The San Francisco 49ers have held onto the No. 2 spot for a fourth consecutive week in ESPN's NFL Power Rankings heading into Week 12.
Our panelists appear unsympathetic to their plight traveling across the country to Baltimore on a short week. It's looking like the 49ers will need a victory over the Ravens to maintain their status in the rankings. This is already the 49ers' highest ranking so late in a season since ESPN.com began archiving power rankings histories.
"If the Ravens win, I'd move them ahead of the Niners," voter Paul Kuharsky said.
Another voter, James Walker, put it this way: "It's simple: San Francisco has to beat Baltimore to stay No. 2. If the Ravens win, I'm more likely to put them at No. 2 over the 49ers. Head-to-head means a lot. That's why they play the games."
With a No. 2 ranking, there's almost nowhere for the 49ers to go but down. Almost ...
"It's possible they could actually move up with a win, because Green Bay doesn't exactly have a gimme with Detroit," Ashley Fox said, alluding to a scenario that would surely stir passionate conversation.
The top four teams remained unchanged from last week. Baltimore replaced Chicago at No. 5 after the Bears won a game but lost their starting quarterback, Jay Cutler, to a thumb injury requiring surgery.
And now, a closer look at the rankings heading into Week 12 ...
Rising (12): Cleveland Browns (+4), Miami Dolphins (+4), Philadelphia Eagles (+4), Dallas Cowboys (+3), Atlanta Falcons (+2), Denver Broncos (+2), New England Patriots (+2), Oakland Raiders (+2), Baltimore Ravens (+1), Carolina Panthers (+1), Houston Texans (+1), Seattle Seahawks (+1).
Falling (12): New York Giants (-5), Arizona Cardinals (-4), Jacksonville Jaguars (-3), San Diego Chargers (-3), Buffalo Bills (-2), Chicago Bears (-2), Cincinnati Bengals (-2), Minnesota Vikings (-2), Kansas City Chiefs (-1), New York Jets (-1), St. Louis Rams (-1), Tennessee Titans (-1).
Deadlocked: We broke one tie this week. Tampa Bay prevailed over San Diego at No. 20 on the third tiebreaker (which team won a game most recently). Head-to-head results and overall record did not break the tie.
Like minds: All five panelists ranked the Packers first, the 49ers second and the Colts last -- same as last week.
Agree to disagree: The Texans generated the largest gap between high and low votes among panelists. Quarterback injuries played a role in disparities for Houston and Chicago. Kuharsky gave both teams the benefit of the doubt pending additional evidence, but he views the teams differently.
"I have a lot more faith in Matt Leinart and what's around him than I do in Caleb Hanie and what's around him," Kuharsky said. "In both instances, I didn't want to score the teams down ahead of time. I put them where they are now, not where I think they'll be. My forecast would be that the Texans still win their division while the Bears lose out in a wild-card bid."
A look at the five teams producing disparities of at least six spots between highest and lowest votes:
Texans (7): Fox ranked them fifth, Walker ranked them 12th.
Bears (6): Kuharsky fifth, Walker 11th.
Lions (6): Walker seventh, Sando 13th.
Seahawks (6): Sando 19th, Kuharsky 25th.
Cardinals (6): Kuharsky 24th, Sando 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 AFC North overtook teams from the NFC North for the highest average ranking among divisions. The NFC West, 6-2 over the past two weeks, held onto the seventh spot, ahead of teams from the AFC South.
A voter-by-voter look at changes of at least five spots since last week:
Sando: Cardinals (-8), Bills (-6), Browns (+5), Dolphins (+7).
Clayton: Giants (-6).
Kuharsky: Browns (+5), Eagles (+6).
Walker: Bears (-7), Browns (+5), Eagles (+7).
Fox: Texans (-7), Bills (-6), Cardinals (-5), Jaguars (-5), Rams (-5), Falcons (+5), Dolphins (+5), Eagles (+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.
This week, No. 13 Cincinnati and last-ranked Indianapolis are the only teams with zero victories over teams ranked higher than them. Denver, ranked 17th, and Buffalo, ranked 19th, are the only teams with more than two victories over teams currently ranked higher than them.
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.