NFL Nation: 2011 Week 7 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:

RAVENS

Power ranking: No. 3

Record: 4-1

Comment: The Baltimore Ravens move up because the New Orleans Saints and the Detroit Lions both lost. You can make the case that they deserve to be at No. 2 over the New England Patriots. The Ravens are beating teams by an average of three touchdowns. But the Patriots' resume of victories is slightly better because of their win over San Diego.

STEELERS

Power ranking: No. 8

Record: 4-2

Comment: The Pittsburgh Steelers stay at No. 8 and no complaints here. The only 4-2 team ahead of Pittsburgh is New Orleans. The Steelers didn't help themselves by that closer-than-expected home game against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

BENGALS

Power ranking: No. 18

Record: 4-2

Comment: No respect for the Cincinnati Bengals. Outside of Cincinnati, the lowest 4-2 team is ranked No. 12 (Tampa Bay Buccaneers). The Bengals' win over the Buffalo Bills (No. 10) should negate their loss at the Denver Broncos (No. 27). No excuse for Cincinnati to sit behind three 3-3 teams.

BROWNS

Power ranking: No. 23

Record: 2-3

Comment: The Cleveland Browns remain at No. 23 for a second straight week, but that's nothing to celebrate. The only other teams below the Browns are the two-win Kansas City Chiefs, five one-win teams and three winless ones. The Browns, though, will fall next week if they can't beat the Seattle Seahawks at home.

NFL Power Rankings: NFC North

October, 18, 2011
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A quick look at ESPN.com's Week 7 Power Rankings:

1. Green Bay Packers
Trending: The NFL's last undefeated team faced no threat to its top-ranked status.

6. Detroit Lions
Trending: Down two after a 25-19 loss to the San Francisco 49ers.

14. Chicago Bears
Trending: Up four after a 39-10 victory over the Minnesota Vikings.

28. Minnesota Vikings
Trending: Down two after losing to the Bears.

Power Rankings: AFC East

October, 18, 2011
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Here is how the AFC East fared in ESPN.com's latest Power Rankings:

New England Patriots (5-1)

Power Ranking: No. 2 (same)

Walker's vote: No. 2 (same)

Analysis: The Patriots are the clear No. 2 team in the NFL for the second straight week. They received a unanimous, second-place vote from our panel. New England's defense is coming around, which makes the Patriots dangerous. Quarterback Tom Brady will have the offense clicking in most games. But in the few that Brady struggles, the defense needs to be ready. The AFC doesn't look very deep this year. The Baltimore Ravens (4-1) are a legitimate threat to the Patriots. But, other than that, there is clear separation between the Patriots, Ravens and the rest of the AFC thus far.

Buffalo Bills (4-2)

Power Ranking: No. 10 (down four spots)

Walker's vote: No. 10 (down three spots)

Analysis: Buffalo remains in the top 10 after a good effort against the New York Giants. The Bills are 1-2 on the road. They are a young team that can't seem to pick up a quality win away from Ralph Wilson Stadium. The offense is fine. Buffalo isn't playing perfect offensively, but that cannot be expected. The Bills still are scoring enough points to win and make big plays. It's the defense that needs to hold up its end. Until that happens, Buffalo will continue to be in nail biters every week.

New York Jets (3-3)

Power Ranking: No. 16 (up one spot)

Walker's vote: No. 13 (up two spots)

Analysis: I might be overrating the Jets a bit. They're not playing well, but I like the talent on this team. I keep waiting for New York to put it all together. The Jets did some good things against the winless Dolphins. But you have to consider the opponent. Maybe the Jets will show more against a good team next week in the San Diego Chargers (4-1). The Jets can't afford any additional losing streaks if they want to make the playoffs.

Miami Dolphins (0-5)

Power ranking: No. 30 (same)

Walker's vote: No. 30 (up one spot)

Analysis: No doubt about it, the Dolphins are one of the worst teams in the league. The defense has drastically underachieved and the offense is awful on third downs and in the red zone. Quarterback Matt Moore (204 yards, two interceptions) is not the long-term solution in Miami. The team needs to find its future at quarterback before it can turn the team around. The "Tony Sparano Watch" also will be hovering over the team the rest of the season.

NFL Power Rankings: Middle of the pack

October, 18, 2011
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It's Power Rankings day! And you know what that means, right? Well, technically, in the grand scheme of things, it doesn't mean a whole lot. But it's our weekly chance to debate, argue and analyze the relative merits of the NFL's 32 teams. Here, we take a look at how the four teams in our division fared in this week's voting, in order:

New York Giants: 11 (Last week, 14)

Ah, the Giants. They beat the Eagles, they go up to 12. They win in Arizona, they go up to 10. They lose to Seattle, they drop to 14. They beat the Bills, back up to 11. It seems no one knows what to make of the Giants. Paul Kuharsky ranks them eighth. John Clayton ninth. James Walker, 16th, and he was at the Buffalo game! These Giants are a conundrum -- winning more games than it seems they should be winning. But it's the wins on which all teams are judged, and the fact is they're 4-2.

Washington Redskins: 15 (10)

The Redskins are 3-2, but trending the other way. An ugly loss Sunday to the Eagles knocked Washington out of its lofty top-10 perch and back down to the middle where I think they belong. I'm interested to see what happens from here on out, as they'll have a harder time mustering much offense with their line banged-up, and they aren't going to dazzle anybody even if the defense can win them some games.

Philadelphia Eagles: 20 (21)

A division road win only moves you up one spot. Tough crowd, but the Eagles did little before Sunday to earn any benefit of the doubt. Watching them play, there are times when it's impossible to imagine that there are 19 teams better. But they are 2-4 and have done some really bad things to get there, so they have to work to earn their way back up the standings and in the minds of the voters. They get a week off, so they could move up next week if the teams in front of them lose. But at this point, I think everybody feels we need to see it from the Eagles before we can believe it.

Dallas Cowboys: 21 (15)

This seems a little harsh -- a six-point drop after a last-minute road loss in New England. I mean, I know they had the lead late, but was that a game they were really supposed to win? Walker has them 15th, higher than any other team in the division, but each of the other voters ranked them one spot behind Philadelphia. I fail to see anything the 2-4 Eagles have done to this point to warrant being ranked ahead of the 2-3 Cowboys. But that's just me, and we have 11 more weeks left to sort all of this out.

Thoughts?

NFL Power Rankings: AFC South sinks

October, 18, 2011
10/18/11
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The AFC South is the worst division in football, according to the new edition of the ESPN.com NFL Power Rankings.

The division has lost all seven of its games over the last two weeks. It’s a streak that has to end Sunday when the Titans host the Texans with the division lead on the line.

I think they can both contend until the end and that it’s early to declare anything definitive about where the division will ultimately stand. The NFC West can certainly still contend.

But if the Colts and Jaguars continue on anything close to the course they’re following so far, they will weigh down the division in this poll even if the Texans and Titans rank well.

My ballot accounts for one-fifth of the Power Rankings. You can contact me about my part in the poll though my mailbag or via Twitter. Here's Mike Sando's review of all five ballots.

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) Baltimore (4)

4) New Orleans (3)

5) San Francisco (13)

6) Detroit (5)

7) Pittsburgh (7)

8) NY Giants (15)

9) Buffalo (6)

10) Oakland (11)

11) Tampa Bay (14)

12) Cincinnati (18)

13) Washington (11)

14) Houston (8)

15) Tennessee (10)

16) San Diego (12)

17) NY Jets (16)

18) Chicago (19)

19) Atlanta (20)

20) Philadelphia (21)

21) Dallas (17)

22) Seattle (22)

23) Carolina (23)

24) Arizona (24)

25) Cleveland (25)

26) Jacksonville (26)

27) Kansas City (27)

28) Denver (28)

29) Minnesota (29)

30) St. Louis (30)

31) Miami (31)

32) Indianapolis (32)

NFL Power Rankings: How they voted

October, 18, 2011
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The last season in which the San Francisco 49ers fielded a playoff team, they peaked at No. 2 in ESPN's NFL Power Rankings.

That was way back in Week 11 of 2002, when Steve Mariucci, Jeff Garcia, Terrell Owens and Garrison Hearst defined the 49ers' identity.

The 2011 team is gaining ground quickly. Four consecutive victories, three of them on the road, have vaulted the 49ers of Jim Harbaugh, Alex Smith, Frank Gore, Justin Smith and Patrick Willis to a 5-1 record and No. 4 standing in our rankings entering Week 7.

That is the 49ers' highest ranking since ranking tied for fourth in Week 12 of the 2002 season. They rose five spots this week, moving past New Orleans, Detroit, San Diego, Pittsburgh and Oakland.

"They are the real deal this year and have won more QUALITY games than any team playing," 81sanfranman wrote.

The 49ers have beaten three teams that currently have winning records (Tampa Bay, Cincinnati, Detroit). They also won on the road against preseason NFC favorite Philadelphia.

"There will be some very hard words if the NFC West guy doesn't place the 49ers either No. 2 or No. 3," Hypchucky9 wrote. "We lost to the Cowboys, the Patriots lost to the Bills and the Ravens lost to the Titans. If the rankings are usually about power with regard to talent and efficiency, you would be hard bent to put us lower than No. 3."

The NFC West guy (that would be me) ranked the 49ers fourth. No one else ranked them higher. The Packers are the obvious No. 1 team. New England is more firmly established as a top team, and the Patriots have the better quarterback. Baltimore has won convincingly over teams that have periodically appeared among the top 10 this season (Pittsburgh, Houston and the New York Jets).

The 49ers are on the rise. They opened the regular season at No. 26 and have climbed from 16th to ninth to fourth over the past three weeks. They visit Baltimore in Week 12 and play a Monday night home game against the Steelers in Week 15. They'll have opportunities to move up even more.

Before taking a closer look at the rankings heading into Week 7, I'll pass along comments from our voters covering issues that stood out to me from their ballots.
  • Kuharsky downs San Diego: Paul Kuharsky ranked San Diego only 16th, 10 spots lower than anyone else ranked them. He pointed to the teams the Chargers have beaten while acknowledging San Diego cannot control its schedule. Kuharsky: "San Diego is definitely due for a big jump from me. I had them 12th before the bye and felt I needed to move up Tampa Bay, Cincinnati, the Giants and San Francisco. So, the Chargers suffered for it. Generally, I am reluctant to move a team up off a bye. Tennessee was also off and also suffered -- dropping from 10th to 15th."
  • Walker has Chargers' back: James Walker ranked the Chargers fourth, higher than anyone ranked them. Walker: "The Chargers aren't elite, but they are beating the teams on their schedule. I also like the fact they're starting fast this season, because the Chargers are notoriously slow starters."
  • Clayton on the Bengals: John Clayton, on why he has the Bengals only 21st, nine spots lower than Kuharsky has them: "Even though they are 4-2, the Bengals have won games against teams that are 7-16. They have been helped by the schedule."

OK, here we go ...

Rising (11): San Francisco 49ers (+5), Chicago Bears (+4), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+4), New York Giants (+3), Arizona Cardinals (+2), Baltimore Ravens (+2), Cincinnati Bengals (+2), Oakland Raiders (+2), Kansas City Chiefs (+1), New York Jets (+1), Philadelphia Eagles (+1).

Falling (8): Dallas Cowboys (-6), Houston Texans (-5), Washington Redskins (-5), Buffalo Bills (-4), Detroit Lions (-2), Minnesota Vikings (-2), New Orleans Saints (-2), Carolina Panthers (-1).

Unchanged (13): Atlanta Falcons, Cleveland Browns, Denver Broncos, Green Bay Packers, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers, San Diego Chargers, Seattle Seahawks, St. Louis Rams, Tennessee Titans.

Deadlocked: We broke one tie this week. San Diego prevailed over Pittsburgh at No. 7 based on the second tiebreaker, overall record.

Like minds: All five voters ranked the Packers first and the Patriots second. Four ranked the Ravens third.

Agree to disagree: Twelve spots separated high and low votes for the Chargers. Five other teams produced high-low disparities of at least eight places. Let's take a look:
  • Chargers (12): Walker ranked them fourth, higher than anyone else ranked them. Kuharsky ranked them 16th, lower than anyone else ranked them.
  • Jets (9): Walker and Fox 13th, Sando 22nd.
  • Bengals (9): Kuharsky 12th, Clayton 21st.
  • Giants (8): Kuharsky eighth, Walker 20th.
  • Bears (8): Sando 10th, Kuharsky 18th.
  • Redskins (8): Fox 12th, Sando 20th.
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 12.3 on average, ahead of teams from the runner-up AFC North (13.0). 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: Redskins (-8), Giants (+5), 49ers (+5), Bucs (+7).
  • Clayton: Redskins (-5), Giants (+5).
  • Kuharsky: Texans (-6), Titans (-5), Bengals (+6), Giants (+7), 49ers (+8).
  • Walker: Texans (-7), Redskins (-7), 49ers (+5), Bucs (+7).
  • Fox: Texans (-7).
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 the top nine teams this week has defeated a team ranked higher in the standings. Buffalo, ranked No. 10, has defeated two teams ranked higher, New England and Oakland.

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.

NFL Power Rankings: Bucs on the rise

October, 18, 2011
10/18/11
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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers finally got a victory worthy of respect, at least according to the voters in the ESPN.com Power Rankings.

Tampa Bay, which seemed to be stuck in the middle of the pack no matter what happened most of the season, took a big jump up in this week’s rankings. The Bucs climbed four spots to No. 12 after defeating the New Orleans Saints. A win against Chicago in London on Sunday could lift the Bucs into the top 10.

The loss to Tampa Bay dropped the Saints two spots to No. 5. And they’re lucky Ashley Fox put them at No. 3 or the ranking could have been worse. John Clayton had the Saints at No. 8.

The Atlanta Falcons got a much-needed win against Carolina, but it didn’t matter in the rankings. The Falcons are at No. 19 for the fourth consecutive week.

The Panthers did what they usually do against Atlanta. They stayed with the Falcons much of the game, but weren’t able to win. That caused only a slight drop as Carolina went from No. 24 to No. 25.

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