NFL Nation: 2010 Week 18 Power Rankings

Beast slayed in Week 18 Power Rankings

January, 4, 2011
The NFC "Beast" has finally been put out of its misery in the Power Rankings. For some reason, our esteemed panel really stuck it to the Washington Redskins following their 17-14 loss to a 10-win Giants team. The Skins fell five spots in the rankings, which was the biggest drop of any team in the league.

NFC West blogger Mike Sando, keeper of the 7-9 Seattle Seahawks, has bravely pulled back the curtain on the mysterious voting process. The panel moved the Dallas Cowboys up four spots following their last-minute win over the Eagles' junior varsity squad Sunday. Let's try to figure out how this happened and whether any of the panelists will be retained for next season's Power Rankings:

7. Philadelphia Eagles: Three of the voters agreed that the Eagles should stay put after resting their starters in a loss to the Jason Garrett-led Cowboys. AFC North blogger James Walker was the only voter who had the New York Jets ahead of the Eagles and I'm told he was chastised in a private setting by John "The Professor" Clayton.

12. New York Giants: Paul Kuharsky of AFC South fame loved Tom Coughlin's team from the start, and even in the Giants' darkest moment, he remained by their side with a "10" on his ballot. Walker once again rained on the Beast's parade with a "13" vote. He had the Bucs ahead of the Giants.

18. Dallas Cowboys: This was a stunner. The Cowboys' starters nearly lost to an Eagles team that was comprised of mostly practice squad players -- yet the panelists fell in love with Stephen McGee's late comeback and prolonged eye contact with reporters. Kuharsky and Walker both had the Cowboys at "19." I'm not sure what happened in this instance. The Cowboys and Redskins finished with the same record (6-10), but the panelists absolutely killed Mike Shanahan's team.

26. Washington Redskins: The Skins actually stood up and played for Shanahan down the stretch, so I'm not sure why the voters reacted so harshly to a narrow loss to a pretty good Giants team. Don't they know the Skins never beat the Giants? Kuharsky had both the Browns and Bills ahead of the Skins on his ballot. He gave the Redskins a shocking "28," which prevented Clayton and Walker from saving them with "25" votes on their respective ballots.

The Beast finished fifth in the overall division rankings with an average score of 16.2. The NFC North claimed fourth place with a 16.2. This is a painful, painful day for so many of us who've devoted our lives to this once-proud division. Thanks for your continued support during these difficult days ahead.

The AFC South in Power Rankings

January, 4, 2011
The four panelists involved in the ESPN NFL Power Rankings aren’t impressed with the AFC South. Nor should we be.

The Colts won the division, but rank ahead of only two other playoff qualifiers: Kansas City (12th) and Seattle (19th). Still, Indianapolis is almost universally regarded as a threatening playoff team that could beat the Jets and give the Steelers a hard time in Pittsburgh.

I welcome your complaints and criticisms in my mailbag, but remind you that John Clayton, Mike Sando and James Walker are each responsible here, too.

Here is Sando’s weekly post breaking things down further. It includes my ballot.

Recapping the division:

The final regular-season edition of the Power Rankings is out and there are no surprises for the NFC South teams.

The Atlanta Falcons finished in the same No. 2 spot they’ve held for about the past month after making a brief spot at the top of the rankings. The Falcons finished behind only the New England Patriots.

The NFC South placed two teams in the top five with the New Orleans Saints coming in at No. 5. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are at No. 13, six spots ahead of the NFC West champion Seattle Seahawks.

And, as you probably expected, the Carolina Panthers were the unanimous choice for the No. 32 spot.’s final 2010 NFL Power Rankings were released Tuesday. Here are my thoughts on how the AFC West teams fared in the rankings:

Kansas City Chiefs

Power Ranking: 11

My Power Ranking range: 9-11

Why: The Chiefs are limping into the playoffs, but they still have a chance to make some noise.

San Diego Chargers

Power Ranking: 14

My Power Ranking range: 13-15

Why: In the end, this was a very disappointing season for the Chargers.

Oakland Raiders

Power Ranking: 15

My Power Ranking range: 14-16

Why: This was a season of progress for Oakland.

Denver Broncos

Power Ranking: 29

My Power Ranking range: 29-31

Why: This clearly was one of the worst teams in the NFL this season.

Final analysis: AFC East Power Rankings

January, 4, 2011
Mailing in a performance in a meaningless season finale makes a more lasting impression on Power Rankings than previous results.

Blowout losses will leave a bitter taste heading into the offseason, and they were distasteful to the Power Rankings commission.

As expected, the New England Patriots closed out the 2010 season atop's final Power Rankings. The New York Jets also maintained their No. 8 position from the week before.

But the Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills each plummeted in the Power Rankings for their abysmal performances Sunday.

The Dolphins dropped four spots after losing 38-7 to the Patriots. Only the Washington Redskins fell further from last week.

The Bills dropped two spots to No. 30, leaving them rated beneath three of the four teams they defeated.

Those negative changes knocked the AFC East down a peg, too.

Here are the final division Power Rankings based on average poll position of the four teams:
  1. NFC South
  2. NFC North
  3. AFC East
  4. AFC North
  5. NFC East
  6. AFC South
  7. AFC West
  8. NFC West

The Power Rankings panel consists 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: 1

My take: Nothing to discuss. They're clearly the NFL's best team entering the postseason. They've scored at least 31 points eight straight games. They've dominated good teams for two months, with the only exception a subpar first half against the Green Bay Packers in Week 15.

8. New York Jets

Previous rank: 8

My take: Three teams jockeyed positions ahead of the Jets, but none fell behind them in the poll. As I've mentioned in recent Power Rankings breakdowns, top 10 seems ambitious to me. As impressive as their backups looked against the Bills, the Jets have lost three of their past five games, including a 45-3 loss to the Patriots in Week 13. The Jets did recover to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field in Week 15, but overall the Jets went 2-4 against playoff teams.

22. Miami Dolphins

Previous rank: 18

My take: Bottom third of the NFL seems appropriate for the Dolphins after several weeks of being overrated in the poll. They went 1-7 at home, with three of those losses coming to teams ranked 24th or worse. Maybe No. 22 still is too generous for the Dolphins.

30. Buffalo Bills

Previous rank: 28

My take: The Bills were showing so much promise down the homestretch that I was lobbying for them to be rated higher for a few weeks. They never got higher than 27th, even when they won four out of six games in November and December and took three top 11 teams into overtime. Back-to-back awful losses to finish the season removes my right to argue.

AFC North Power Rankings analysis

January, 4, 2011
PM ET's final NFL Power Rankings for this season is in the books.

Here is how the results in Week 17 impacted the AFC North:

Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4)

Cumulative vote: No. 3

Walker's vote: No. 3

Analysis: Pittsburgh jumped two spots this week after a convincing 41-9 blowout of Cleveland. Pittsburgh clinched the AFC North title and a first-round bye with the victory. I also voted Pittsburgh two spots higher this week and ahead of the Ravens for a couple of reasons. First, Pittsburgh dominated the Browns, while Baltimore struggled against the Bengals at home. Second, Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu returned and Pittsburgh is close to being full strength.

Baltimore Ravens (12-4)

Cumulative vote: No. 4

Walker's vote: No. 4

Analysis: The Ravens dropped one spot to No. 4 this week. Baltimore is the only team in the top four not to win its division. Despite their struggles last week, the Ravens enter the playoffs on a four-game winning streak and will be a very tough out this postseason. But they need more consistent production from their offense. Baltimore will travel to play the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday. Kansas City is 7-1 at home this season.

Cleveland Browns (5-11)

Cumulative vote: No. 27

Walker's vote: No. 28

Analysis: The Browns finished strong last year but ended this season on a four-game losing streak. The result was head coach Eric Mangini being fired Monday, and the Browns will begin a new coaching search. Cleveland added some good, young players this year. But the team still has a long way to go to compete in the AFC North. The Browns were swept by the Ravens and Steelers this season and split with the Bengals to finish 1-5 in the division. Rookie quarterback Colt McCoy also needs to have a great offseason and continue to improve for 2011.

Cincinnati Bengals (4-12)

Cumulative vote: No. 31

Walker's vote: No. 27

Analysis: I'm surprised Cincinnati was voted the second-worst team in the NFL. I liked the way the Bengals fought at the end of the season, winning two of their last three games. Sunday's loss to Baltimore was very competitive. Cincinnati had a chance to pull the upset at the end. But perhaps the panel favored the fact that, overall, it was an underachieving year for the Bengals. Cincinnati is expected to retain head coach Marvin Lewis but expect changes to the roster this offseason.

Power Rankings: How the voters voted

January, 4, 2011
The New England Patriots could have coasted into the playoffs without paying much attention to the Miami Dolphins in Week 17.

They hammered the Dolphins instead, winning 38-7 and leaving no doubt about which team would rank first in the final 2010 NFL Power Rankings.

As the chart shows, the Patriots were a consensus choice among our four panelists: me, John Clayton, Paul Kuharsky and James Walker. They held the top spot for the final four weeks, emerging as the only 14-2 team in the league. The only 13-3 team, Atlanta, held the top spot for four weeks prior to the Patriots' current run.

Baltimore edged New England for the highest average ranking since April, when we first cast ballots for the 2010 season. The Ravens' ranking averaged 4.35. The Patriots were at 4.50, but they never ranked lower than second over the final eight weeks.

Voters had a tougher time making sense of the Seattle Seahawks' division-clinching victory over the St. Louis Rams. Clayton knocked down the Rams seven spots. Our other panelists apparently couldn't find teams worth moving higher than St. Louis.

Sometimes the rankings seem to make little sense, even when they do. For example, the Arizona Cardinals climbed one spot to No. 28 despite their 38-7 defeat to San Francisco.

What happened? Basically, voters punished Buffalo more than they punished Arizona after both teams played poorly. The Bills fell from 28th to 30th. That allowed the Cardinals to move up one spot from No. 29.

And now, a closer look at the rankings following Week 17 ...

Rising (8): Seattle Seahawks (+7), Dallas Cowboys (+4), Pittsburgh Steelers (+2), Houston Texans (+2), Oakland Raiders (+2), San Francisco 49ers (+2), Denver Broncos (+2), Arizona Cardinals (+1).

Falling (10): Washington Redskins (-5), Miami Dolphins (-4), Minnesota Vikings (-4), Cleveland Browns (-2), Buffalo Bills (-2), Baltimore Ravens (-1), New Orleans Saints (-1), Jacksonville Jaguars (-1), Cincinnati Bengals (-1), St. Louis Rams (-1).

Unchanged (13): New England Patriots, Atlanta Falcons, New York Jets, Green Bay Packers, Indianapolis Colts, Philadelphia Eagles, New York Giants, Chicago Bears, San Diego Chargers, Tennessee Titans, Kansas City Chiefs, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Detroit Lions.

Deadlocked: We broke one tie. Buffalo prevailed over Cincinnati based on head-to-head results during the regular season. This was the first tiebreaker.

Like minds: All four panelists had the Patriots first, the Falcons second, the Packers ninth and the Panthers 32nd.

Agree to disagree: The Rams generated the largest gap between high and low votes after their 16-6 defeat at Seattle in Week 17. Five other teams generated high-low disparities of at least five spots.
  • Rams (9): Kuharsky ranked them 15th, higher than any voter ranked them. Clayton ranked them 24th, lower than any voter ranked them.
  • Seahawks (7): Walker 16th, Clayton 23rd.
  • Dolphins (7): Clayton 17th, Sando 24th.
  • Texans (6): Sando and Clayton 19th, Kuharsky 25th.
  • Lions (6): Kuharsky 18th, Walker 24th.
  • Titans (5): Sando and Clayton 18th, Kuharsky and Walker 23rd.
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 averaged a 12.8 ranking, with teams from the NFC North overtaking teams from the AFC East for the second spot. 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: Redskins (-5), Seahawks (+6).
  • Clayton: Rams (-7).
  • Kuharsky: Dolphins (-5), Seahawks (+7).
  • Walker: Redskins (-6), 49ers (+5), Cowboys (+5).
For download: An Excel file -- available here -- showing how each voter voted this week and in past weeks.

For example, the file shows how far each voter moved each team on his ballot from April through the regular season:
  • Clayton had the Cowboys ranked second and 30th at various points. The 28-spot differential was the highest by any voter for any team. The Cowboys produced the largest high-low differentials on every ballot.
  • Walker had the Cowboys fourth and 31st at different times.
  • I had them fourth and 30th.
  • Kuharsky had them sixth and 30th.

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 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.
We've reached the emotional end of the 2010 Power Rankings,'s attempt to make weekly sense of the 32-team NFL. Let's take a look at how each NFC North team fared over time:

Chicago Bears
April: 21
Preseason: 21
Week 1: 21
Final: 6

Green Bay Packers
April: 6
Preseason: 6
Week 1: 3
Final: 9

Minnesota Vikings
April: 3
Preseason: 3
Week 1: 5
Final: 23

Detroit Lions
April: 31
Preseason: 29
Week 1: 28
Final: 24