NFL Nation: 2011 Week 15 NFL power rankings

NFL Power Rankings: The AFC South

December, 13, 2011
12/13/11
9:14
PM ET
The AFC South can’t lose much in ESPN’s NFL Power Rankings. Last week it rated at the worst division with an average spot of 20.1, this week it actualy made a gain -- al the way to 19.6. Still last, of course.

I’m one-fifth of the ballot. Mike Sando breaks down the whole vote here.

If you want to contact me with your feedback, please do so via Twitter or the mailbag.

As for my complete ballot, the number in parenthesis is where I had the team ranked last week.
1) Green Bay (1)

2) Baltimore (2)

3) New Orleans (3)

4) Pittsburgh (5)

5) New England (6)

6) Houston (7)

7) San Francisco (4)

8) Denver (11)

9) NY Jets (8)

10) Atlanta (9)

11) NY Giants (16)

12) Tennessee (10)

13) Detroit (15)

14) Dallas (12)

15) Cincinnati (13)

16) San Diego (27)

17) Chicago (14)

18) Philadelphia (19)

19) Arizona (22)

20) Miami (17)

21) Oakland (18)

22) Seattle (21)

23) Buffalo (20)

24) Carolina (23)

25) Jacksonville (29)

26) Kansas City (24)

27) Tampa Bay (25)

28) Cleveland (26)

29) Washington (28)

30) Minnesota (30)

31) St. Louis (31)

32) Indianapolis (32)
A look at how the AFC North teams stand in ESPN's NFL Power Rankings. I don't have a vote, but I can certainly chime in:

BALTIMORE RAVENS

Power Ranking: No. 2

Record: 10-3

Comment: The Ravens remain No. 2 for the third straight week. Baltimore has rightfully been criticized for not taking care of business against the lower-tier teams this season. But the Ravens have beaten two last-place teams (Cleveland and Indianapolis) by a combined score of 48-20 the past two weeks. If the Ravens can win out, they'll be the AFC's top seed for the first time in their history.

PITTSBURGH STEELERS

Power Ranking: No. 4

Record: 10-3

Comment: The Steelers move up one spot because the 49ers lost, but many believe Pittsburgh was better than San Francisco anyway. Now, the Steelers get to prove it with a trip to San Francisco. Of course, this ranking is assuming that Ben Roethlisberger (high ankle sprain) can play. There's no denying that Pittsburgh (with a healthy Roethlisberger) and Baltimore are the two best teams in the AFC. Two of the top four teams in the power rankings reside in the AFC North. Quite impressive.

CINCINNATI BENGALS

Power Ranking: No. 15

Record: 7-6

Comment: Another loss, another drop one spot in the rankings. The Bengals still rank above two other 7-6 teams (Raiders and Bears), which is fair. You have to remember all six of the Bengals' losses have come against teams currently ranked in the top 9. Still, that loss to Houston probably cost them a playoff berth.

CLEVELAND BROWNS

Power Ranking: No. 29

Record: 4-9

Comment: This is how bad it's gotten for the Browns: The only teams under Cleveland are two two-win teams (Minnesota and St. Louis) and the winless team (Indianapolis). Cleveland played Pittsburgh tough and still lost to the Steelers and an injured Roethlisberger by 11 points. To update from last week, half of the Browns' wins have come against teams who have since fired their head coaches (Jacksonville and Miami).
It took five straight wins and a slip up from the San Francisco 49ers for the New England Patriots to earn their way back into the top five of ESPN.com's NFL Power Rankings. New England moved up one spot after beating the Washington Redskins this week.

The AFC East went 2-2 overall. Here is how the results impacted their ratings:

New England Patriots (10-3)

Results: W, 34-27 against Washington

Power Ranking: No. 5 (up one spot)

Walker’s vote: No. 5 (up one spot)

Analysis: The Patriots had a tougher-than-expected game against Washington. It was mainly because New England’s defense couldn’t find a way to stop Redskins quarterback Rex Grossman. That is concerning. The Patriots will face much better teams and quarterbacks in the playoffs. If they can’t stop Washington, who can they stop? But a win moved New England into the top five. The Patriots have an interesting matchup on Sunday against Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos.

New York Jets (8-5)

Results: W, 37-10 against Kansas City

Power Ranking: No. 10 (up one spot)

Walker’s vote: No. 10 (up two spots)

Analysis: The Jets continue to climb up ESPN.com’s Power Rankings. New York is back in the top 10 for the first time in a long time. The Jets have won three straight and are playing like a playoff team. They control their own destiny and currently hold the final wild card in the AFC. We will find out where New York really stands in the next two weeks when they travel to play the Philadelphia Eagles and host the New York Giants.

Buffalo Bills (5-8)

Results: L, 37-10 against San Diego

Power Ranking: No. 22 (down two spots)

Walker’s vote: No. 23 (down one spot)

Analysis: The Bills lost their sixth straight game. They were blown out by the San Diego Chargers. Buffalo is hurting and doesn’t have much left in the tank. The good news is Buffalo has a winnable game against Miami this week. Former Bills draft pick J.P. Losman could get the start for Miami. That should make the Bills the favorite at home.

Miami Dolphins (4-9)

Results: L, 26-10 against Philadelphia

Power Ranking: No. 23 (down one spot)

Walker’s vote: No. 22 (down two spots)

Analysis: The Dolphins finally let go of head coach Tony Sparano after losing to the Philadelphia Eagles. They were planning to do it at some point and rightfully got the head start on 2012. Miami will go with interim coach Todd Bowles. The Dolphins have a lot of injured players to keep an eye on this week, such as quarterback Matt Moore (head), left tackle Jake Long (back) and cornerback Vontae Davis (neck).

NFL Power Rankings: NFC East edition

December, 13, 2011
12/13/11
2:00
PM ET
Yeah, they're still ranking teams from our division in the weekly NFL Power Rankings here at ESPN.com. They have to rank all 32, no matter how mediocre. So let's take a look at how the NFC East's teams fared in this week's poll.

12. New York Giants (Last week: 16): Getting dangerously close to pineapple territory again, the Giants jump up four spots as a result of their stirring comeback victory Sunday night in Dallas. It has become clear that the Giants have an elite offense and a rotten defense that's been shredded by injuries, but that they have a knack for finding ways to win some games it doesn't appear they should win. That tough six-game stretch we talked about so much early in the season is over, and they went 2-4, winning the first in New England and the last in Dallas. Things ease up a little bit now, but not much. The Redskins are likely to give them a game. The Jets are rolling now and trying to get themselves in the playoffs. And then it's the Cowboys again in Week 17. If the Giants hold or improve this ranking, they'll have earned it.

14. Dallas Cowboys (9): What a difference a blocked kick can make. The Giants are this week's biggest riser and the Cowboys are this week's biggest faller. I can't help but wonder how dramatically different the rankings would have looked if that seesaw game had teetered the other way. But it did not, as we have discussed, and the defensively challenged Cowboys tumble and face the final three games without their starting running back. Dallas actually tied for 13th this week but lost the tiebreaker due to the Titans' having won more recently. So you could argue them ahead of Tennessee, sure, but then the next three teams ahead of them all beat them, so you kind of run out of argument a little bit there.

21. Philadelphia Eagles (24): A road win in Miami is a good win right now, the way the Dolphins have been playing, so the Eagles get the win and slide up three spots. Just 17 more gets them back to their preseason ranking! Again, as with Dallas, there are a bunch of teams right in front of them -- Seattle, Arizona, Chicago -- that all beat them head-to-head. So the ranking looks about right.

27. Washington Redskins (27): Unchanged after they played the Patriots to the wire and lost. The Redskins are 4-9, assured of a third straight losing season and currently lined up for the fifth pick in the draft. Hasn't gone great, though there are always those memories of Week 6, when they were ranked 10th in this poll. Do I think they're better than the Chiefs and the Jaguars, who are directly in front of them? Sure. But this is the neighborhood in which they belong at this point.

NFL Power Rankings: Saints rise

December, 13, 2011
12/13/11
1:30
PM ET
The New Orleans Saints now are the second-best team in the NFC. That’s according to the latest edition of the ESPN.com Power Rankings.

The Saints moved up to No. 3 after being stuck at No. 4 each of the past two weeks. They also jumped over the San Francisco 49ers, who had been ranked ahead of them in recent weeks. But the 49ers lost and tumbled all the way to No. 6. That leaves the Saints behind only the No. 1 Green Bay Packers and the No. 2 Baltimore Ravens.

Although the Atlanta Falcons rallied in the second half to win at Carolina, that victory didn’t seem to score many points with the voters. The Falcons stayed put at No. 8. But their ranking is fourth-best among NFC teams.

In a mild surprise, the Panthers lost to Atlanta, but still moved up one spot to No. 24. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who opened the season at No. 12, dropped two more spots to No. 28 as their losing streak reached seven games.

NFL Power Rankings: How they voted

December, 13, 2011
12/13/11
12:30
PM ET

Sorry, NFC West fans, but it's tough to blame East Coast bias for this one.

A West Coast team, San Diego, bore responsibility for the Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals losing ground in ESPN's NFL Power Rankings despite victories in Week 14.

Those unwilling to fault the Chargers can find the real culprit right here, on the AFC South blog. Paul Kuharsky moved up San Diego 11 spots on his ballot, enough to bump the Chargers past the Seahawks and Cardinals.

San Diego moved up three spots to No. 18. Arizona and Seattle, a combined 9-3 since Week 9, each fell one spot.

"It was a market adjustment," Kuharsky explained. "I probably dropped the Chargers too much last week based off the losing streak, even as they beat Jacksonville. They've played well the last two weeks and didn't deserve to be behind some of the teams I had them behind."

The Chargers do not play the Seahawks or Cardinals this season, but if they did right now, Kuharsky said he'd take San Diego on a neutral field. Voters had varied opinions on San Diego overall. James Walker (15th) and Kuharsky (16th) were on the high end. Ashley Fox and I had them down at No. 20.

The Cardinals and Seahawks weren't the only NFC West teams falling in the rankings. The San Francisco 49ers dropped three spots to No. 6 after losing at Arizona. Thus ended an eight-week stretch with the 49ers ranked between second and fourth.

New Orleans, Pittsburgh and New England moved past the 49ers, but a San Francisco victory over the Steelers in Week 15 would change perceptions once again.

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

Rising (11): New York Giants (+4), Jacksonville Jaguars (+3), Philadelphia Eagles (+3), San Diego Chargers (+3), Carolina Panthers (+1), Denver Broncos (+1), Detroit Lions (+1), New England Patriots (+1), New Orleans Saints (+1), New York Jets (+1), Pittsburgh Steelers (+1).

Falling (11): Dallas Cowboys (-5), San Francisco 49ers (-3), Buffalo Bills (-2), Kansas City Chiefs (-2), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-2), Arizona Cardinals (-1), Cincinnati Bengals (-1), Cleveland Browns (-1), Miami Dolphins (-1), Oakland Raiders (-1), Seattle Seahawks (-1).

Unchanged (10): Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore Ravens, Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Minnesota Vikings, St. Louis Rams, Tennessee Titans, Washington Redskins.

Deadlocked: We broke one tie this week. The Titans prevailed over the Cowboys at No. 13 based on the third tiebreaker (which team won most recently). The first tiebreaker (head-to-head results) did not come into play. The second tiebreaker (overall record) was indecisive.

Like minds: All five voters ranked the Packers first, the Ravens second, the Rams 31st and the Colts 32nd. Four voters ranked the Saints third and the Steelers fourth.

Agree to disagree: We all knew the Raiders were likely going to lose on the road against the unbeaten Packers. John Clayton decided against penalizing the Raiders too heavily. He moved them down only one spot to No. 10.

Kuharsky dropped them from 18th to 21st, leaving an 11-spot gap between highest and lowest votes for Oakland. No team generated a wider disparity among voters.

A look at the eight teams generating disagreements of at least five spots:
  • Raiders (11): Clayton 10th, Kuharsky 21st.
  • Titans (7): Sando 10th, Fox 17th.
  • Redskins (7): Sando 22nd, Fox 29th.
  • Chargers (5): Walker 15th, Sando and Fox 20th.
  • Seahawks (5): Sando 17th, Kuharsky 22nd.
  • Bills (5): Clayton and Fox 21st, Sando 26th.
  • Dolphins (5): Kuharsky 20th, Sando and Clayton 25th.
  • Jaguars (5): Sando 23rd, Fox 28th.
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 AFC North (12.4 average) maintained the highest ranking on average, well ahead of teams from the NFC North (14.8). The AFC South was the lowest-rated division.


A voter-by-voter look at changes of at least five spots since last week:
  • Sando: Chiefs (-5), Eagles (+5), Jaguars (+7).
  • Clayton: None.
  • Kuharsky: Chargers (+11).
  • Walker: Eagles (+5).
  • Fox: Cowboys (-6).
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.

None of our top six teams this week has defeated a higher-ranked team. Houston is the only top-10 team with a victory over a higher-ranked opponent. The seventh-ranked Texans defeated the fourth-ranked Steelers.

It's somewhat uncommon for more than a few teams to rank lower than three of the opponents they have defeated. The Raiders, Seahawks, Bills, Chiefs, Redskins and Browns fall into that category this week.

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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