NFL Nation: 2011 Week 6 power rankings

NFL Power Rankings: NFC West focus

October, 11, 2011
10/11/11
5:00
PM ET
A few thoughts on NFC West teams and some opponents in relation to the NFL Power Rankings ballot I submitted:
  • San Francisco 49ers: They moved up eight spots to No. 9 on my ballot following a 48-3 victory over Tampa Bay. Improved play from the 49ers' offensive line and defensive secondary stood out. The obvious difference in coaching has exceeded reasonable expectations for the short term. The 49ers have one of the very best defenses in the league and a quarterback learning to limit turnovers. Anything less than an NFC West title will stand as a disappointment following the promise of this 4-1 start. I knocked down the Buccaneers six spots to No. 20 after what ranks as one of the least competitive performances in memory. Two of their three victories came in close games against Indianapolis and Minnesota. There is no argument for 48-3.
  • Seattle Seahawks: They jumped seven spots to No. 17 on my ballot, higher than any other ESPN.com voter ranked them. It's easy for those watching from afar to dismiss Seattle based on perceptions about the quarterback situation. Tarvaris Jackson and Charlie Whitehurst have avoided killer turnovers and they've increasingly made positive plays. The Seahawks had to sweat out their 36-25 victory over the New York Giants primarily because their running backs lost fumbles in the red zone twice. The offensive line is young and improving. The receivers are catching everything. The defense is young and already among the better units in the league. I knocked down the Giants nine spots to No. 18 because this outcome exposed shortcomings the team had ultimately overcome against Arizona in particular.
  • Arizona Cardinals: They fell four spots to No. 29 on my ballot after losing 34-10 to the previously winless Minnesota Vikings. That performance followed three consecutive narrow defeats. Critical mistakes on offense, defense and special teams made this a complete collapse. The Cardinals play four of six on the road following their bye, with home games against Pittsburgh and St. Louis. The Vikings moved up three spots on my ballot following this game.
  • St. Louis Rams: They were 32nd on my ballot heading into the bye and 32nd coming out. Losing starting cornerback Bradley Fletcher to a season-ending knee injury downgrades their prospects. Top receiver Danny Amendola also went on injured reserve.

I've posted by ballots from the first six weeks below, ordered by where I ranked them this week.

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NFL Power Rankings: AFC West style

October, 11, 2011
10/11/11
3:00
PM ET
The following is a look at how the AFC West teams fared in our Week 6 NFL Power Rankings. I do not have a vote, but I do have an opinion:

San Diego Chargers

Power ranking: 7

My range: 5-7

Why: The Chargers don’t impress many people, but 4-1 is pretty impressive, isn’t it?

Oakland Raiders

Power ranking: 11

My range: 11-13

Why: Can the memory of Al Davis continue to help the Raiders zoom up the rankings?

Kansas City Chiefs

Power ranking: 25

My range: 23-25

Why: The Chiefs deserve a lot of credit for steadily improving in a tough season.

Denver Broncos

Power ranking: 27

My range: 29-31

Why: Will Tim Tebow help the Broncos move up the ranking anytime soon?

NFL Power Rankings: NFC North

October, 11, 2011
10/11/11
2:32
PM ET
The NFL is about the Green Bay Packers and no one else, or so implies the nifty photo illustration on our NFL page that introduces ESPN.com's Week 6 Power Rankings. Some NFC North fans still recovering from Monday night might have something to say about that, but ultimately our voters consider the Packers far and away the league's best team.

Here's how the voting went for the NFC North:

1. Green Bay Packers
Trending:
They've been atop the rankings all season.

4. Detroit Lions
Trending:
John Clayton continues to support them at No. 2, but no other voter is willing to put them ahead of the New England Patriots or New Orleans Saints.

18. Chicago Bears
Trending:
No change after a 24-13 loss to the Lions.

26. Minnesota Vikings
Trending:
Up four after a 34-10 victory over the Arizona Cardinals.
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:

RAVENS

Power ranking: No. 5

Record: 3-1

Comment: The Ravens hold down the fifth spot for a third straight week, ranking behind Green Bay, New England, New Orleans and Detroit. You can still make an argument that they've been the most dominant team in the AFC. Baltimore has defeated the Steelers, Rams and Jets by an average margin of 25 points.

STEELERS

Power ranking: No. 8

Record: 3-2

Comment: The Steelers are back where they belong in the top-10. Pittsburgh received plenty of respect in this week's poll. The Steelers are the highest-ranked team with two losses and are ahead of two one-loss teams (San Francisco and Washington). But they are clearly better than those teams.

BENGALS

Power ranking: No. 20

Record: 3-2

Comment: The Bengals are getting no respect. Cincinnati sits behind three teams with losing records: the Jets, Bears and Falcons. Sure, the Bengals have soft wins over the Browns and Jaguars but their victory over Buffalo should carry more weight. It's going to be hard for the Bengals to make much of a move when they're playing Indianapolis and Seattle in their next two games.

BROWNS

Power ranking: No. 23

Record: 2-2

Comment: It must've been a bad bye week because the Browns dropped one spot. The reason is the Seahawks leapfrogged in front of them after their surprising win over the Giants. The Browns' record has an asterisk by it because their wins have come against two winless teams. That's a tough argument to counter at this point.

NFL Power Rankings: AFC East

October, 11, 2011
10/11/11
2:00
PM ET
The AFC East went 2-1 in Week 5. Here is how those games impacted this week's Power Rankings:

New England Patriots (4-1)

Result: W, 30-21 against the Jets

Power ranking: No. 2 (up one spot)

Walker's vote: No. 2 (up one spot)

Analysis: A less-than-stellar performance by the New Orleans Saints allowed the Patriots to climb one spot in this week's Power Rankings. New England had another great performance with a win over the Jets. Quarterback Tom Brady has been phenomenal, and now the running game is starting to gain steam. If the defense can make greater strides towards the second half of the season, New England will be very tough to beat.

Buffalo Bills (4-1)

Result: W, 31-24 against Philadelphia

Power ranking: No. 6 (up three spots)

Walker's vote: No. 7 (up three spots)

Analysis: The Bills climbed back near the top of the Power Rankings with an impressive win over the "Dream Team" Philadelphia Eagles. Buffalo dominated the game and led by 17 points after three quarters. The desperate Eagles made a push in the fourth but the Bills held on. Buffalo already matched its win total from last season. The Bills join the Detroit Lions as the darlings of the AFC and NFC, respectively.

New York Jets (2-3)

Result: L, 30-21 against New England

Power ranking: No. 17 (down three spots)

Walker's vote: No. 15 (down four spots)

Analysis: The Jets are slowly moving down the Power Rankings during their three-game losing streak. They were rated as low as No. 21 by our panel. I voted New York No. 15. I may be alone here, but I still think the Jets have potential. New York has more talent than most of the two- and three-win teams. The Jets just need to find their identity and put it all together. A game against the winless Dolphins could be the right time for the Jets get their swagger back. If not, it will be a long season in New York.

Miami Dolphins (0-4)

Result: Bye

Power ranking: No. 30 (up one spot)

Walker's vote: No. 31 (same)

Analysis: The Dolphins moved up one place to No. 30 following the bye. The Indianapolis Colts dropped to No. 32 following their loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. The Dolphins have given New York problems in the past. So Miami at least has a chance to pull the upset. But Miami is starting a backup quarterback -- Matt Moore -- on the road after Chad Henne’s season-ending shoulder injury. That doesn't bode well for the Dolphins, who are trying to turn their season around.

NFL Power Rankings: Lifeboats, please

October, 11, 2011
10/11/11
1:45
PM ET
The AFC South is not heading for NFC West territory. I think Matt Schaub, despite having a bad end of the game against Oakland, and a revitalized Matt Hasselbeck assure us of that.

But after an 0-4 Sunday, the division is plummeting in the ESPN.com NFL Power Rankings.

Collectively, the Texans, Titans, Jaguars and Colts lost 17 spots in the new poll. Collectively, it averages 20.6th. That’s good for seventh out of the eight divisions, ahead of only the aforementioned NFC West.

The Colts blew a 17-point lead to Kansas City to drop to 0-5, and now rank dead last in our poll. Owner Jim Irsay said at owners meetings in Houston that if they were in position to make the pick, the team would consider drafting Andrew Luck.

How the mighty have fallen.

My ballot accounts for one-fifth of the Power Rankings. You can contact me about my part in the poll through my mailbag or via Twitter.

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 England (2)

3) New Orleans (3)

4) Baltimore (4)

5) Detroit (5)

6) Buffalo (8)

7) Pittsburgh (10)

8) Houston (6)

9) Oakland (11)

10) Tennessee (9)

11) Washington (12)

12) San Diego (15)

13) San Francisco (17)

14) Tampa Bay (7)

15) NY Giants (13)

16) NY Jets (14)

17) Dallas (16)

18) Cincinnati (23)

19) Chicago (18)

20) Atlanta (19)

21) Philadelphia (20)

22) Seattle (26)

23) Carolina (22)

24) Arizona (21)

25) Cleveland (24)

26) Jacksonville (25)

27) Kansas City (28)

28) Denver (27)

29) Minnesota (32)

30) St. Louis (29)

31) Miami (30)

32) Indianapolis (31)
Oh yeah, it's Power Rankings day here at ESPN.com, and you're dying to know how your NFC East teams have fared in this week's poll. Well, the two teams that actually played Sunday ... not so good. The two teams that had the week off saw a little bump up the rankings. Yes, it seems that one of the best things you can do right now if you play in the NFC East is not play.

Here's a look at how our four teams stand in the latest edition of the Power Rankings:

10. Washington Redskins (Last week: 12). The bye was good to Washington, as four of the teams that had been in front of them lost and they jumped up two spots into the league's top 10. Not a bad spot for a team that began the season ranked 28th in this poll. Now, when the Giants were here last week, I expressed some mild skepticism about their ability to hold the spot. I feel somewhat the same about Washington, though not as strongly. They run the ball better than the Giants do, and they play better defense. Their offense is intentionally vanilla, but they've committed the fewest penalties in the league and are second in the league in average time of possession. Basically, if everyone around them keeps being so wildly inconsistent, I like the Redskins' chances to stay steady and take advantage of that. Right now, I'd probably rank the Raiders and Texans higher, and maybe the Titans. And the Cowboys did beat them, so you could make that case, too. But that's nitpicking, and I'm not a voter, so it doesn't matter what I think. The Redskins are a top-10 team in the Power Rankings, so enjoy that, Skins fans.

14. New York Giants (10). The Giants and the Cowboys tied for the No. 14 spot in this week's poll, but the Giants win the tiebreaker by virtue of their better win-loss record. Mike Sando in particular really took that Sunday game to heart, as he's got the Giants ranked 19th and the Seahawks 17th. But this mid-pack range seems more like where the Giants belong than did last week's top-10 heights. They've shown plenty of heart and toughness in their wins, but until they start running the ball better on offense and stopping the run better on defense, they're going to be too inconsistent week-to-week.

15. Dallas Cowboys (17). Dallas didn't play, but it moves up two spots thanks to poor games by the Buccaneers and Jets. I'd probably rank them ahead of the Giants right now if I had to make that call, since I think they've generally played better even though the records say otherwise. But I don't feel especially strongly about it. I'm fascinated to see how they come out of the bye and play in New England, where no one ever wins regular-season games. If they put up a good fight this Sunday, and they come out of the game healthy, I think Dallas is in a good position to make a strong run the rest of the way. The schedule isn't bad and they've shown an ability to play with good teams.

21. Philadelphia Eagles (20). I mean, I've seen four of their five games in person. They have plenty of athletic talent, but they just don't play the game of football especially well. And I really think that's going to hold them back. John Clayton still has them up at 18, which inflates this ranking a bit. But right now they're down there in the bottom third, and they've earned their way there. I'll be interested to see their ranking next week. If they play well and by some miracle win in Washington, I wonder if the voters will bump them way up thinking "they're back." And if they lose and fall to 1-5, they'll have to be down right there at the bottom with the other absolute worst teams in the league. No matter how much athletic talent they have.

NFL Power Rankings: How they voted

October, 11, 2011
10/11/11
1:00
PM ET
The West is not yet won in the NFL, but it's winning.

Teams from the two Western divisions climbed a combined 13 spots from last week in ESPN's NFL Power Rankings, with teams from their Southern counterparts falling 23 places in all.

That was the theme for the week after John Clayton, Paul Kuharsky, James Walker and Ashley Fox joined me in casting ballots heading into Week 6.

The top five teams remained in the top five, with New England overtaking New Orleans for the second spot after Walker, the AFC East blogger, dropped the Saints two places to No. 4 on his ballot. Walker also made a statement by ranking the Dallas Cowboys 11th, four spots higher than anyone else ranked them.

"Of all the NFC East teams, I think the Cowboys are the most believable," Walker said. "I don’t trust the Redskins’ offense or the Giants in general. And the Eagles may have dug themselves too big a hole. Dallas is getting healthy and can be pretty good once it puts it all together."

There was significant volatility outside the top five, with the San Francisco 49ers climbing a league-high seven spots following their 48-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They would threaten the top five with a victory at Detroit in Week 6.

The bar is considerably lower for the Cincinnati Bengals. They can get to 4-2 and likely continue their methodical climb in the rankings with a victory over Indianapolis. The Bengals are the only team to move up every Tuesday since Week 1 (32, 30, 28, 27, 21, 20).

And now, a closer look at the rankings heading into Week 6 ...

Rising (13): San Francisco 49ers (+7), Pittsburgh Steelers (+5), Minnesota Vikings (+4), Oakland Raiders (+4), Buffalo Bills (+3), Kansas City Chiefs (+3), Seattle Seahawks (+3), Dallas Cowboys (+2), Washington Redskins (+2), Cincinnati Bengals (+1), Miami Dolphins (+1), New England Patriots (+1), St. Louis Rams (+1).

Falling (11): Houston Texans (-6), Arizona Cardinals (-5), Tampa Bay Bucs (-5), Tennessee Titans (-5), New York Giants (-4), Indianapolis Colts (-3), Jacksonville Jaguars (-3), New York Jets (-3), Cleveland Browns (-1), New Orleans Saints (-1), Philadelphia Eagles (-1).

Unchanged (8): Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore Ravens, Carolina Panthers, Chicago Bears, Denver Broncos, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, San Diego Chargers.

Deadlocked: We broke two ties this week. The Giants prevailed over the Cowboys at No. 14 based on the second tiebreaker, overall record. The Dolphins edged the Rams at No. 30 based on the fourth tiebreaker, previous ranking.

Like minds: All five voters ranked the Packers first. Only one spot separated votes for the Patriots (second or third on all ballots) and Colts (31st or 32nd on all ballots).

Agree to disagree: Seven spots separated high and low votes for the Cowboys. Nine other teams produced high-low disparities of at least six places. Let's take a look:
  • Cowboys (7): Walker ranked them 11th, higher than any voter ranked them. Fox ranked them 18th, lower than any voter ranked them.
  • Chargers (6): Sando, Walker and Fox sixth, Kuharsky 12th.
  • Texans (6): Kuharsky eighth, Walker 14th.
  • Giants (6): Fox 13th, Sando 19th.
  • Buccaneers (6): Kuharsky 14th, Sando 20th.
  • Jets (6): Walker and Fox 15th, Sando 21st.
  • Eagles (6): Clayton 18th, Fox 24th.
  • Seahawks (6): Sando 17th, Clayton and Walker 23rd.
  • Panthers (6): Walker 22nd, 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 NFC North rank 12.2 on average, well ahead of teams from the runner-up AFC North (13.9). 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: Giants (-11), Texans (-6), Buccaneers (-6), Jaguars (-5), Seahawks (+7), 49ers (+8).
  • Clayton: Texans (-7), Titans (-5), 49ers (+6), Steelers (+7).
  • Kuharsky: Buccaneers (-7), Bengals (+5).
  • Walker: Texans (-8), Buccaneers (-7), Cardinals (-6), Giants (-5), Vikings (+5), Raiders (+7), Steelers (+7), 49ers (+7).
  • Fox: Falcons (-5), Texans (-5), Buccaneers (-5), Chiefs (+5), Vikings (+6), Steelers (+6), Raiders (+8), 49ers (+8).
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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