While the Houston Texans remained on top for the third straight week, the Patriots jumped three places to fourth Tuesday in voting by The Associated Press' panel of 12 media members who regularly cover the league.
San Francisco and Atlanta stayed second and third, respectively.
"Pats are on fire, scoring a combined 190 points in their last four wins. Defense is getting better, too," said Bob Glauber of Newsday. "Ready for another Super Bowl run?
New England (8-3) routed the New York Jets 49-19 on Thursday night for its fifth straight win. Tom Brady and the Patriots closed out the previous two regular seasons by winning their final eight games.
"Why worry about defense when you average 37 points per game?" said Ira Kaufman of the Tampa Tribune.
The Texans (10-1) won their second overtime game in five days last week, topping Detroit 34-31 on Thursday. Houston received seven first-place votes and 370 points.
"Their defense looks more vulnerable, but Matt Schaub is on a roll," said Clifton Brown of The Sporting News after listing Houston sixth on his ballot.
"Two straight wins in overtime shows this team knows how to finish," countered Rich Gannon of CBS Sports/Sirius XM after voting the Texans first.
The 49ers, 8-2-1 after their 31-21 win at New Orleans with Colin Kaepernick at quarterback, had three-first place votes and 365 points. The Falcons, who edged Tampa Bay 24-23, had 354 points
-- two more then the Patriots, who received the other two first-place votes and 352 points.
"49ers have "hot hand" BOTH sides of the ball," said Chris Berman of ESPN after listing San Francisco first on his ballot.
"Harbaugh makes the move to a second year quarterback with no road experience and they just keep winning," added Pat Kirwan of SiriusXM NFL Radio/CBSSports.com. "Aldon Smith looks unblockable coming off the edge."
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Denver was fifth, followed by Baltimore the New York Giants, Chicago, Indianapolis and Green Bay, which fell four spots after its 38-10 loss to the Giants.
"When they click, no team is better, as the Packers and 49ers could attest," Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune said of the Giants.
As for the surprising Colts (7-4), Clark Judge of CBSSports.com said, "This is better than a feel-good story. This is a pretty good football team."
Cincinnati was the biggest gainer -- up six spots to 11th after another convincing win, this time 34-10 over Oakland. The Colts moved up five spots after beating Buffalo 20-13 for their highest ranking of the season after starting out 32nd and last.
The Philadelphia Eagles continued their slide, dropping three more spots to 29th after their seventh loss in a row. The Eagles opened the season ranked eighth.
Kansas City (1-10) was a near unanimous choice for 32nd and last.
"A strong showing against Peyton Manning and the Broncos gets the Chiefs out of the cellar this week," said John Lynch of Fox Sports.
Press; By RICHARD ROSENBLATT]
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