NFL Nation: NFL power rankings

ESPN.com’s post-draft NFL Power Rankings are here!

This is the first chance to get a sense for what the national perception is of all 32 teams. With the NFL draft in the books and free agency all but over, there will not be a lot of opportunities to improve your roster after this point.

So where does ESPN.com’s experts rank the Dolphins in May? The answer may disappoint Miami fans.

Power Ranking: No. 24

AFC East rank: Third

Analysis: The Power Rankings panel does not have much respect for Miami. After finishing 8-8 last season and one game away from the playoffs, this ranking at No. 24 suggests the Dolphins are trending down, not up. Even one panelist, ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert, voted the Dolphins at No. 30. Ouch! Miami believes it’s a team on the cusp of the playoffs and just needed a few pieces. Players such as left tackle Branden Albert, running back Knowshon Moreno and first-round pick Ja'Wuan James are expected to fill major weaknesses. But it's clear ESPN.com’s panel believes other teams improved as well, particularly in the AFC East. The New England Patriots are No. 4 in the Power Rankings and the New York Jets are No. 21, three spots ahead of the Dolphins. Even the Buffalo Bills (No. 27) made significant moves to improve this offseason. Every team is in "win now" mode in the AFC East, which should make for a competitive division. The Dolphins must win this season under third-year head coach Joe Philbin. Another third-place finish in the AFC East won't cut it.

Power Rankings: No. 24 Buccaneers

December, 10, 2013
12/10/13
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A weekly examination of the Buccaneers' ESPN.com Power Ranking:

Preseason: 19 | Last week: 26 | ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002

A late-season surge has the Tampa Bay Buccaneers climbing in the ESPN.com Power Rankings. The Bucs jumped from No. 26 to No. 24 this week.

That came after Sunday's 27-6 victory against Buffalo, and the ranking is Tampa Bay’s best since Week 1. The Bucs spent a large chunk of the season in the 30s and upper 20s. But wins in four of their last five games have brought the Bucs to a respectable level.

The Bucs aren't going to the playoffs. But if they can win two of their final three games, they should have a decent shot to be ranked in the top 20.
A weekly examination of the 49ers' ESPN.com Power Ranking:

Preseason: 3 | Last Week: 5 | ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002

The San Francisco 49ers are a Power Rankings reminder to all top teams: Losses are much more damaging than victories are rewarding.

During their five-game win streak (which included a bye week), the 49ers could only move from No. 8 to No. 5. However, after a one-point loss to Carolina, all that progress was wiped out. The 49ers are back to No. 8 again, where they were in Week 5 when they were 2-2.

I think some context is needed. It was a one-point defeat to a Carolina team that has won five straight games. It is not a devastating loss for the 49ers. They are still on track for the playoffs, although they very likely are out of the NFC West race as they trail Seattle by 2.5 games.

Still, the 49ers’ overall health is much better than a three-spot drop may indicate.
A weekly examination of the Bears’ ESPN.com Power Ranking:

Preseason: 13 | Last Week: 10 | ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002

Chicago’s victory over the winless New York Giants on Thursday night didn’t inspire much confidence among panelists voting for ESPN.com’s Power Rankings, as the team stood pat at No. 10. But that’s right about where the Bears should be at this point.

The club rebounded from a 26-18 loss to the New Orleans Saints (No. 3) and snapped a two-game losing streak with the win over the Giants, but the injury-riddled defense struggled. The Bears lost their third starter on defense when middle linebacker D.J. Williams tore a pectoral tendon in the third quarter, and the front four is a patchwork group that now features starting defensive end Corey Wootton inside at tackle.

Luckily after the matchup Sunday at Washington, the Bears receive a much-needed week off.

Three NFC North squads occupy Slots 9 through 11 with the Packers at No. 9, Chicago at No. 10 and the Detroit Lions at No. 11.

The Minnesota Vikings come in this week at No. 29.

Chicago certainly deserves a spot in top 10, but the question at this point is whether it can remain there given the injury situation on defense. All but one of the six ESPN.com panelists gave the Bears votes in the top 10. One submitted an 11th-place vote.
A weekly examination of the Bears’ ESPN.com Power Ranking:

Preseason: 13 | Last Week: 4 | ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002

Chicago fell from the top five of ESPN.com’s Power Rankings but remained in the top 10 at No. 9 after Sunday’s 40-32 loss to the Detroit Lions.

Interestingly, the Lions check in at 10th, moving up six spots from 16, while the Green Bay Packers stayed at 12th and the Minnesota Vikings rose from 26th to No. 24 after their 34-27 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in London.

The Bears rank below the 49ers, Dolphins, Colts and Chiefs, who are eighth, seventh, sixth and fifth, respectively.

Chicago deserves to stay in the top 10. The Bears committed four turnovers, including a fumble returned for a touchdown. With 47 seconds left to play, remarkably, they still held a sliver of hope for tying the game when Robbie Gould lined up for the onside kick.

All but one of ESPN.com’s panelists voted for Chicago to remain in the top 10. The club received two seventh-place votes, one for No. 6, two for No. 10 and one for 12th.

The panelists put the Bears in the correct spot here. They overcame a horrid start, and too many turnovers in difficult circumstances on the road, yet had a chance at the end.
A weekly examination of the Bears’ ESPN.com Power Ranking:

Preseason: 13 | Last Week: 9 | ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002

The Chicago Bears passed a substantial test internally -- and obviously in the eyes of the public -- Sunday with their 40-23 road victory over Pittsburgh, and the panelists for ESPN.com’s Power Rankings rewarded the club with the No. 4 spot.

Off to their third 3-0 start since 1991, the Bears moved up five spots from ninth, with Seattle, Denver and New Orleans ranking first, second and third, respectively.

Elsewhere in the NFC North, Green Bay fell seven spots to 12th from No. 6, while Detroit moved up from 18th to 16th and Minnesota dropped to 26th from No. 23.

All but one of ESPN.com’s panelists voted for Chicago to occupy a spot in the top five, with two putting in bids for No. 3, two for No. 4, one for No. 5 and one for sixth.

The panelists made the right call in moving up Chicago because it faced a desperate Steelers team in Pittsburgh, and outlasted it in a game closer than the score indicated. Having taken a 17-0 lead in the first quarter, the Bears held off a fierce Steelers rally that saw the game get as close as 27-23 with 10:38 left to play.

Power Rankings: No. 32 Jaguars

September, 10, 2013
9/10/13
12:52
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A weekly examination of the Jaguars’ ESPN.com Power Ranking:

Preseason: 31 | Last Week: 29 | ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002

Well, that didn’t take long.

Thanks to an abysmal performance in a 28-2 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 1, the Jaguars have dropped to last in ESPN.com’s NFL Power Rankings. They began the season ahead of the Bills, Raiders and Jets. Those teams are now Nos. 29, 31 and 27, respectively.

There’s no chance to even argue against the drop to last place, either. The Jaguars had only 178 yards of total offense and Kansas City quarterback Alex Smith was hit only four times in 34 drop backs. There are plenty of other stats to show how poorly the team played, but listing them all is just piling on.

Here’s what was written in today's Power Rankings comments to accompany the last-place ranking:

"The Jaguars' offense didn't cross midfield until the fourth quarter. The Raiders present a chance to get back on track, but Seattle looms in Week 3."
A weekly examination of the Browns' ESPN.com Power Ranking:

Preseason: 28 | Last Week:: 28 | ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002

The Cleveland Browns (0-1) dropped two spots after ranking No. 28 in the preseason and in Week 1. The Browns are unfortunately in familiar territory. This is the 13th time Cleveland is ranked 30th or lower in the past 22 Power Rankings.

There's really no argument for the Browns to be higher. Cleveland lost at home by 13 points to the Miami Dolphins. The Chargers (No. 26), Buccaneers (No. 28) and Bills (No. 29) all had better shots at winning their games in the fourth quarter.

The only teams ranked lower than the Browns are the Raiders and Jaguars. It will be difficult for the Browns to move up considering they play the next two games on the road against 2012 playoff teams (Baltimore and Minnesota) and return home to face the Cincinnati Bengals (No. 10).
A weekly examination of the Ravens' ESPN.com Power Ranking:

Preseason: 8 | Last Week:: 8 | ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002

The Baltimore Ravens (0-1) slipped three spots after ranking No. 8 in the preseason and in Week 1. The fall could've been worse considering the Ravens lost by 22 points in the season opener. But you have to put in context that the loss was on the road and against the Denver Broncos, who were ranked No. 4 last week.

I don't have a major problem with where the Ravens stand. As one of the six Power Rankings voters, I have Baltimore at No. 9. The defending Super Bowl champions were in an unenviable spot of playing the NFL's kickoff game in a hostile environment against a team waiting eight months to exact revenge.

The Ravens are currently the fifth-highest-ranked team in the AFC, behind the Broncos (No. 3), New England Patriots (No. 5), Houston Texans (No. 6) and Bengals (No. 10). Unlike the other voters, I had the Ravens ahead of the Bengals.

The last time the Ravens were ranked this low was the end of last season, when they entered the postseason at No. 11. Everyone knows the rest of the story.
A weekly examination of the Raiders’ ESPN.com Power Ranking:

Rank: 31

My range: 30-32.

Comment: OK, it’s never fun to start the season with such low expectations. I get it. But the reality is this is where the Raiders belong for now. This is not to say Oakland can’t grow as the season goes along with Terrelle Pryor as the quarterback. But for now, the Raiders should be ranked this low because of their inexperience and holes at several key spots. But, again, the arrow could always point up.

Power Rankings: No. 24 Chargers

September, 3, 2013
9/03/13
1:35
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A weekly examination of the Chargers’ ESPN.com Power Ranking:

Rank: 24

My range: 22-24

Comment: Can’t argue too much about this slot. Nationally, I don’t think much is expected from this team in transition. I think the Chargers are moving in the right direction as an organization, but there are question marks on this team, and that’s why their initial ranking is so low.
A weekly examination of the San Francisco 49ers' ESPN.com Power Ranking:

What are the Week 1 Power Rankings all about?

Respect and expectations. And the 49ers head into the 2013 season with plenty of both. Can’t complain too much about being ranked No. 3 heading into a new season.

Yes, I’m sure 49ers are fans wringing their hands over not being ranked No. 1. And it has to be particularly wrenching to see San Francisco ranked below NFC West rival Seattle (ranked No. 1), and the team the 49ers beat in the NFC championship game, Atlanta, ranked No. 2.

I get it. Why are they ranked below two teams they finished better than last year? It’s a legitimate question. But perhaps the slight knock serves as motivation for Jim Harbaugh.

And, most importantly, remember this -- I do not have a vote. I’m just messenger on this one.
Here's a look at how the AFC West teams fared in our post-draft power rankings. I do not have a vote, but I do have an opinion:

Denver Broncos

Rank: 3. Comment: Denver had a good free agency period, and followed it up with a strong draft. The Broncos are a good team that is getting better.

Kansas City Chiefs

Rank: 22. Comment: It’s not often the team that had the No. 1 pick is ranked this high three days after the draft. It was a great offseason for the Chiefs.

San Diego Chargers

Rank: 23. Comment: The Chargers arguably had the best draft in the NFL. Yet, they did not move up in the rankings.

Oakland Raiders

Rank: 29. Comment: The Raiders had a storng draft as they work on reconstructing their roster.

NFL Power Rankings: How they voted

April, 30, 2013
4/30/13
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Teams have added 254 players in the draft since ESPN's NFL Power Rankings last appeared six weeks ago. We've seen Carson Palmer join the Arizona Cardinals and Darrelle Revis join the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, among other changes involving veteran players.

Our voters mostly shrugged when asked to update their ballots.

No team moved more than three spots higher (Cardinals) or three spots lower (Cleveland Browns) in the rankings when John Clayton, Dan Graziano, Jamison Hensley and Ashley Fox joined me in casting ballots.

Teams made larger moves up and down individual ballots.

Clayton and I moved up the Cardinals at least seven spots to reflect the change from Ryan Lindley and John Skelton to Palmer, plus continued improvements to the offensive line. The Dallas Cowboys and New York Jets fell several spots on some ballots.

Overall, however, there wasn't a great deal of movement. We did have our disagreements. None stood out more to me than a couple involving Graziano, our blogging brother from the NFC East. He had the Saints significantly lower and the Vikings significantly higher than our other voters ranked those teams.

Dan isn't exactly buying playoff tickets in New Orleans simply because Sean Payton is returning to the Saints' sideline.

"The Saints gave up the most yards in league history in 2012," he explained. "I just think it's a much longer way back for that defense than people give it credit for. Not sure how Payton's return turns them from one of the worst defenses in the history of the sport into a playoff-caliber one in one offseason."

Fair enough. But what about that No. 8 ranking for the Christian Ponder-led Vikings? Everyone else ranked them 17th.

"I don't understand the rush to drop a 2012 playoff team that replaced Percy Harvin with Greg Jennings and just crushed the draft," Graziano said. "Why won't they be good again?"

Harvin would be the more dynamic receiver of the two, in my view. The Vikings arguably gave up too much for the 29th pick in the draft, acquired from New England. And it's debatable, at least in my mind, whether Adrian Peterson can carry the team every week the way he did down the stretch last season.

All things to discuss as the offseason continues. First, we take a closer look at the rankings with May fast approaching:

Falling (10): Cleveland Browns (-3), Buffalo Bills (-2), Chicago Bears (-2), Dallas Cowboys (-2), Detroit Lions (-2), New Orleans Saints (-2), Carolina Panthers (-1), Indianapolis Colts (-1), New England Patriots (-1), New York Jets (-1).

Rising (11): Arizona Cardinals (+3), Kansas City Chiefs (+2), New York Giants (+2), Tampa Bay Bucs (+2), Washington Redskins (+2), Cincinnati Bengals (+1), Green Bay Packers (+1), Jacksonville Jaguars (+1), Miami Dolphins (+1), Oakland Raiders (+1), Philadelphia Eagles (+1).

Unchanged (11): Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore Ravens, Denver Broncos, Houston Texans, Minnesota Vikings, Pittsburgh Steelers, San Diego Chargers, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, St. Louis Rams, Tennessee Titans.

Deadlocked: We broke one tie. The Bears prevailed over the Saints at No. 13 based on previous ranking.

Like minds: One spot separated the highest and lowest votes for the Texans. Two votes separated highest and lowest votes for the Seahawks, 49ers, Packers, Patriots, Titans, Browns and Jets.

Agree to disagree: Ten spots separated highest and lowest votes for the Saints, the largest gap for any team. At least seven spots separated highest and lowest votes for five other teams. A look at the teams generating the largest high-low disparities:
  • Saints (10): Fox ranked the Saints 10th, higher than any other voter ranked them. Graziano ranked them 20th, lower than any other voter ranked them.
  • Cardinals (9): Sando and Clayton 20th, Fox 29th.
  • Vikings (9): Graziano eighth, every other voter 17th.
  • Steelers (8): Clayton 10th, Fox 18th.
  • Panthers (7): Hensley 18th, Clayton 25th.
  • Cowboys 7: Graziano 17th, Hensley 24th.
Power Rankings histories: These colorful layered graphs show where each NFL team has ranked every week since the 2002 season.

Ranking the divisions: The NFC West remained the highest-ranked division with an 11.0 average ranking for its teams, up from 12.3 last time. Teams from the NFC North were second at 14.2, followed by the NFC South (14.6), AFC North (15.3), NFC East (17.8), AFC South (18.7), AFC West (19.4) and AFC East (21.3).

A voter-by-voter look at changes of at least five spots since last season:
  • Sando: Panthers (-6), Cowboys (-6), Browns (-6), Cardinals (+8).
  • Clayton: Browns (-6), Cowboys (-6), Chiefs (+5), Cardinals (+7).
  • Graziano: Bills (-9), Panthers (-6), Jets (-6), Eagles (+6), Chiefs (+8).
  • Hensley: Vikings (+5), Ravens (+6).
  • Fox: Jets (-5).
The first edition of the ESPN.com Power Rankings for the offseason are out, and I have to admit I’m more than a bit surprised by where two of the NFC South teams landed.

The Atlanta Falcons came in at No. 4. That’s down two spots from where the Falcons were in the final rankings for the 2012 season. Are the Falcons really a worse team than they were when they were No. 2 at the end of last season?

I don’t think so. I think their offense is markedly better with the arrival of running back Steven Jackson. Yes, they still need to upgrade their pass rush, but I think the Falcons might be a little bit better than No. 4. But, hey, they’re four spots ahead of the Baltimore Ravens, who won the Super Bowl.

The other surprise is that the New Orleans Saints are No. 12. I don’t disagree with the ranking, but it’s a huge leap for the Saints. They’re up seven spots from where they were at the end of last season and I don’t think it’s just because they signed free-agent cornerback Keenan Lewis. I think the voters are looking at the return of coach Sean Payton and assuming that will make the Saints a much better team, which is probably true.

There are no major surprises when it comes to the Carolina Panthers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They’re right about where you’d expect them to be.

The Panthers are No. 20, down two spots from the last rankings. If the Panthers had the cap room to do much of anything in free agency, they probably would be ranked higher.

The Buccaneers are No. 21 -- the same spot they finished last season in. The Bucs have added safety Dashon Goldson, which should help. But I think the voters want to see the Bucs improve at cornerback before giving them a better ranking.

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