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Ranking Bad: Breaking Down NFL Power Rankings

Week 8 Top Five:

  1. Kansas City Chiefs (prev. 1)
  2. Seattle Seahawks (2)
  3. Denver Broncos (3)
  4. Indianapolis Colts (5)
  5. New Orleans Saints (4)

Week 8 is in the books, which means we have a full half of a season’s worth of evidence with which to judge the NFL, and yet as we compile our power rankings averages it still sort of seems like half the rankings are — at best — educated guesses. 

For example, no one can seem to agree on the Carolina Panthers, who this week moved to 4-3 with a 31-13 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (universally ranked 30th or lower). That win landed the Panthers at 12th, 14th twice, 17th, 18th, 20th and 22nd. For a team that was ranked 21st in the preseason, is a 4-3 record enough to climb roughly 10 spots? Jeff Sagarin’s computers think so, he had them 23 preseason.

A more important question: Does a no-loss record trump a one-loss record, by default? Only Sagarin’s math says no; the Chiefs are merely 8th in his calculations. The other six sources we draw from have them first. (Pete Prisco at CBS even admits they’re not the best team but says “they’ve earned that spot.” So, there’s that.) 

Sagarin has the Seattle Seahawks No. 1 and the Denver Broncos No. 2; in our rankings this week the two are tied for second. Either of those teams has a strong case for the top spot.

The Seahawks’ resume to-date is excellent, with Sagarin giving their schedule a rank of sixth, against which they’ve gone 7-1, only losing to the Indianapolis Colts. There are a lot of questions about Seattle’s offensive durability: Sidney Rice just went down for the season with an ACL tear, starting tackle Russell Okung is out until Week 13 at the earliest. But by Prisco’s logic, the logic that puts Kansas City first for its accomplishments thus far, the Seahawks’ one loss against a much tougher schedule means they’ve earned it, too.

The Broncos, led by an on-fire Peyton Manning, were a unanimous No. 1 for three weeks, and in each of the two weeks before that received four out of seven possible first-place votes. Then with one loss, they dropped down to third, and a 45-21 win over Washington put them back in second. While Denver’s schedule strength is barely better than the Chiefs’, the Broncos started the season ranked second and Kansas City started 23rd. Is one loss more significant than a record year from Peyton Manning in determining which team is stronger now?

Looking at the rest of the league, this week reveals an interesting trend: 13 teams moved just one rank up or down, and 11 teams didn’t move at all. The previous two weeks, only 11 teams moved one spot or fewer. While that might mean that rankings are becoming more solidified, look at all the teams hovering near .500. It gives the impression that maybe, outside of the top or bottom teams, we just have no idea who is actually good or bad.

Check out this week’s full rankings to see where your team landed.

Brian Colella is an associate editor of RealClearSports.

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