The Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos have separated themselves from the rest of the NFL in the eyes of the voters who make up the AP Pro32 power rankings.
The Seahawks took over the top spot in the poll on Tuesday with 379 points and seven-first place votes, even though the Broncos picked up the signature win of the weekend by knocking off the unbeaten and previous No. 1 Kansas City Chiefs.
The Broncos had 377 points and the other five first-place votes, while the Chiefs dropped to third with 354 points from the 12-member panel that regularly covers the league.
"The Seahawks are in the driver's seat with home field for the playoffs in their grasp if they don't make any mistakes," wrote Pat Kirwan, an analyst for Sirius XM satellite radio and CBSSports.com. "The team is getting healthy at the right time."
The Seahawks (10-1), second a week ago, welcomed back wide receiver Percy Harvin from hip surgery by routing Minnesota 41-20 on Sunday for their sixth consecutive win. Their schedule down the stretch isn't easy, though. They're off this week before getting the Saints and 49ers in back-to-back weeks — a stretch with significant playoff implications.
Still, Ira Kaufman of the Tampa Tribune said: "The road to the NFC title clearly runs through noisy CenturyLink Field," where Seahawks fans briefly set the Guinness world record for loudest outdoor sports stadium earlier this season.
While the Seahawks are rolling in the NFC, the Broncos (9-1) proved they're still the team to beat in the AFC after knocking off the Chiefs 27-17 on Sunday night.
"Pass protection and defense stepped up versus K.C.," said former Colts and Buccaneers coach Tony Dungy, now an analyst for NBC Sports.
Like the Seahawks, the Broncos have a tough road ahead of them. They play the Patriots on Sunday night before their return game against the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium.
The Chiefs (9-1) dropped to third in this week's AP Pro32, with most voters pointing to a suspect offense that cost them dearly at Mile High Stadium.
John Czarnecki of Fox Sports said the Chiefs "simply look sorry on offense," while Jeff Legwold of ESPN.com said "limitations on offense showed a bit in the loss to the Broncos."
New Orleans moved to fourth in the AP Pro32 after knocking off the 49ers, while the Panthers were fifth after beating the Patriots 24-20 in a controversial finish on Monday night.
The Panthers have now won six straight games.
"They've become a scary team with Cam Newton maturing before our eyes," Kaufman said.
New England was sixth in the poll after its loss to Carolina, a game that ended with the officials picking up a flag for pass interference when they decided that Tom Brady's pass intended for tight end Rob Gronkowski was uncatchable in the end zone as time expired.
The result was the Patriots' third loss in their last six games — with Denver on tap.
"Tough loss on the road," said former Chiefs and Jets coach Herm Edwards, now an analyst for ESPN.com, "but they'll still win the AFC East by two games."
The Colts, Niners, Bengals and Lions rounded out the top 10 in the AP Pro32. They were followed by the Bears, Eagles, Cardinals, Packers and Cowboys.
Online: http://pro32.ap.org/poll and http://twitter.com/AP_NFL