Defending Super Bowl champion Seattle (11-4) received seven of 12 first-place votes Tuesday in the AP Pro32 power rankings, which are decided by a media panel that regularly covers the league.
The Seahawks are coming off a 35-6 rout of the Arizona Cardinals.
“Bad news for NFC teams. Seahawks are back,” NBC Sports’ Tony Dungy said.
The Patriots (12-3), who were No. 1 last week, received the other five first-place votes and trail Seattle by only three points (379-376) in the poll.
The Patriots clinched home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs when the Cincinnati Bengals beat the Denver Broncos 37-28 on Monday night.
“The AFC’s No. 1 seed appears poised for a sixth Super Bowl berth in the past 14 seasons,” said Ira Kaufman of the Tampa Tribune.
The Bengals (10-4-1) also clinched a playoff spot for the fourth straight season with the victory. The Bengals are looking for their first playoff win since the 1990 season.
“All season long, we haven’t quite known what to make of the Bengals,” the Monday Morning Quarterback’s Jenny Vrentas said. “But Monday night, at least, they showed the grit of a team that could avoid its one-and-done playoffs past.”
They close the regular season Sunday night at Pittsburgh (10-5), with the winner taking the AFC North title.
“They (Steelers) are going to be a dangerous playoff team,” ESPN’s Herm Edwards said.
The Green Bay Packers (11-4) moved up a spot to No. 3. The Packers host the Detroit Lions (11-4), who are No. 6 in the poll, for the NFC North title.
The Dallas Cowboys (11-4) clinched the NFC East last week and moved up two spots to No. 4.
“Finally, a division title for the Cowboys, as Tony Romo puts an exclamation point on a terrific regular-season run and gets into the MVP conversation,” Newsday’s Bob Glauber said.
The Broncos (11-4) dropped to No. 5, but can still clinch a first-round bye with a win on Sunday.
“The Broncos can go 8-0 at home this season with a victory over Oakland in the season finale,” said Rick Gosselin of The Dallas Morning News.
The Lions, Steelers, Arizona Cardinals, Bengals and Indianapolis Colts rounded out the top 10.
The injury-riddled Cards dropped three spots after the loss to the Seahawks.
“Great team, great coach, but no quarterback,” Fox Sports’ John Czarnecki said.
THE RANKINGSThe Associated Press Pro32 NFL Power Rankings, as voted by a 12-member panel, with first-place votes in parentheses, records through Dec. 23, total points based on 32 points for a first-place vote through one point for a 32nd-place vote, and previous ranking:
|1. Seattle Seahawks (7)||11||4||0||379||2|
|2. New England Patriots (5)||12||3||0||376||1|
|3. Green Bay Packers||11||4||0||360||4|
|4. Dallas Cowboys||11||4||0||346||6|
|5. Denver Broncos||11||4||0||329||3|
|6. Detroit Lions||11||4||0||321||8|
|7. Pittsburgh Steelers||10||5||0||301||12|
|8. Arizona Cardinals||11||4||0||300||5|
|9. Cincinnati Bengals||10||4||1||299||11|
|10. Indianapolis Colts||10||5||0||287||7|
|11. San Diego Chargers||9||6||0||261||14|
|12. Baltimore Ravens||9||6||0||243||10|
|12. Philadelphia Eagles||9||6||0||243||9|
|14. Kansas City Chiefs||8||7||0||214||15|
|15. Houston Texans||8||7||0||212||17|
|16. Buffalo Bills||8||7||0||198||13|
|17. Miami Dolphins||8||7||0||195||18|
|18. Carolina Panthers||6||8||1||170||21|
|18. San Francisco 49ers||7||8||0||170||16|
|20. Atlanta Falcons||6||9||0||157||24|
|21. New York Giants||6||9||0||145||25|
|22. St. Louis Rams||6||9||0||129||19|
|23. Cleveland Browns||7||8||0||124||22|
|24. Minnesota Vikings||6||9||0||118||23|
|25. New Orleans Saints||6||9||0||110||20|
|26. Washington Redskins||4||11||0||73||31|
|27. Chicago Bears||5||10||0||68||26|
|28. Oakland Raiders||3||12||0||67||28|
|29. New York Jets||3||12||0||58||27|
|30. Jacksonville Jaguars||3||12||0||44||29|
|31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers||2||13||0||25||30|
|32. Tennessee Titans||2||13||0||14||32|