Losers in the Super Bowl last February to Baltimore, the 49ers earned nine first-place votes and 379 points Tuesday from a nationwide panel of 12 AP Pro32 members who cover the league.
"The NFL's most physical team expects to be playing at the Meadowlands in February," Ira Kaufman of the Tampa Tribune said.
But Charean Williams of the Fort Worth Star Telegram warned: "Colin Kaepernick will have to be more accurate than he was the last three regular-season games of 2012 if the 49ers want to stay here all season."
Denver, which also lost to the Ravens in the postseason, and Seattle were tied for second with 358 points. The Broncos drew two first-place votes and the Seahawks, who will compete with the 49ers for the NFC West title, received the other.
"Peyton Manning has enough weapons to outscore most teams until (suspended linebacker) Von Miller gets back," said Pat Kirwan of SiriusXM and CBS Sports.
Rounding out the top five were Atlanta and New England. The Ravens finished eighth in the final preseason poll.
"With Anquan Boldin (trade) and Dennis Pitta (injury) gone," Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News said, "Joe Flacco is without his two top receivers from 2012. He needs to find those 126 receptions and 11 touchdowns elsewhere in 2013."
At the bottom are the Oakland Raiders with a mere 20 points. Oakland was 32nd on eight ballots.
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"Neither Matt Flynn nor Terrelle Pryor did anything to distinguish himself in a lackluster preseason quarterback competition," Newsday's Bob Glauber said. "Can anything but an awful record and a high draft pick be next?"
Still, there was sentiment for two teams being worse than the Raiders. Jacksonville, which ranked 31st, received three last-place votes. The New York Jets, 30th overall, got the other.
"As usual, the Jets remain in the headlines for all the wrong reasons (quarterback problems, media squabbles, etc.)," said Alex Marvez of SiriusXM and FoxSports1.
And the Jags?
"First-year coach Gus Bradley will raise the bar for this team," ESPN's Jeff Legwold said, "but it has too many roster questions at the moment."
The next AP Pro32 power rankings will be released Sept. 10.
AP NFL website:
Press; By BARRY WILNER]
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