NFL Nation: 2011 Week 1 Power Rankings

Power Rankings: NFC East edition

September, 6, 2011
9/06/11
3:14
PM ET
Tuesday is Power Rankings day, folks, and the new phone books are in. Our voters still list the defending champion Packers at No. 1, the Patriots at 2 and the Steelers at 3. Pretty standard stuff -- the two Super Bowl teams sandwiched around the team that won the most games in the regular season. But the new regular season starts this week, as you may have heard, and by next Tuesday our voters are going to have fresh 2011 results on which to base their picks. With that in mind, I present the NFC East teams and their positions in the final Power Rankings before the start of the real games.

4. Philadelphia Eagles (Last ranking: 3)

14. Dallas Cowboys (16)

15. New York Giants (11)

28. Washington Redskins (29)

First glance tells me our distinguished panel has allowed preseason results and performances to affect opinions. As you all know, I discourage that. But the Giants, whose ranking is the most different among our division's teams from the last poll, have suffered a couple of new injuries in the past couple of weeks, and that's the kind of thing that could justify adjusting expectations downward.

My opinion? Why, I'm glad you asked:

-I'd slide the Eagles down one spot and put them in between the Saints and the Falcons. I think the Saints are in for a fantastic year, and while I can't justify moving them ahead of the champs, I'd put them ahead of the Eagles for now. I think the collection of talent on the Eagles' roster is tremendous and could prove to be the best in the league before it's all said and done, but right now I have no issue ranking them behind the teams that have won the past two Super Bowls.

-The Cowboys rank one spot behind the Bears, which would leave them just on the outside of a playoff spot. I have them in the playoffs, so I guess I'd flip those rankings. But I'd probably drop the Bears even further, since I think they're in for a down year after last season's surprise.

-The Giants are one spot behind the Cowboys, and it does seem as though this is a conundrum for a lot of people -- Giants vs. Cowboys and their 2011 order of finish. I don't have an NFC team that's behind them that I'd rank ahead of them, though. (Love what the Lions and Rams are doing, just don't think they're there yet), and again I may rate them ahead of the Bears. Just on the outside looking in at the playoffs, is where I put the Giants.

-And the Redskins move up a spot! The voting did take place before the quarterback decision was announced. You know I don't think the Redskins are going to be this bad. I can make the case for them over any of the six teams directly in front of them in the poll, and I really don't think much of the 20th-ranked Vikings either.

But we'll see. And soon. It all starts so, so soon. I know I'm fired up, and I'm pretty sure y'all are too.

P.S. On a non-division note, as the only one of ESPN.com's preseason predictors who has the Chargers winning the Super Bowl, I enjoyed reading this.
Our Power Rankings to open the regular season were released Tuesday.

The San Diego Chargers (the highest-ranked team in the AFC West) are ranked 10th. That ranking caught the eye of Chris Sprow in an ESPN Insider piece. Sprow thinks the ranking is way too low. Sprow gives his reasoning why the Chargers -- who underachieved at 9-7 last season and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2005 -- should be ranked No. 4.

A major reason the Chargers were ranked lower than where Sprow thinks they belong is one of the five voters, NFL columnist Ashley Fox, ranked them 19th. Fox ranked the Raiders as the highest AFC West team at No. 15. Oakland is ranked No. 22 in the Power Rankings.

Fox explained why she chose San Diego so low. It's Oakland related: “I know I am in the minority here, but I think the Raiders are going to surprise people this year. I like the energy Hue Jackson brings. Darren McFadden took a huge leap last year. Jason Campbell is more comfortable now. The Raiders undoubtedly will miss Nnamdi Asomugha, but there is young talent across the defense. The Chargers had the No. 1 offense and defense last year, and still only finished 9-7 [and got swept by Oakland].”

I’m sure you can’t wait to react in the comments section below. Let the fun begin.
ESPN.com's weekly Power Rankings debuted Tuesday with this revelation: The NFC North is the most competitive division in football.

That's one way to look at this week's results from our five panelists, whose combined rankings for our teams averaged 12.7. That put the NFC North ahead of the NFC South (13.8 ranking average) and the NFC East (No. 3).

Of course, it helps when you have the No. 1 team in all the land. The Green Bay Packers finished last season as the Super Bowl XLV champions and begin 2011 atop our Week 1 Power Rankings.

Our voters didn't side with my preseason rankings for this division, so for now the Chicago Bears rank ahead of the Detroit Lions. ESPN.com's Mike Sando has a full analysis on the NFC West blog. Here are our filtered rankings:

1. Green Bay Packers
Comment: Only AFC North/East blogger James Walker voted for another team at No. 1. Walker chose the New England Patriots

13. Chicago Bears
Comment: The Bears are viewed with wide discrepancy. NFL columnist Ashley Fox had them No. 9, while AFC South blogger Paul Kuharsky ranked them No. 19.

16. Detroit Lions
Comment: Kuharsky was the only voter to have the Lions higher than the Bears. Smart man.

20. Minnesota Vikings
Comment: All five voters had the Vikings fourth in the division.

2011 Power Rankings: NFC West Week 1

September, 6, 2011
9/06/11
1:23
PM ET
The St. Louis Rams open the 2011 regular season at No. 17 in ESPN's NFL Power Rankings, their highest Week 1 positioning since opening 2007 in the same spot.

That 2007 team bottomed out at No. 32 by Week 5 and pretty much flat-lined from there, finishing the season at No. 29. The Rams were never higher than 25th in 2008 or 30th in 2009. They peaked last season at No. 16 and qualify as a team on the rise after significantly improving their win total last season.

The Rams are the only NFC West team to rank 20th or higher on all five ballots this week. Our newest panelist, Ashley Fox, separated by only one spot the Rams and Arizona Cardinals, who ranked second among NFC West teams at No. 21 overall. The rest of us ranked the Rams higher by 4-7 places in our rankings.

Three of five panelists ranked the San Francisco 49ers higher than the Seattle Seahawks, but Seattle edged San Francisco for the 25th overall spot because Fox and James Walker favored the Seahawks by relatively wide margins.

We'll have actual games by which to measure these teams a week from now. Imagine that.

Earlier: Ranking NFC West teams following training camps.

Power Rankings review and my ballot

September, 6, 2011
9/06/11
1:13
PM ET
Don’t put much into the preseason. We have to remind ourselves over and over not to factor what we’ve seen so far into what we anticipate when games start for real Thursday night.

I did not move anyone much in this week's ESPN.com NFL Power Rankings ballot. I am one of five voters and Mike Sando breaks down all five ballots here. Here is how the AFC South teams fared:

I dropped the Indianapolis Colts a bit because of the uncertainty surrounding Peyton Manning. It’s become clearer since voting that he’s not playing in the opener, so I might have dropped them a couple spots more. The Houston Texans against Kerry Collins will clarify things.

Houston and the Tennessee Titans got slight bumps from me for solid preseasons. The Jacksonville Jaguars dropped a slot for a poor showing and their failure to answer any of their big questions.

Other moves: the New York Giants dropped down because of defensive back questions; San Diego is up as I reassessed the AFC West; Washington moved up from last because its defense will offset the offense at times and makes the Redskins better than the Cincinnati Bengals and the Carolina Panthers at the outset.

Rip away. My mailbox is here, my ESPN Twitter here.

My ballot, with my vote in the previous poll in parenthesis.
  1. Green Bay (1)
  2. New England (2)
  3. New Orleans (3)
  4. Pittsburgh (5)
  5. Philadelphia (4)
  6. NY Jets (7)
  7. Atlanta (9)
  8. Baltimore (8)
  9. Indianapolis (6)
  10. Tampa Bay (11)
  11. Houston (13)
  12. Detroit (12)
  13. NY Giants (10)
  14. San Diego (16)
  15. Dallas (14)
  16. St. Louis (15)
  17. Oakland (18)
  18. Jacksonville (17)
  19. Chicago (20)
  20. Kansas City (19)
  21. Arizona (21)
  22. Tennessee (24)
  23. Minnesota (23)
  24. San Francisco (22)
  25. Seattle (25)
  26. Miami (26)
  27. Cleveland (27)
  28. Denver (30)
  29. Buffalo (28)
  30. Washington (32)
  31. Carolina (29)
  32. Cincinnati (31)

Looking at NFC South Power Rankings

September, 6, 2011
9/06/11
1:03
PM ET
The ESPN.com Week 1 Power Rankings are up and the NFC South has three teams in the top 12. For what it’s worth this time of year, let’s remind you that 12 teams make the playoffs.

The New Orleans Saints are No. 5 and the Atlanta Falcons are No. 6. Fair enough. In my eyes, you can flip a coin on these two NFC South powerhouses.

But what I’m wondering is, what happens if the Saints go up to Lambeau Field on Thursday night and beat No. 1-rated Green Bay? Winning on the road against the Super Bowl champs? Shouldn’t that automatically vault the Saints over the Eagles, Steelers and Patriots and into the No. 1 spot?

I think so. But we’ll worry about that if the Saints win.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers come into the season at No. 12. Not bad for the league’s youngest team. But we should get an early sense of what the Bucs are all about. On Sunday, they host Detroit, another young team that many think is on the rise.

In a bit of a surprise, the Carolina Panthers aren’t No. 32. Instead, they’re No. 31, one spot behind the Bengals. I’ve got a hunch the Panthers are going to be a lot better than last year. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if they win their opener. It’s at Arizona.

The Cardinals are ranked No. 21. Yeah, I know they’ve added quarterback Kevin Kolb, but is he really going to change things that much and that fast for a team that was 5-11 last season?

Power Rankings: How the voters voted

September, 6, 2011
9/06/11
12:45
PM ET
The New England Patriots have tightened their grip on the No. 2 spot in ESPN.com's NFL Power Rankings heading into Week 1.

They even secured a No. 1 ranking on one ballot as perceptions hardened that New England, and not so much Philadelphia, posed the greatest threat to the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers.

"I think the Patriots' additions of Chad Ochocinco, Albert Haynesworth, Brian Waters and Shaun Ellis should make them the favorites," panelist James Walker said in explaining why he put New England atop his ballot. "The Packers were the best team in February, but that doesn't automatically make them the best team in September. Super Bowl champions usually do not repeat."

The Patriots were the last team to do it, but their championship victories over Carolina and Philadelphia are fading memories. The NFL has crowned six champions since New England last won a title. But Tom Brady's excellence and the Patriots' offseason maneuvering caught voters' attention.


Four of five panelists ranked the Packers first and Patriots second on their ballots. Walker previously ranked the Eagles first, but he dropped them to third this time. Paul Kuharsky and I dropped Philadelphia one spot apiece.

Kuharsky has been higher than most on the Detroit Lions all along. He had them 18th in the final regular-season balloting from 2010, higher than anyone else had them. He's got them 12th this time, five to six spots higher than most other voters ranked them. And he's got them a full seven spots higher than Chicago.

"I'm just not a huge believer in the way the Bears are doing things," Kuharsky said. "You have to find a way to use Greg Olsen, not give him away for next to nothing. That offensive line isn't fixed. They won't get away with it two years in a row."

Walker was also among those shaking up things within a division. He's got Baltimore beating out defending AFC champion Pittsburgh for the AFC North title. He moved up the Steelers one spot to seventh on his ballot, but he moved up the Ravens one spot as well, to sixth.

"I picked the Ravens to win the AFC North back in July, so I'm staying loyal to my prediction and keeping Baltimore one spot higher," Walker said. "Sunday's game will determine if I made the right call."

The Indianapolis Colts, ranked ninth, could be the most volatile team heading into Week 1. Peyton Manning's shaky status is everything for that team.

"If they look bad with Kerry Collins in Houston, certainly my vote will reflect it in a major way," Kuharsky said.

Voters are already downgrading Seattle. The Seahawks fell six spots from our previous rankings, the biggest drop, as voters realized the team was serious about heading into the 2011 season with Tarvaris Jackson behind an offensive line that has not yet found its bearings.

And now, a closer look at the rankings heading into Week 1 ...

Rising (10): Houston Texans (+6), Minnesota Vikings (+5), Jacksonville Jaguars (+3), Pittsburgh Steelers (+2), Dallas Cowboys (+2), Lions (+2), Baltimore Ravens (+1), Oakland Raiders (+1), Washington Redskins (+1), Buffalo Bills (+1).

Falling (10): Seattle Seahawks (-6), Kansas City Chiefs (-4), New York Giants (-4), Tennessee Titans (-3), St. Louis Rams (-2), Carolina Panthers (-1), Cleveland Browns (-1), Colts (-1), New Orleans Saints (-1), Philadelphia Eagles (-1).

Unchanged (12) Packers, Patriots, Atlanta Falcons, New York Jets, San Diego Chargers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Chicago Bears, Arizona Cardinals, Miami Dolphins, San Francisco 49ers, Denver Broncos, Cincinnati Bengals.

Deadlocked: We broke three ties this week. San Diego prevailed over Houston at No. 10, Chicago prevailed over Dallas at No. 13 and Oakland prevailed over Tennessee for No. 22. The tiebreakers are, in order, head-to-head results, overall record, which team one most recently and previous ranking. Since no games have been played in this regular season, we used 2010 records to break ties.

Like minds: Every voter but Walker had the Packers first and the Patriots second. Four of five voters had the Ravens eighth.

Agree to disagree: The Raiders generated the largest disparity between highest and lowest votes. The gap between highest and lowest votes was at least seven spots for five teams:
  • Raiders (14): Ashley Fox ranked them 15th, higher than any other voter ranked them. Walker ranked them 29th, lower than any other voter ranked them.
  • Chargers (12): Sando and John Clayton seventh, Fox 19th.
  • Bears (10): Fox ninth, Kuharsky 19th.
  • Dolphins (7): Clayton 21st, Sando 28th.
  • Giants (7): Fox 11th, Clayton 18th.
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 North ranked highest with a 12.7 average ranking. The chart below shows how each voter ranked each division on average. Highest votes in red. Lowest votes in blue.

For download: An Excel file -- available here -- showing how each voter voted, high and low votes for each team, correlation between voters and divisional rankings. This file will expand in future weeks to include week-to-week comparisons and a "powerflaws" sheet showing potential inconsistencies on voters' ballots.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Insider

NFL SCOREBOARD

Thursday, 9/18
Sunday, 9/21
Monday, 9/22
WEEKLY LEADERS