AFC teams hold the top three spots in ESPN's NFL Power Rankings for the first time this season.
The New England Patriots, fresh off a 42-14 victory over the Houston Texans, are back in the No. 1 spot for the first time since Week 2. They have a 1-2 record against NFC teams, but with a seven-game winning streak overall, the Patriots landed atop four of our five voters' ballots.
The NFC has been the stronger conference this season, but that might not translate to Super Bowl success if the current rankings are generally on target. Dan Graziano, Ashley Fox and I discussed the possibilities during our latest video conversation, available below. If only we could have looped in fellow voter John Clayton. He had the Atlanta Falcons atop his ballot despite their 30-20 defeat to the Carolina Panthers. That should keep the comments section buzzing.
Go easy on John, though. He had a late night at the Slayer concert.
And now, a closer look at the rankings heading into Week 15:
Falling (15): Detroit Lions (-4), New Orleans Saints (-4), Atlanta Falcons (-3), Chicago Bears (-3), Cincinnati Bengals (-3), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-3), Arizona Cardinals (-2), Baltimore Ravens (-2), Houston Texans (-2), Pittsburgh Steelers (-2), Tennessee Titans (-2), Buffalo Bills (-1), Kansas City Chiefs (-1), Miami Dolphins (-1), Oakland Raiders (-1).
Rising (15): Cleveland Browns (+4), Dallas Cowboys (+3), Denver Broncos (+3), New York Giants (+3), New York Jets (+3), Philadelphia Eagles (+3), Carolina Panthers (+2), New England Patriots (+2), San Diego Chargers (+2), Seattle Seahawks (+2), St. Louis Rams (+2), Washington Redskins (+2), Green Bay Packers (+1), Jacksonville Jaguars (+1), Minnesota Vikings (+1).
Unchanged (2): San Francisco 49ers, Indianapolis Colts. Apologies to Jim Harbaugh here. The 49ers' head coach likes to say you're either getting better or you're getting worse, and that you never stay the same. His current team and one of his former ones were the only teams unchanged from last week.
Deadlocked: We broke two ties this week. Miami prevailed over New Orleans at No. 21. Philadelphia prevailed over Tennessee at No. 27. Our third tiebreaker came into play in both cases. The tiebreakers, in order, are head-to-head results this season, overall record this season, which team won a game most recently and previous ranking.
Like minds: None of our five panelists -- Clayton, Graziano, Fox, Jamison Hensley or me -- ranked the same team in the same slot across the board. Our rankings for the Patriots, Texans, Cowboys, Eagles and Chiefs differed by only one slot.
Agree to disagree: Seven spots separated highest and lowest votes for Carolina after the Panthers defeated the Falcons.
A look at all teams generating high-low gaps of at least six spots in the rankings:
Panthers (7): Sando ranked them 21st. Clayton ranked them 28th.
Browns (6): Sando and Graziano 19th, Clayton 25th.
Dolphins (6): Clayton 19th, Hensley 25th.
Bills (6): Fox 20th, Clayton and Graziano 26th.
Titans (6): Clayton 24th, Graziano 30th.
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 North took back from the AFC North its standing as the highest-rated division on average. The NFC West remained third. The NFC East moved up from seventh to fourth. The AFC East was fifth, followed by the NFC South, AFC South and AFC West.
A voter-by-voter look at changes of at least five spots since last week:
Sando: Lions (-5), Saints (-5), Panthers (+5), Eagles (+5).
Clayton: Rams (+7), Giants (+5).
Graziano: Buccaneers (-5).
Hensley: Dolphins (-5), Panthers (+5), Chargers (+5).
Fox: Giants (+5).
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.
For example, the Packers and Patriots outrank the Seahawks even though Seattle defeated both teams. The 49ers and Packers outrank the Giants even though New York defeated both. The Steelers, Dolphins, Eagles, Titans and Cardinals each has defeated four higher-ranked teams.
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.
Resort 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.