NEW YORK (AP) The Seattle Seahawks finished the 2013 season atop The Associated Press power rankings, just ahead of the Denver Broncos.
In balloting by 12 media members who regularly cover the NFL, the top three teams in the AP Pro32 were the Seahawks, Broncos and San Francisco 49ers. They also were at the top of the poll heading into the season, with the 49ers first, followed by the Seahawks and Broncos.
NFC West champion Seattle grabbed eight first-place votes on Monday and 380 points. AFC West winner Denver got the other four first-place choices and 372 points. Both had 13-3 records this season and are the top seeds in each conference.
"The Seahawks are still the favorite in the NFC," said Herm Edwards of ESPN. "They are tough to beat in Seattle. `The 12th Man' is still alive."
Tony Dungy of NBC echoed his fellow ex-coach's thoughts:
"Defense, run game and home crowd are awesome."
But Jeff Legwold of ESPN.com favored the Broncos, who finished first for the 2012 season.
"With 55 touchdown passes from quarterback Peyton Manning, Broncos became first team to crack 600-point barrier," he said.
Rounding out the top five were Carolina and New England, both with 12-4 records. The Panthers began the year ranked 23rd, while the Patriots were fifth, just where they finished.
"No matter what happens in January, Bill Belichick will look back at this season with immense pride," said Ira Kaufman of the Tampa Tribune.
Among the teams making huge improvements in the AP Pro32, along with Carolina, were Kansas City from 21st to ninth; Philadelphia, 26th to 10th; Arizona, from 24th to 12th; and San Diego, from 27th to 13th.
Of the 12 teams who made the playoffs, only the Chargers (9-7) didn't rank in the top dozen, replaced by Arizona (10-6).
"That the Cardinals were in the playoff hunt until the final weekend was a testament to Bruce Arians' terrific coaching and GM Steve Keim's roster makeover," said Bob Glauber of Newsday.
Houston, which began the schedule ranked fifth, finished 32nd and last with 13 points. The Texans (2-14) have the first pick in May's draft.
"The Texans are the first time in NFL history to win their first two and lose their final 14," said Charean Williams of the Fort Worth Star Telegram.
Other teams dropping way down in the AP Pro32 from September until Monday were Atlanta, from fourth to 26th; defending champion Baltimore, from eighth to 16th; and Washington, from 10th to 31st.
"The retooled offensive line failed Matt Ryan this season," John Czarnecki of Fox Sports said of Atlanta.
"Hard to believe this was a playoff team last year," Dungy said of the Redskins.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org