth. Three ranked the Jaguars 12th. Three ranked the Raiders 17th.

Agree to disagree: The Browns, Seahawks and Redskins generated the largest disparities between highest and lowest votes. Three other teams produced gaps of at least five spots.
  • Browns (7): Kuharsky ranked them 19th, higher than any other voter ranked them. Walker ranked them 26th, lower than any voter ranked them.
  • Seahawks (7): Walker 19th, Kuharsky 26th.
  • Redskins (7): Clayton 20th, Sando and Kuharsky 27th.
  • Cowboys (5): Kuharsky 18th, Clayton and Walker 23rd.
  • Titans (5): Clayton 19th, Kuharsky and Walker 24th.
  • 49ers (5): Sando 21st, Clayton 26th.
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 South ranked 12.9 on average, the highest average for teams from any division. The NFC West was again the lowest-ranked division. Its 23.1 average ranking lagged well behind the AFC West's seventh-ranked average of 18.5.

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: Dolphins (+7), Seahawks (-5).
  • Clayton: Jets (-5).
  • Kuharsky: Cowboys (+5), 49ers (+5).
  • Walker: Dolphins (+5), Vikings (-6), Browns (-6)
For download: An Excel file -- available here -- showing how each voter voted this week and in past weeks.

The worksheet labeled "sked" shows remaining schedule strengths based on current power rankings.

The file also includes a "powerflaws" sheet pointing out potential flaws in voters' thinking by showing how many higher-ranked opponents each team defeated this season.

A few highlights from the Excel file for Week 15:
  • The Titans have defeated five teams ranked ahead of them this week. No team has defeated more higher-ranked teams. Washington is next with four victories over teams currently ranked higher.
  • The Bucs remained the lowest-ranked team without a victory over any team currently ranked higher than them.
  • The Packers' remaining opponents rank 5.3 on average, higher than the average for any other team. The Saints' opponents are next at 6.7, followed by opponents for Buffalo (8.7), Carolina (10.7) and Seattle (11.0).
  • The Chargers' remaining opponents rank 28.0 on average, lowest in the league. The Cardinals' opponents are next at 25.0 on average.

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.

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