After three years of faithfully tracking these power rankings every week, I've finally figured out what's wrong with them: They're not power rankings at all.
Power rankings, as I understand the term, are supposed to show the 'power' or 'true ability' of each team, i.e. they should be an assessment of how teams would stack up against one another on a neutral field.
Yet most of the power rankings are little more than glorified league standings with some token shuffling of positions interwoven with gratuitous personal opinions. Perhaps that is why I'm so heavily drawn to the stat-based models. They at least have some quantitative base that offers a little more insight into team performance than a simple rehash of the team standings.
Of course all of this would matter if power rankings mattered, which they don't. But it is nice to read up on your team after a win, and see the many commentators grudgingly move your team up a few spots.
After the break, we look at how the NFC playoff contenders fared in this week's power rankings. And we include the Eagles, just for laughs.
WhatIFsports: 5th (4th). These guys simulate every possible match-up in the NFL 100 times, and use the winning percentages from those nearly 50,000 games to evaluate every team, with updated rosters and depth charts.
Advanced NFL Stats: 6th (4th). The Cowboys drop two spots. Offense is down one to fifth, defense tumbles three spots to seventeenth.
Coolstandings.com: 10th (11th). These guy use the Pythagorean Theorem to calculate their power rankings.
Sagarin NFL rankings: 10th (11th). These are rankings based on W/L record, points differential and schedule strength. Cowboys jump ahead of the Gaints on the strength of the Buffalo Beatdown.
Football Outsiders: 13th (12th). FO have the Cowboys with the 9th-ranked offense (-1), the 11th-ranked defense (+1) and the 25th ranked special teams (n.c.).
Teamrankings.com: 14th (12th). This site measures the relative strength of all teams using team performance, home/away status, margin of victory and other factors.
Hmmm ... I think the Cowboys are a Top Ten team.
National Football Post: 7th (7th). "After the recent slide by the Giants, Romo and the Cowboys look like the clear favorites in the NFC East."
Covers.com: 8th (9th). "Another huge week for the Cowboys. They won (barely) on Thanksgiving and have sole possession of first after the Giants loss."
ESPN: 8th (9th). "The Cowboys control their own destiny, with three of their last five games on the road, starting Sunday at Arizona." ESPN's NFC East blogger Dan Graziano added this take on the Cowboys:
When the Giants were kicking around the top 10, I wasn't shy about expressing doubt about their worthiness to be there. Something about a pineapple was said, people got upset ... I'm sure many of you remember and those who don't could care less. So are the Cowboys top-10 worthy? I think they have the talent to be that good, but I'm not sure they've really proven it yet. The defense is showing cracks. They're playing bad teams and barely winning. Don't get me wrong -- it's better to be beating bad teams than losing to good ones, as the Giants are doing. But I don't know that I like the Cowboys better right now than I like the No. 9 Falcons. And the No. 11 Lions and the No. 15 Jets did beat them. Let's just say I remain skeptical that any team in this division is one of the top 10 teams in the league, but I believe the Cowboys are at least capable of being there.
SB Nation: 8th (10th). "Is this the same team that lost three of four games earlier in the year? They've won four in a row and have secured sole possession of first place in the NFC East. They control their own destiny with five games remaining."
Sporting News: 8th (10th). "December test: vs. Giants, Week 14. The Cowboys play the Giants twice in the final four weeks, but the first one, at home on a Sunday night, is the key. They must hold serve to stay on track to win the NFC East."
ProFootballWeekly: 8th (11th). "Romo overcomes early miscues, continues November success."
WEEI.com: 8th (11th). "The first-place Cowboys will face another below .500% opponent in Week 13 before their showdown in Dallas against the Giants. The G-Men meanwhile will face the undefeated Packers. The Cowboys could very possibly have a commanding two-game lead in the NFC East by the time Week 14 rolls around. The even-better news that came out of Dallas was that cornerback Mike Jenkins returned to practice and will likely play Sunday against the Cardinals after missing four straight games."
Drafttek.com: 9th (10th). No comments from the 32-man panel of power rankers from the draft gurus.
Fox Sports: 9th (10th). Brian Billick: "Unimpressive wins against the Dolphins and Redskins were wins nonetheless. The two head-to-head games with the Giants may determine the division, but with the Giants' loss and their remaining schedule, the Cowboys are clearly in the driver's seat in the NFC East. Not sure they are in the same category as the other division leaders, though Dallas did beat the 49ers in San Francisco in OT."
CBSsports.com: 9th (11th). "Teams should be scared of the Cowboys. They have a lot of talent and this is a team that is getting better as the season moves along." Fear The Star, baby.
Hmmm ... I think the Cowboys are a Top Ten team, but I'm going to write some nasty stuff anyway.
Walter Football: 8th (8th). Cowboys trade water and stay put in the eighth spot. I'll spare you the jibber jabber that passes as Cowboys commentary there.
ProFootballTalk.com: 8th (11th). "If the Cowboys keep it up, Tony Romo will have a chance to commit another game-altering turnover in January."
Hmmm ... I don't think the Cowboys are a Top Ten team
NFL.com's Brain Trust of Experts: 11th (13th)."Dallas got outplayed much of Turkey Day, but the defense showed up when it counted. In five trips into the Dallas red zone, the Dolphins only came up with one touchdown. Offensively, some of the plays Tony Romo made in the second half only Ben Roethlisberger could make. The same streetball style of play that fans everywhere love to criticize him for won the game. How about some of the hits he took? One wonders when Romo will start getting credit for his toughness."
Below is how the three remaining contending NFC East teams fared in this week's power rankings - and with that I've unceremoniously dumped the Redskins from the table. For good measure, I've added the other NFC teams who are direct competitors for a playoff spot at this point in time.
The missing rankings will be updated as they become available
For those who're interested, the Redskins rank 24.6 overall, 24.8 opinion-based and 24.1 stat-based. The Cowboys' next opponent, the Cardinals, rank 24.9 overall, 25.5 in opinons and 23.6 in stats.