NFL Nation: 2011 Week 4 power rankings

The following is a look at how the AFC West teams fared in our Week 4 NFL Power Rankings. I do not have a vote, but of course, I have an opinion:

San Diego Chargers

Power ranking: 9

My range: 6-8

Why: The Chargers are one of the NFL’s better teams. But injuries and sloppy play on offense are reasons for concern.

Oakland Raiders

Power ranking: 13

My range: 9-11

Why: The Raiders are getting some love after a big win over the Jets. They jumped up the rankings and one ESPN Insider thinks they should be ranked even higher. Insider

Denver Broncos

Power ranking: 26

My range: 25-27

Why: The Broncos are ranked where they should be ranked. But there is hope down the road. The defense has improved and they have lost both games by a total of six points.

Kansas City Chiefs

Power ranking: 32

My range: 31-32

Why: The Chiefs have finally hit the bottom of the rankings. There are five winless teams in the NFL and the voters think the Chiefs are the worst team in the league. Now, that they have hit the bottom of the rankings, the Chiefs likely won’t move up until they win. But they do play fellow winless teams, Minnesota and Indianapolis, in the next two games.
Three games is still a small sample size, but it’s big enough for me to start adjusting some of my preseason expectations as I cast a ballot in the ESPN.com NFL Power Rankings.

I liked Atlanta, Philadelphia and St. Louis in the buildup to the season. All three rank as disappointments so far. I’ve got the Falcons down 10 spots, the Eagles down 10 spots and the Rams down eight.

Meanwhile, I kick myself for underrating the Raiders. They are legit and jumped eight spots after the win over the Jets.

The Bills, the best story in the NFL so far, also vaulted eight slots.

Reminder: I have just one of five ballots. You’ll find a roundup of all of them here. And mine is also below. I welcome your comments in my mailbag or via Twitter, just please make them based on what I’ve done, not what the full panel has done.

Here’s the AFC South:


The one thing that stood out to me regarding AFC South teams is that Ashley Fox has the Texans 18th.

"I really look at 8-18 as being virtually interchangeable at this point," she said. "They are good, but not yet great teams. All have the potential of moving up significantly, or falling off. I penalized the Texans because they have beaten two of the worst teams in the league in Indianapolis and Miami, and then collapsed against one of the best. But they certainly could be back in the top 10 in a matter of weeks."

Reasonable, I think, so go easy on her, Houston.

As for my complete ballot, the number in parenthesis is where I had the team ranked last week.
  1. Green Bay (1)
  2. New England (2)
  3. New Orleans (4)
  4. Baltimore (6)
  5. Detroit (9)
  6. Houston (5)
  7. N.Y. Jets (3)
  8. Pittsburgh (10)
  9. Tampa Bay (11)
  10. Buffalo (18)
  11. Oakland (19)
  12. San Diego (14)
  13. N.Y. Giants (17)
  14. Tennessee (16)
  15. Dallas (13)
  16. Washington (15)
  17. Atlanta (7)
  18. Philadelphia (8)
  19. Chicago (12)
  20. Arizona (20)
  21. Carolina (24)
  22. Cleveland (28)
  23. Jacksonville (22)
  24. San Francisco (25)
  25. Seattle (31)
  26. Denver (26)
  27. Cincinnati (27)
  28. St. Louis (20)
  29. Miami (23)
  30. Indianapolis (29)
  31. Minnesota (30)
  32. Kansas City (32)

NFL Power Rankings: East in the middle

September, 27, 2011
9/27/11
2:00
PM ET
It's Power Rankings day, and we've got plenty of movement among our division's teams in this week's rankings -- all of it toward and around the middle of the pack. As ever, we list our teams in the order in which they appear in this week's Power Rankings poll:

11. Dallas Cowboys (Last week's rank: 13): Moving on up thanks to Monday night's comeback victory over the Redskins, the Cowboys got a ninth-place vote from Ashley Fox and a 10th-place vote from John Clayton. They certainly have the talent to rank among the top teams in the league, when everyone is healthy, and they're showing an ability to win games in the face of adversity. You could make a case for them over the two AFC teams directly in front of them -- the Steelers and Chargers -- but they're at their highest ranking of the year so far and moving in the right direction.

12. New York Giants (18): Big jump for the G-men after Sunday's big road win in Philadelphia. The defense, led by Justin Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul and Michael Boley, has been the key to the Giants in spite of the injuries they've suffered in the secondary and the linebacking corps. And if they can continue to commit to the run with Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs the way they did Sunday, they might just be able to weather their problems. You know I'm not a believer in the Giants' ability to sustain success over the course of this full season, but based on the way they've played so far, they've earned this ranking.

16. Washington Redskins (15): Think what a win Monday night could have done. It would have made the Redskins 3-0 and possibly vaulted them into the top six along with undefeated surprises Buffalo and Detroit. But they couldn't hold on, so they sink back toward the middle. Clayton's the biggest Skins booster among the voters, as he has them 11th, while Ashley has them 18th. I might have slid them ahead of any or all of the four teams in front of them, including the Giants, whom they beat Week 1. But I can understand the lingering skepticism.

17. Philadelphia Eagles (6): The Eagles are tied for the biggest drop of the week with the Atlanta Falcons, who fell from No. 8 to No. 19. The Michael Vick injury, the loss to the Giants, the concerns over the linebackers and the offensive line and the general bad vibes going on around the so-far disappointing Eagles all likely contributed to the drop. Paul Kuharsky, never their biggest believer in the first place, has them 18th, and James Walker ranked them the highest at No. 13. Obviously, I think they'll be better in the long run than the Redskins, Titans, Buccaneers, Raiders, Giants and probably Cowboys, but we're getting to the point where you have to be judged on your record, and the Eagles are 1-2. Can't fault the ranking as of now.

Your thoughts?
Here's my reaction to ESPN's Week 4 Power Rankings. I don't have a vote, but I have an opinion:

RAVENS

Ranking: No. 5

Record: 2-1

Reaction: There's really no argument here. The Ravens are behind the likes of Green Bay, New Orleans, New England and Detroit. If the Ravens hadn't slipped up at Tennessee, Baltimore could make a case for being No. 2. But this is about right considering the body of work.

STEELERS

Ranking: No. 10

Record: 2-1

Reaction: For the second straight week, the Steelers fall a spot after a win. It was a head-scratcher when it happened last week after Pittsburgh routed Seattle. This time, you can't find any fault in dropping the Steelers down one spot after just getting past Indianapolis. The Steelers aren't clicking yet. Sunday's game at Houston is a chance for Pittsburgh to move up.

BROWNS

Ranking: No. 21

Record: 2-1

Reaction: That Week 1 gaffe against the Bengals is hurting the Browns because you can't put them above San Francisco after the 49ers just won at Cincinnati. The Browns have done enough the past two weeks to merit a top-20 ranking, but it's difficult to complain when they move up eight spots (second biggest jump behind the Bills). Remember it was a couple of weeks ago when Cleveland was in last place.

BENGALS

Ranking: No. 27

Record: 1-2

Reaction: The Bengals only rank above the five winless teams. So, they're the worst one-win team in the league. There's not much of a debate after that 13-8 loss to the 49ers, who rarely win in the Eastern Time Zone these days.
The latest edition of the ESPN.com Power Rankings is out and we’ve got some interesting developments across the NFC South.

The New Orleans Saints have moved up two spots to No. 2. They are behind only the Green Bay Packers, a team the Saints played right down to the wire in Week 1. I’m sure there are some Buffalo and Detroit fans that will argue their undefeated teams should be ahead of the Saints.

But I think the voters made the right call on New Orleans. The Saints have had quality wins against Chicago and Houston and they were more than respectable in the loss to Green Bay. Let’s see Buffalo and Detroit do it for a few more weeks before we firmly believe in them.

The other big NFC South storyline is the Atlanta Falcons tumbling to No. 19. They fell 11 spots after a loss to Tampa Bay. Sounds about right. I still think the Falcons are loaded with talent and can turn this thing around. But, if they keep playing like they have so far, they belong in the bottom half of the rankings.

The Carolina Panthers jumped up five spots to No. 22 after their first victory of the season. There’s no doubt Carolina is a much better team than it was a year ago. But I think the voters might be getting a little caught up on Cam Newton. The rookie quarterback was outstanding in his first two games, but kind of ordinary in the victory against Jacksonville, which is not a very good team. The Panthers are an improving team, but I’m not sure they’re worthy of being No. 22 just yet.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about the NFC South in this week’s rankings is that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers stayed put at No. 14. That’s after a very nice win against the Falcons. In that game, Tampa Bay’s young defense really seemed to take a step forward. But it seems like the voters aren’t buying into the Buccaneers just yet. I asked NFC West colleague Mike Sando, who is on the panel, about why the Buccaneers didn’t move up. Sando had them at No. 17, lower than any other voter and he said that wasn’t really a knock on Tampa Bay. Instead, he said it’s more of a reflection of his thought that Atlanta is not nearly as good as everyone expected and that took some luster away from Tampa Bay’s win.

NFL Power Rankings: How they voted

September, 27, 2011
9/27/11
1:00
PM ET
One of the NFL's more fascinating weekends shook up ESPN's Power Rankings.

Voters agreed on the top (Green Bay) and bottom (Kansas City). A food fight broke out in between. New Orleans, New England, Detroit, Baltimore and Buffalo rounded out the top six even though there was little consensus among voters.

John Clayton honored won-lost records in moving 3-0 Detroit and 3-0 Buffalo into the top three spots on his ballot. Paul Kuharsky left the Bills all the way down at No. 10, eight spots lower than the New England team they defeated Sunday. Ashley Fox showed similar restraint on Buffalo while listing the Lions eighth, lower than anyone else ranked them.

We've got some explaining to do, in other words.

"Normally, in the third week of the season, I try to take account of who beat teams where and when," Clayton said. "I put Detroit and Buffalo near the top because they are 3-0 and they have quality wins. The Lions have two road victories. Impressive. The Bills have beaten the Patriots and a Raiders team that is making some noise of being in contention for the playoffs."

What say you, Kuharsky?

"I see the Patriots' loss to the Bills as a blip -- a great result for Buffalo, but a blip for the Patriots," he said. "Brady's not throwing picks like that again this season. I jumped the Bills eight spots, which is a ton. I never jump a mid- or low-ranked team that beats a high-ranked team all the way above the team they've beaten. It give too much weight to one game."

James Walker joined me and Fox in listing Green Bay, New Orleans and New England at the top. I put the Lions and Bills in my top five. They did not. I would have moved the Bills past the Patriots if they had beaten New England on the road or if they had controlled the game from start to finish. Buffalo's comeback was impressive and compelling, but not quite enough for me to move the Bills all the way past New England on my ballot.

"The challenge this early is weighing which teams are playing well versus which teams are truly better," Walker said. "Is Philadelphia a better team than Oakland? Absolutely. Are the Eagles playing better than Oakland right now? Probably not. It’s a delicate balance weighing the short and long term."

Baltimore and Tampa Bay were among the teams languishing on some ballots despite their victories. And the previously unbeaten Houston Texans dropped all the way to No. 17 on Fox's ballot following their defeat at New Orleans.

"I really look at Nos. 8-18 as being virtually interchangeable at this point," Fox said. "They are good, but not yet great teams. All have the potential of moving up significantly, or falling off. I penalized the Texans because they have beaten two of the worst teams in the league in Indianapolis and Miami, and then collapsed against one of the best. But they certainly could be back in the top 10 in a matter if weeks."

And now, a closer look at the rankings heading into Week 4 ...

Rising (14): Buffalo Bills (+10), Cleveland Browns (+8), Seattle Seahawks (+8), Detroit Lions (+7), Oakland Raiders (+7), New York Giants (+6), Carolina Panthers (+5), San Diego Chargers (+3), San Francisco 49ers (+3), Baltimore Ravens (+2), Dallas Cowboys (+2), New Orleans Saints (+2), Tennessee Titans (+2), Cincinnati Bengals (+1).

Falling (15): Atlanta Falcons (-11), Philadelphia Eagles (-11), St. Louis Rams (-9), Chicago Bears (-8), Arizona Cardinals (-4), Jacksonville Jaguars (-4), Miami Dolphins (-4), New York Jets (-4), Houston Texans (-3), Denver Broncos (-2), Minnesota Vikings (-2), Kansas City Chiefs (-1), New England Patriots (-1), Pittsburgh Steelers (-1), Washington Redskins (-1).

Unchanged (3): Green Bay Packers, Indianapolis Colts, Tampa Bay Bucs.

Deadlocked: We broke three ties this week. Tennessee prevailed over Washington at No. 15 based on the third tiebreaker (which team won most recently). Seattle prevailed over Jacksonville at No. 24 based on the third tiebreaker. Miami prevailed over Indianapolis at No. 29 based on the fourth tiebreaker (previous ranking).

Like minds: All voters ranked the Packers first and the Chiefs 32nd.

Agree to disagree: The Texans generated the largest gap between highest and lowest votes. Walker ranked them fifth, higher than any voter ranked them. Fox ranked them 17th, lower than any voter ranked them. A look at the six teams generating gaps of at least eight spots between high and low votes:
  • Texans (12): Walker fifth, Fox 17th.
  • Ravens (10): Kuharsky and Walker fourth, Clayton 14th.
  • Steelers (9): Fox sixth, Clayton 15th.
  • Raiders (9): Clayton eighth, Walker 17th.
  • Bucs (8): Kuharsky ninth, Sando 17th.
  • Vikings (8): Walker 23rd, Kuharsky 31st.
Power rankings histories: These colorful layered graphs show where each NFL team has ranked every week since the 2002 season.

Ranking the divisions: The AFC East overtook the AFC North as the highest-ranked division on average. 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 eight spots since last week:
  • Sando: Falcons (-11), Bears (-11), Eagles (-9), Cardinals (-8), Rams (-8), Raiders (+8), Giants (+8), Lions (+8), Bills (+8).
  • Clayton: Falcons (-11), Bears (-11), Rams (-10), Jaguars (-8), Giants (+8), Seahawks (+8), Raiders (+11), Bills (+12).
  • Kuharsky: Falcons (-10), Eagles (-10), Rams (-8), Bills (+8), Raiders (+8).
  • Walker: Falcons (-9), Cardinals (-8), Eagles (-8), Giants (+9), Bills (+10).
  • Fox: Eagles (-10), Rams (-9), Texans (-8), Chiefs (-8), Browns (+9), Bills (+10), Seahawks (+10).
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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