NEW YORK (AP) — Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers are closing in on a perfect regular season.
The Panthers moved to 13-0 after routing the Falcons 38-0 on Sunday and remained on top of the latest AP Pro32 rankings.
No surprise, as the Panthers again received all 12 first-place votes on Tuesday in balloting by 12 media members who regularly cover the league.
“The Panthers’ roll continues with a pummeling of the Falcons at home, which earns them a first-round bye,” Newsday’s Bob Glauber said.
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“The only thing left is clinching home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, and then the inevitable questions of what to do to stay sharp for the playoffs if there’s an opportunity to rest players in the final week or two of the regular season.”
The Arizona Cardinals remained at No. 2. The Cardinals can clinch the NFC West title with a win on Sunday night against the Eagles.
“The Cardinals are building a powerful portfolio in their bid to end a 68-year championship drought,” said Rick Gosselin of The Dallas Morning News said. “Arizona leads the NFL in offense and ranks fourth in defense.”
The AFC East champion New England Patriots jumped two spots to No. 3.
“In his own way, Rob Gronkowski is almost as valuable as Tom Brady,” Ira Kaufman of the Tampa Tribune said of New England’s star tight end who returned from a one-game absence and keyed a 27-6 win over the Texans that broke a rare two-game slide.
Despite being 8-5 and in second place in the NFC West, the Seattle Seahawks moved up two spots to No. 4. The Seahawks could clinch a playoff spot with a win against Johnny Manziel and the Browns on Sunday and some help.
“Seahawks look scary again,” Fox Sports’ John Czarnecki said.
The Denver Broncos and Cincinnati Bengals each dropped two spots to fifth and sixth, respectively.
“A quarterback controversy is looming if Brock Osweiler doesn’t play better,” Foxsports.com’s Alex Marvez said of Denver’s backup quarterback who’s playing with Peyton Manning injured.
The Bengals are also going to need to count on a backup quarterback in AJ McCarron as they close in on clinching their fifth straight playoff spot. Starter Andy Dalton is out with a broken thumb.
“Can McCarron keep that offense going?” asked NBC Sports’ Tony Dungy.
The surging Chiefs, who have won seven games in a row, and the Steelers are tied for No. 7.
“This team still has some work to do to get in the postseason,” ESPN’s Herm Edwards said of the Steelers. “But if the Steelers do? Watch out.”
Aaron Rodgers and the NFC North leading Packers remained at No. 9, and the New York Jets moved up a spot to round out the top 10.
Online: http://pro32.ap.org/poll and http://twitter.com/AP_NFL