Niners set for showdown at top of AP rankings

The Patriots and 49ers both moved up this week in the Associated Press Pro32 power rankings after decisive victories, setting the stage for a nationally-televised showdown at the top of the poll Sunday night.

See ya, Houston. Tom Brady and the Patriots have taken over the top spot in the AP power rankings.

Hours after routing the previous No. 1 Texans 42-14, the Patriots were back on top of the rankings for the first time since Week 2.

Houston held the No. 1 spot for a month before tumbling to fourth following its second loss of the season, dropping behind the 49ers who moved up two spots to third after cruising past Miami 27-13.

The AFC East-leading Patriots (10-3) host the NFC West-leading 49ers (9-3-1) on Sunday Night Football in what several observers are calling a possible Super Bowl preview.

Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos stand between the Patriots and 49ers in this week's poll at No. 2.

The Patriots received 11 of 12 first-place votes and 383 points in balloting by AP's panel of media members who regularly cover the league. Denver (10-3) got the other first-place vote and had 369 points.

''That was quite a message they sent to the league Monday night, said ESPN's Chris Berman of the Patriots' seventh straight win.

''The Patriots played a near flawless game and are taking form to make a serious run at the Lombardi,'' said Fox Sports' John Lynch. ''A potential Super Bowl preview awaits Sunday night with the 49ers.''

The Broncos, meanwhile, take an eight-game winning streak into their game against Baltimore, which fell into a tie for eighth after an overtime loss to Washington.

''Peyton Manning is making his pitch for a record fourth NFL MVP award. He has steered Denver to eight consecutive victories and thrown 19 TD passes during that stretch,'' said the Dallas Morning News' Rick Gosselin, the only voter who had Denver No. 1 this week.

The Atlanta Falcons dropped two spots to fifth after their loss to Carolina, and Green Bay and the New York Giants were tied for sixth.

Even at 11-2, voters are beginning to wonder about the Texans, who have clinched a playoff spot but still have two more games against division rival Indianapolis, ranked 10th this week.

''The hope is that Monday's loss (by Houston) was a wakeup call,'' said Clark Judge of CBSSports.com. ''If not, make it the beginning of the end to what once looked like a promising season.''

As for the Falcons, their second loss has some voters wondering as well.

''Has any 11-2 team every gotten as little respect? Don't think so,'' said The Sporting News' Clifton Brown, who ranked the Falcons eighth.

Seattle made the biggest advance after its 58-0 rout of Arizona, up four places to eighth. The 49ers travel to Seattle for a NFC West showdown next week.

''It's like Pete Carroll is back at USC beating up on Washington State. Seahawks absolutely pummel Cardinals 58-0, only 11 points from equaling Carroll's most lopsided win in college,'' said Newsday's Bob Glauber.

Here's what the national panel had to say about the 49ers this week, with where each panelist had San Francisco ranked in parentheses:

Chris Berman (ESPN, 2): As good as they are, be careful 49ers the division lead is precarious.

Clifton Brown (Sporting News, 2): Sunday night game against Patriots could be Super Bowl preview.

Rich Gannon (CBS Sports/SiriusXM NFL Radio, 3): Switch to Kaepernick seems to have worked.

Bob Glauber (Newsday, 3): Two more sacks from Aldon Smith, who is in the running for Defensive Player of the Year. And now for the two-week stretch that could decide playoff positioning: at New England and at Seattle.

Rick Gosselin (Dallas Morning News, 4): The 49ers can join the Falcons with 4-0 records against the AFC this season with a victory Sunday in New England over the Patriots. The NFC leads the inter-conference series, 31-23.

Clark Judge (CBSSports.com, 4): Forget about suspending Brandon Jacobs. The 49ers should suspend the schedule. They next go to New England and Seattle, where the home teams lose as often as it snows in San Diego.

Ira Kaufman (Tampa Tribune, 3): Going for a 4-0 sweep of the AFC at Foxborough Sunday night.

Pat Kirwan (SiriusXM NFL Radio/CBSSports.com, 6): The Colin Kaepernick experiment continues. He can run for sure, but he only throws a touchdown 1:43 passes and he's been sacked seven times in the last two weeks. This week the Patriots on the road and they will take the run away.

John Lynch (Fox Sports, 5): San Francisco needs to finish hard as the Seahawks are on their tail in the NFC West. The scorching hot Patriots and the aforementioned Seahawks remain on their schedule.

Alex Marvez (Foxsports.com, 3): It was the kind of physical victory that 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh cherishes. San Francisco's rushing attack produced 117 second-half yards and wore down Miami's strong run defense in a 27-13 home victory.

Dan Pompei (Chicago Tribune, 4): Beating the Dolphins was one thing; beating the Patriots would be something else.

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