Second-ranked Niners now five votes from top
The Niners now trail the top-ranked Texans by just five points in the poll.
''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.''
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.
The Patriots made a significant move this week thanks to another second-half-of-the-season winning streak.
While Houston remained on top for the third straight week, the Patriots jumped three places to fourth.
''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.
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.
Here's what the panelists had to say about the 49ers this week, including where each ranked the Niners in parentheses:
Chris Berman (ESPN, 1): 49ers have "hot hand" BOTH sides of the ball.
Clifton Brown (Sporting News, 2): Defense is dynamite, and Colin Kaepernick adds new dimension.
Rich Gannon (CBS Sports/SiriusXM NFL Radio, 5): May be awhile before we see Alex Smith again.
Bob Glauber (Newsday, 2): Another strong effort from Colin Kaepernick, and Jim Harbaugh may have no choice but to keep him in the starting lineup over Alex Smith. Not an easy call either way.
Rick Gosselin (Dallas Morning News, 3): Aldon Smith is on a pace to set the NFL record for sacks with 24. He has 16½ through 11 games. Michael Strahan holds the record with 22½.
Clark Judge (CBSSports.com, 1): Jim Harbaugh hasn't made up his mind whom he's playing next – Seattle or St. Louis.
Ira Kaufman (Tampa Tribune, 3): That change under center looks permanent – for now.
Pat Kirwan (SiriusXM NFL Radio/CBSSports.com, 1): Harbaugh makes the move to a second year quarterback with no road experience and they just keep winning. Aldon Smith looks unblockable coming off the edge.
John Lynch (Fox Sports, 3): It looks like the job is Colin Kapernick's to keep. Hard to argue as Kapernick and the Niners went into New Orleans against a smoking hot Saints team and handled them with room to spare.
Alex Marvez (Foxsports.com, 3): Yes, Colin Kaepernick and the defense were outstanding in a 31-21 road win over New Orleans. But let's not forget about an offensive line that didn't allow a sack and paved the way for 144 yards rushing.
Dan Pompei (Chicago Tribune, 3): Colin Kaepernick could be the spark that ignites the 49ers in the home stretch.
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