NFL Nation: 2011 Week 16 NFL power rankings

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. 5

Record: 10-4

Comment: The Ravens fall an expected three spots after being No. 2 for three straight weeks. Losing at the Chargers brought up a nagging issue for Baltimore, which is 4-4 this season against teams that had losing records at the time. The Ravens are in the right spot in the rankings, sitting right behind the Patriots (who are on course for the AFC's top seed). Baltimore can earn the No. 2 seed by winning out.

PITTSBURGH STEELERS

Power Ranking: No. 6

Record: 10-4

Comment: The Steelers slipped a couple of spots after losing at San Francisco. It's difficult to give the Steelers an accurate ranking at this point. You could argue Pittsburgh is a top-3 team when Ben Roethlisberger is healthy. But the Steelers might not be a top-10 one if an injured Roethlisberger can't perform any better than Monday night. Pittsburgh is 1-4 against teams ranked in the top 7.

CINCINNATI BENGALS

Power Ranking: No. 13

Record: 8-6

Comment: Cincinnati moved up a couple of places with a win at St. Louis. This ranking is the perfect spot for the Bengals. They are the only team with a winning record outside the top 12 for a reason. Cincinnati wouldn't make the postseason if the season ended today, so the Bengals are one spot below the 12 teams that would qualify for the playoffs.

CLEVELAND BROWNS

Power Ranking: No. 28

Record: 4-10

Comment: The Browns fell apart in the fourth quarter in an overtime loss at Arizona, but they managed to inch one spot up as the free-falling Buccaneers dropped below them. The biggest drama remaining this season is whether Seneca Wallace or Colt McCoy will finish out the final two games. And, in case anyone forgot, half of the Browns' wins this season have come against teams who have since fired their head coaches (Jacksonville and Miami).

NFL Week 16 Power Rankings: NFC North

December, 20, 2011
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Checking in on ESPN.com's Week 16 Power Rankings:

1. Green Bay Packers
Trending: Still unanimous after the Packers' first loss of the season.

9. Detroit Lions
Trending: Up two after a 28-27 victory over the Oakland Raiders.

21. Chicago Bears
Trending: Down four after a 38-14 loss to the Seattle Seahawks.

30. Minnesota Vikings
Trending: No change after a 42-20 loss to the New Orleans Saints.

NFL Power Rankings: East meets middle

December, 20, 2011
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What a great division ours is for the NFL Power Rankings. One week the Giants are up and the Cowboys are down. The next week it's the opposite. The long-forgotten Eagles and Redskins are making noise again, and there's just absolutely no way to know what it's all going to look like this time next week. The upshot is that none of the teams in the NFC East is particularly good or at all consistent, but we love our division nonetheless and we check every week to see how its teams are doing in the rankings.

10. Dallas Cowboys (Last week: 14). Lots of consensus on the Cowboys. Every voter has them ranked 11th except James Walker, whose ninth-place vote apparently pushes the Cowboys into the top 10. They had a gimme game in Tampa Bay and took care of it while the Giants stumbled against the Redskins. I think they're ranked right about where they deserve to be at this point, and I'm sorry I don't have anything interesting to say about it.

16. New York Giants (12). The Giants tied the Seahawks for 15th but lost the tiebreaker because, as you may recall, the Seahawks beat them. So it's a four-spot drop for the Giants, who are back at .500 with two weeks left in their season and no way to stop an opposing offense. As is the case with Dallas, it's hard to argue this ranking. They're a .500 team. Middle of the pack, and ranked accordingly. I think they got too high at several points this year, but I never thought they were any worse than right around 15th or 16th.

18. Philadelphia Eagles (21). James has these guys 13th, which helps the rankings, and he just watched them annihilate the Jets, so I guess he was impressed. The Eagles do look awfully impressive when things are clicking for them, and with Jason Babin punishing quarterbacks and the defense hitting its stride, that's what's going on right now. There's no doubt the Eagles should have been a top-tier team in the league this year. Their failures in the first three quarters of the season doomed them to the back half of these rankings.

25. Washington Redskins (27). A road win in New York and a season sweep of the Giants earns the Redskins a two-point bump in the rankings. I think they're better than a couple of the teams in front of them, but they did lose to the Panthers and jeez, the Chiefs just beat the Packers so you have to hand it to them. A strong finish with victories over the Vikings and Eagles could push Washington well above the No. 28 ranking with which it began this season.

NFL Power Rankings: The AFC South

December, 20, 2011
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Three losses meant a collective drop of eight spots for the AFC South in the new edition of the ESPN.com NFL Power Rankings.

The Titans fell seven spots thanks to their loss to the previously winless Colts while the Jaguars dropped one spot after getting thrashed in Atlanta.

The most interesting element of this week’s balloting to me was that one voter, NFC West blogger Mike Sando, moved the Colts up to 31st, dropping St. Louis to last after Indy’s win over Tennessee. The rest of us left the Colts 32nd despite the win, the same way all of us left the Packers first after their loss to Kansas City.

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

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

Here’s the AFC South:



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

2) New Orleans (3)

3) San Francisco (7)

4) Baltimore (2)

5) Pittsburgh (4)

6) New England (5)

7) Houston (6)

8) Atlanta (10)

9) Detroit (13)

10) Denver (8)

11) Dallas (14)

12) NY Jets (9)

13) NY Giants (11)

14) Cincinnati (15)

15) Tennessee (12)

16) San Diego (16)

17) Seattle (22)

18) Chicago (17)

19) Philadelphia (18)

20) Arizona (19)

21) Miami (20)

22) Oakland (21)

23) Carolina (24)

24) Kansas City (26)

25) Washington (29)

26) Buffalo (23)

27) Jacksonville (25)

28) Cleveland (28)

29) Tampa Bay (27)

30) Minnesota (30)

31) St. Louis (31)

32) Indianapolis (32)

NFL Power Rankings, AFC West-style

December, 20, 2011
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Here's a look at how the AFC West teams fared in our Week 16 NFL Power Rankings. I do not have a vote, but I do have an opinion.

Denver Broncos

Power ranking: 11

My range: 11-13

Comment: Against New England, Denver learned what not to do against a good team.

San Diego Chargers

Power ranking: 14

My range: 14-16

Comment: Here come the Chargers. Is it too late?

Oakland Raiders

Power ranking: 19

My range: 17-19

Comment: Raiders aren’t that bad, but this losing streak comes at a bad time.

Kansas City Chiefs

Power ranking: 22

My range: 21-23

Comment: Beating Green Bay was the highlight of a frustrating season.

NFL Power Rankings: AFC East

December, 20, 2011
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The New England Patriots won their sixth straight game and continue to gradually climb up ESPN.com's NFL Power Rankings.

Here is how Week 15 impacted the division:

New England Patriots (11-3)

Results: W, 41-23 against Denver

Power Ranking: No. 4 (up one spot)

Walker’s vote: No. 3 (up two spots)

Analysis: I think the Patriots got shafted a little this week. The Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens lost ahead of New England, but the Patriots only moved up one spot. The San Francisco 49ers jumped the Patriots after a big win over the Steelers on "Monday Night Football." Either way, the Patriots just need to win their final two home games against Miami and Buffalo to secure home-field advantage throughout the AFC. New England will be hard to beat at Gillette Stadium in the playoffs if quarterback Tom Brady continues to play at an MVP level.

New York Jets (8-6)

Results: L, 45-19 against Philadelphia

Power Ranking: No. 12 (down two spots)

Walker’s vote: No. 14 (down four spots)

Analysis: The Jets continued their trend of not showing up on the road. They fell to 2-5 away from MetLife Stadium with an embarrassing 45-19 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. The Jets played their worst game all season and dropped two spots in ESPN.com's Power Rankings. I voted New York No. 14 and NFC West blogger Mike Sando vote the Jets the lowest at No. 15.

Miami Dolphins (5-9)

Results: W, 30-23 against Buffalo

Power Ranking: No. 23 (same)

Walker’s vote: No. 22 (same)

Analysis: The Dolphins are finally ahead of the Bills in the Power Rankings. I've been voting Miami ahead of Buffalo for weeks after watching both teams trend in opposite directions. Our panel finally was convinced after Miami swept Buffalo in the season series. The Dolphins deserve a lot of credit for playing hard in the second half of the season, despite inner turmoil and the eventual firing of former head coach Tony Sparano. Miami has two tough games against the Patriots and Jets to finish the season.

Buffalo Bills (5-9)

Results: L, 30-23 against Miami

Power Ranking: No. 26 (down four spots)

Walker’s vote: No. 26 (down three spots)

Analysis: The Bills continue to drop after their seventh consecutive loss. The defense hasn't stopped anyone in weeks and quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has been too streaky and inconsistent to lift his team. Buffalo needs to take a hard look at its roster in the offseason. The defense needs a major overhaul, but the offense also needs several pieces. Until then, Buffalo needs to try to win at least one of these next two games to help with confidence.

NFL Power Rankings: Saints No. 2

December, 20, 2011
12/20/11
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The New Orleans Saints took another step up in the latest edition of the ESPN.com Power Rankings.

The Saints, who have won six straight games, moved from No. 3 to No. 2. All five voters had the Saints at No. 2, one spot behind the Green Bay Packers.

Despite an easy win against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Thursday night, the Atlanta Falcons stayed put at No. 8. I’m not on the panel of voters, but I think I would have put the Falcons in front of the Ravens and Steelers, the two teams ranked immediately in front of them.

But my biggest gripe with this week’s vote is that the Carolina Panthers stayed put at No. 24. That comes after the biggest victory the Panthers have had in the past few seasons. They went on the road to Houston and beat a good team Sunday. I think they should have jumped up at least a couple of spots.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers fell one spot to No. 29 as they lost their eighth straight game and were embarrassed at home by Dallas. Winning four games early on and the ineptitude of the Vikings, Rams and Colts are the only things keeping the Bucs from ranking in the 30s. But there’s still time for them to get there.

NFL Power Rankings: How they voted

December, 20, 2011
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When the NFC West looks down, it sees not only the AFC South, but also the once-mighty NFC East. The view is more pleasing than at any point since divisional realignment in 2002.

Consider it a historic shift, a watershed moment, the week when light finally shined upon the no-longer-worst division in football -- except, of course, when power outages at Candlestick Park temporarily left San Francisco and Pittsburgh in the dark.

The 49ers' 20-3 victory over the Steelers on "Monday Night Football" capped a 3-1 week for the NFC West, one that moved up three teams from the division in ESPN's NFL Power Rankings heading into Week 16.

The 49ers moved up two spots to No. 3, passing Baltimore and New England. The Seahawks improved a league-high five spots to No. 15 after blowing out the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. The Cardinals climbed two spots to No. 17 after beating Cleveland.

The St. Louis Rams remained 31st and ahead of Indianapolis even though I moved them down to No. 32 on my ballot. The other voters are forgiven. They likely had better things to do than watch every snap of St. Louis' 20-6 home defeat to an utterly unimpressive Cincinnati Bengals team.

Despite the Rams' low standing, NFC West teams ranked 16.8 on average, better than teams from the NFC East (17.5) and AFC South (21.6). NFC West teams ranked just below teams from the AFC East (16.5) and AFC West (16.4).

And now, a closer look at the rankings heading into Week 16:

Falling (11): Tennessee Titans (-7), Buffalo Bills (-4), Chicago Bears (-4), New York Giants (-4), Baltimore Ravens (-3), Oakland Raiders (-3), Denver Broncos (-2), New York Jets (-2), Pittsburgh Steelers (-2), Jacksonville Jaguars (-2), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-1).

Rising (12): Seattle Seahawks (+5), Dallas Cowboys (+4), San Diego Chargers (+4), Kansas City Chiefs (+3), San Francisco 49ers (+3), Arizona Cardinals (+2), Cincinnati Bengals (+2), Detroit Lions (+2), Washington Redskins (+2), Cleveland Browns (+1), New England Patriots (+1), New Orleans Saints (+1).

Unchanged (8): Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, Green Bay Packers, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Miami Dolphins, Minnesota Vikings, St. Louis Rams.

Deadlocked: We broke one tie this week. The Seahawks prevailed over the New York Giants at No. 15 based on the first tiebreaker, head-to-head results.

Like minds: All five voters ranked the Packers first, the Saint second and the Vikings 30th.

Agree to disagree: Walker continues to see the Eagles and Chargers as strong teams finally living up to its potential. Others continue to mark them down for overall struggles this season. That helps explain why Philly, more than any other team, invited polarizing views.

"I gave a lot of credence to how both teams are playing down the stretch in these important games," Walker said. "The Eagles and Chargers are two very dangerous teams right now. If either gets into the playoffs, look out."

Walker also kept New England ahead of the 49ers.

"The Patriots have won six straight games," he said. "The 49ers are 2-2 in their last four. San Francisco also lost the head-to-head with Baltimore. So I kept the Ravens ahead of the 49ers, too, despite an impressive win."

A look at the Eagles and the six other teams generating high-low disparities of at least six spots in the rankings:
  • Eagles (8): Walker ranked them 13th, higher than any other voter ranked them. Sando, Clayton and Fox ranked them 21st, lower than any other voters ranked them.
  • Cardinals (7): Sando 13th, Kuharsky 20th.
  • Raiders (7): Clayton 15th, Kuharsky 22nd.
  • Titans (7): Kuharsky 16th, Walker 23rd.
  • Bengals (6): Fox 10th, Sando 16th.
  • Chiefs (6): Sando 18th, Kuharsky 24th.
  • Seahawks (6): Sando 12th, Walker 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 AFC North (13.0 average) maintained the highest ranking on average, well ahead of teams from the NFC North (15.1). The AFC South was the lowest-rated division.

A voter-by-voter look at changes of at least five spots since last week:
  • Sando: Titans (-9), Giants (-6), Cardinals (+5), Seahawks (+5), Chargers (+6), Chiefs (+9).
  • Clayton: Bills (-5), Raiders (-5).
  • Kuharsky: Seahawks (+5).
  • Walker: Titans (-9), Chiefs (+6), Eagles (+6).
  • Fox: Giants (-5).
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.

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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