Power Rankings: No. 5 New England

A weekly examination of the Patriots' ESPN.com Power Ranking:

Preseason: 6 | Last Week: 5 | ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002

The New England Patriots finish the regular season where they started it in the Power Rankings: at No. 5.

That speaks to an overall theme of "consistency" with this franchise in Bill Belichick's 14-year tenure. As is always the case, there are ups and downs in every season, but the Patriots generally keep meeting expectations, which is hard to do.

Five of the six voters had the Patriots fifth. One voter had them sixth, with the Cardinals ranked ahead of them in the No. 5 spot.

From a big-picture standpoint, the Patriots were as high as No. 4 this season. Their biggest dip came in late October, when they were ranked No. 9 following a loss to the Jets and a comeback win over the Dolphins.

I'd venture a guess that there are only a few teams in the NFL with such little fluctuation over the course of the 16-game regular season.

That's a credit to the day-in and day-out approach of the staff and the players. The Patriots were in every game with a chance to win. Now they need three more wins to accomplish the ultimate goal to be No. 1 when it truly counts.