NFL Power Rankings: How they voted

Here's a nightmare scenario for Arizona Cardinals fans: Kevin Kolb flounders while a reborn Matt Leinart leads the Houston Texans deep into the playoffs.

The 7-3 Texans' outlook minus injured starting quarterback Matt Schaub framed the biggest debate our voters faced in putting together ESPN's NFL Power Rankings through Week 10.

John Clayton ranked them fourth and Ashley Fox had them fifth. Paul Kuharsky ranked them eighth. I had Houston 11th and James Walker voted them 14th despite four consecutive double-digit victories and a No. 8 ranking last week.

"I was conflicted on the Texans," Fox said, "and decided to rank them based on past performance, rather than the potential for future failure. We will see."

Kuharsky, our AFC South blogger, suspects Leinart could outperform expectations fewer than two years after the Cardinals decided they were better off with Derek Anderson, John Skelton and Max Hall.

"I'm not going to jump to write off the Texans with the Schaub news," Kuharsky said. "Gary Kubiak knows quarterbacks and he loves Leinart."

Cardinals fans would be happy to offer their Leinart video collections. But as ESPN Stats & Information pointed out, Leinart has a slightly above average 52.9 Total QBR on 147 plays since 2008, counting playoffs. He completed 21 of 31 passes for 220 yards and a 73.9 QBR against Tennessee in his last regular-season start in 2009.

"The Texans missed on their last try at a quality backup with Dan Orlovsky," Kuharsky said. "I don't think they'll miss twice in a row. I expect they have enough to win with Leinart playing. But, like everyone, I need to see him play."

And now, a closer look at the rankings heading into Week 11 ...

Rising (12): Arizona Cardinals (+6), Oakland Raiders (+5), Tennessee Titans (+5), Chicago Bears (+4), Denver Broncos (+4), New England Patriots (+4), Seattle Seahawks (+4), Dallas Cowboys (+3), Jacksonville Jaguars (+2), Miami Dolphins (+2), New Orleans Saints (+1), Pittsburgh Steelers (+1)

Falling (15): Philadelphia Eagles (-6), Carolina Panthers (-5), Washington Redskins (-4), Baltimore Ravens (-3), Buffalo Bills (-3), Cleveland Browns (-3), Detroit Lions (-3), Minnesota Vikings (-3), New York Jets (-3), Kansas City Chiefs (-2), Tampa Bay Bucs (-2), Cincinnati Bengals (-1), Houston Texans (-1), New York Giants (-1), San Diego Chargers (-1)

Unchanged (5): Atlanta Falcons, Green Bay Packers, Indianapolis Colts, San Francisco 49ers, St. Louis Rams.

Deadlocked: We broke two ties this week. Cincinnati prevailed over Dallas at No. 11 based on the second tiebreaker, overall record. Denver prevailed over Tampa Bay at No. 19 on the third tiebreaker, which team won most recently. The first tiebreaker, head-to-head results, did not come into play.

Like minds: All five panelists ranked the Packers first, the 49ers second and the Colts last.

Agree to disagree: Last week, eight spots separated the highest and lowest votes for the Bears. That margin shrunk to five this week, with Chicago moving into the top five for the first time this season. Walker and I ranked the Bears fourth. I've had them in the top eight for a month after admittedly underrating them earlier in the season.

"The Bears are going to be the playoff team no one wants to face in January," Walker said. "They’re not catching the Packers in the standings, so Chicago will be a dangerous wild card. The Bears match up with anyone because they can beat you with offense, defense or special teams."

A look at the eight teams, including Chicago, producing disparities of at least five spots between highest and lowest votes:

  • Texans (10): Clayton fourth, Walker 14th.

  • Browns (7): Clayton 24th, Sando and Walker 31st.

  • Redskins (6): Clayton 23rd, Walker and Fox 29th.

  • Bears (5): Sando and Walker fourth, Fox ninth.

  • Chiefs (5): Fox 19th, Sando 24th.

  • Cardinals (5): Sando, Kuharsky and Fox 22nd, Clayton 27th.

  • Seahawks (5): Sando 21st, Clayton and Kuharsky 26th.

  • Vikings (5): Kuharsky and Walker 25th, Clayton and Fox 30th.

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 fell from 10.7 to 11.3 in average ranking, but that was still good enough to keep the top spot among divisions, well ahead of the AFC North (12.5 average ranking). The NFC West, coming off its first 4-0 week since realignment in 2002, stands seventh this week, ahead of the AFC South.

A voter-by-voter look at changes of at least five spots since last week:

  • Sando: Browns (-9), Eagles (-5), Cardinals (+7), Cowboys (+7), Raiders (+7), Seahawks (+7).

  • Clayton: Ravens (-5), Panthers (-5), Lions (-5), Vikings (-5), Eagles (-5), Bears (+6), Titans (+6).

  • Kuharsky: Eagles (-8), Panthers (-5), Lions (-5), Cardinals (+5), Bears (+6), Patriots (+8), Cowboys (+9), Broncos (+9).

  • Walker: Eagles (-8), Redskins (-7), Cardinals (+5), Broncos (+5), Bears (+6), Raiders (+6), Seahawks (+7).

  • Fox: Panthers (-6), Vikings (-6), Jets (-6), Redskins (-6), Cowboys (+5), Cardinals (+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.

Baltimore is the only one of our top eight teams with a victory over a team ranked higher this week. The sixth-ranked Ravens own two victories over the fourth-ranked Steelers. The Chargers are 18th and have not defeated any of the teams ranked higher than them. They are the only team ranked between 12th and 31st without at least one victory over a higher-ranked team.

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.