An NFC West team other than the one recently appearing in the Super Bowl ranks No. 1 in ESPN's first NFL Power Rankings of the 2013 offseason.
Call us suckers for the excitement of free agency and the trade market, but the Seattle Seahawks' recent aggressive moves apparently resonated with our panelists. John Clayton, AFC North blogger Jamison Hensley and I ranked Seattle atop our ballots. Ashley Fox had the Seahawks second. NFC East blogger Dan Graziano had them third.
That was enough to move the Seahawks into the No. 1 spot and just ahead of the defending NFC champion San Francisco 49ers. The 1-2 punch helped the NFC West stand as the highest-rated division on average despite a No. 29 ranking for the Arizona Cardinals. The St. Louis Rams were 15th.
Seahawks and 49ers fans already have been going at it on the blog. The teams will ultimately settle this debate on the field. For now, here are a few reasons why I gave Seattle a slight edge on my ballot:
Trending: The Seahawks have been gaining on the 49ers for the past couple of years. The 49ers were already an elite team. Seattle had more room for improvement. I felt as though the Seahawks caught the 49ers late last season. Seattle did benefit from a run of late-season home games against division opponents.
49ers question marks: The 49ers parted with familiar faces in Dashon Goldson, Delanie Walker, Isaac Sopoaga and Alex Smith. Losing those players isn't going to doom San Francisco. The team might improve in some cases. But there's a little more uncertainty than usual surrounding the 49ers. Throw in Justin Smith's rehabilitation from surgery and I wasn't quite ready to rank them No. 1.
Key additions: Percy Harvin, Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril have the potential to become high-impact additions. There was risk in making the Harvin move. Will he run his course in Seattle, same as he did in Minnesota? It's a fair question, but I think the results will be positive in the beginning, at least.
And now, a closer look at the rankings one week into free agency:
Falling (15): New York Jets (-6), Washington Redskins (-5), Minnesota Vikings (-5), Buffalo Bills (-5), Dallas Cowboys (-3), Denver Broncos (-2), Atlanta Falcons (-2), Indianapolis Colts (-2), Carolina Panthers (-2), Arizona Cardinals (-2), New England Patriots (-1), San Diego Chargers (-1), Cleveland Browns (-1), Tennessee Titans (-1), Jacksonville Jaguars (-1).
Rising (13): Kansas City Chiefs (+8), New Orleans Saints (+7), Detroit Lions (+6), Seattle Seahawks (+4), Philadlephia Eagles (+3), Houston Texans (+2), Baltimore Ravens (+2), Chicago Bears (+2), San Francisco 49ers (+1), Cincinnati Bengals (+1), St. Louis Rams (+1), Pittsburgh Steelers (+1), Miami Dolphins (+1).
Deadlocked: We broke one tie. Denver prevailed over Atlanta for the third spot. The Broncos were ranked higher in the previous poll.
Like minds: Two votes separated highest and lowest votes for Seattle, San Francisco, Houston, Chicago and Tampa Bay.
Agree to disagree: Twelve votes separated highest and lowest votes for Minnesota. Eleven votes separated highest and lowest votes for Pittsburgh. A look at the five teams generating high-low disparities of at least eight spots on our voters' ballots:
Vikings (12): Graziano ranked the Vikings 10th, higher than any other voter ranked them. Hensley ranked them 22nd, lower than any voter ranked them.
Steelers (11): Clayton 10th, Graziano 21st.
Redskins (9): Hensley eighth, Clayton 17th.
Cowboys (9): Graziano and Clayton 15th, Hensley 24th.
Saints (8): Fox ninth, Graziano 17th.
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 a 12.3 average ranking for its teams. That was up slightly from a 12.8 average at regular season's end. NFC South teams were second this time with a 13.9 average ranking, followed by the NFC North (14.2), AFC North (15.1), NFC East (17.4), AFC South (18.8), AFC West (20.1) and AFC East (20.5).
A voter-by-voter look at changes of at least five spots since last season:
Sando: Vikings (-8), Bills (-7), Jets (-7), Redskins (-7), Saints (+7), Chiefs (+12).
Clayton: Redskins (-7), Jets (-7), Vikings (-6), Broncos (-5), Colts (-5), Bills (-5), Lions (+6), Steelers (+7), Saints (+8), Chiefs (+8).
Hensley: Vikings (-10), Cowboys (-10), Bills (-6), Eagles (-6), Saints (-7), Chiefs (-7), Lions (-11).
Fox: Vikings (-4), Panthers (-4), Ravens (+6), Lions (+7), Saints (+9).