NEW YORK (AP) — Tom Brady and the New England Patriots are back in a familiar spot at this point of the NFL season — playing their best football and preparing for another run at the Super Bowl.
The surging Patriots gained the top spot in the AP Pro32 poll on Tuesday, receiving nine of 12 first-place votes for 381 points in balloting by media members who regularly cover the NFL.
The Patriots (10-2) have won eight in a row and are closing in on yet another AFC East title.
“The Patriots have come a long way since losing two of their first four games,” said Charean Williams of Pro Football Talk. “They look a lot like the 2014 version.”
The Minnesota Vikings, who also are 10-2 and on an eight-game winning streak, received two first-place votes and moved up a spot to No. 2.
“It’s time to acknowledge that the Vikings are a serious Super Bowl threat behind a fierce defense and a third-string quarterback playing at a Pro Bowl level,” said Ira Kaufman of SB Nation Radio.
The Philadelphia Eagles (10-2), who saw their nine-game winning streak snapped in a loss in Seattle, received the other first-place vote and dropped two spots to No. 3.
“Showdown with Rams looms,” Fox Sports’ John Czarnecki said of Sunday’s game in Los Angeles between the first-place teams.
The Eagles are staying on the West Coast this week and are setting up camp in Orange County.
Despite a 10-2 record and a seven-game winning streak, the Pittsburgh Steelers slipped a spot to No. 4.
The Los Angeles Rams and New Orleans Saints, both 9-3 and leading their divisions, remained at Nos. 5 and 6.
The Seattle Seahawks, only a game behind the Rams in the NFC West, rose two places to No. 7 after beating the Eagles.
The Carolina Panthers slipped a spot to No. 8 after losing to the Saints. The Panthers face another challenge in Week 14 as they host the Vikings.
The Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans, tied for first place in the AFC South at 8-4, each gained a spot and rounded out the top 10.
Here’s how the NFL playoff picture looks after Week 13’s action.
1. Minnesota Vikings (10-2): NFC North leader. A superior strength of victory tiebreaker moves them into the top spot over Philly. Extend their win streak to nine next weekend, and the Vikes will officially be crowned division champions.
2. Philadelphia Eagles (10-2): NFC East leader. Their loss Sunday night in Seattle was a reminder they’ve largely preyed on inferior competition, but they remain one win (or Dallas loss) from putting a bow on the division.
3. Los Angeles Rams (9-3): NFC West leader. Their first winning season since 2003 could also produce their first division title in that span.
4. New Orleans Saints (9-3): NFC South leader. A season sweep of Carolina effectively gives them a two-game lead over both the Panthers and Falcons.
5. Seattle Seahawks (8-4): Wild card No. 2. Vanquishing the Eagles cements their playoff position and serves a reminder they’re still legitimate contenders. A better record in NFC games gives Seattle a higher seed than Carolina.
6. Carolina Panthers (8-4): Wild card No. 2. Costly loss in New Orleans. The good news is their next three are in Charlotte. The bad news is they’ll be hosting the Vikings, then the Packers, who may have Aaron Rodgers back.
In the hunt: Atlanta Falcons (7-5), Detroit Lions (6-6), Dallas Cowboys (6-6), Green Bay Packers (6-6), Arizona Cardinals (5-7), Washington Redskins (5-7)
1. Pittsburgh Steelers (10-2): AFC North leader. They reclaimed the top seed — barely — based on the strength of victory tiebreaker after Monday’s narrow win at Cincinnati. The Steelers are now one week closer to the Week 15 showdown with New England that will really matter.
2. New England Patriots (10-2): AFC East leader. After extending their winning streak to eight, they now own 15 consecutive seasons with double-digit victories. One more win will mean a ninth division title in a row.
3. Tennessee Titans (8-4): AFC South leader. They continue to appear less imposing than Jacksonville, which shares first place in the division. But the Titans’ Week 2 win over the Jags confers the tiebreaker … for now.
4. Kansas City Chiefs (6-6): AFC West leader. A 2-1 record in division games is the only thing keeping them nominally ahead of the Chargers and Raiders at the moment despite a three-way tie.
5. Jacksonville Jaguars (8-4): Wild card No. 1. To remain on course for a Week 17 battle for the AFC South in Nashville, the Jags must pass stern test against Seattle next week.
6. Baltimore Ravens (7-5): Wild card No. 2. Next Sunday night, they’re in Pittsburgh. A loss to the arch rival Steelers would be a serious setback, especially with the Raiders and Chargers back from the dead. But Baltimore’s final three opponents have a combined record of 8-27.
In the hunt: Buffalo Bills (6-6), Los Angeles Chargers (6-6), Oakland Raiders (6-6), Cincinnati Bengals (5-7), Miami Dolphins (5-7), New York Jets (5-7)
In memory of Ben McAdoo’s one-plus seasons at the controls for the New York Giants, let’s reflect back to what we wrote about him when he landed on our hot seat tracker after Week 1:
“He had a strong maiden voyage in 2016, leading New York back to the playoffs. But the weather can change quickly in New York, and McAdoo’s offense, which lacked injured WR Odell Beckham Jr. on Sunday night, was still shockingly inept against a middling Dallas Cowboys D. The Giants better improve quickly, or the tabloids will be calling for McAdoo’s newly coiffed head soon enough.”
Prescient. Disregard, “um,” such wisdom at your peril.
And, for what it’s worth, we commend Giants ownership for canning McAdoo, despite his run of 28 consecutive regular-season starts under the headset — the streak balloons to 29 if you count New York’s blowout playoff loss in January — to take an honest look at interim replacement Steve Spagnuolo (a Geno-esque 10-38 in three seasons as head coach of the Rams).
Here’s the latest installment of our weekly hot seat rankings:
1. Hue Jackson, Cleveland Browns: He’s now 1-27 (0-12 in 2017) since taking this job. But he’ll probably be 5-27 by the end of the month. Probably. The final four games are at home against Brett Hundley’s Packers and the hated Baltimore “Browns” before Jackson’s team finishes on road against lowly Bears and a Steelers squad that could sit its stars in Week 17. OK, truth be told, we’d bet on 0-16. Last week: 2
2. John Fox, Chicago Bears: His team now officially owns the league’s worst offense, and it’s imperative to get rookie QB Mitchell Trubisky the kind of mentor who can spark a turnaround like Jared Goff has enjoyed under Sean McVay. Regardless, it’s just not viable to bring back Fox, now 12-32 in Chicago (the .273 win percentage is the worst in franchise history), especially given how he’d more snugly fit a veteran team like the Giants, who have employed him before. Last week: 4
3. Marvin Lewis, Cincinnati Bengals: Did you watch Monday night’s come-from-ahead loss, which Cincinnati led 17-0 in the first half? Quintessential Lewis Bengals — 13 penalties for 173 yards, which showcased rampant undisciplined play, dirty hits and (most memorably) CB William Jackson taking a hands-off approach that allowed Steelers RB Le’Veon Bell to tightrope into the end zone for Pittsburgh’s first TD. It was a performance that may keep Cincinnati out of postseason and could finally cost Lewis his job for this perpetually underperforming outfit. Last week: 6
4. Vance Joseph, Denver Broncos: He’s leading the charge for the first Broncos team in 50 years to drop eight in a row. This franchise is quite embarrassed (GM John Elway’s word, not ours.) The latest setback was a 26-point loss to a Miami team that seemed every bit as bad as the Broncos … until it played the Broncos. Last week: 3
5. Chuck Pagano, Indianapolis Colts: He’s assured a losing record for the first time in his six-year tenure. But this boils down to whether rookie GM Chris Ballard wants to give Pagano an opportunity to coach a legitimate roster, or if he’s seen enough that it’s time to pursue another option, like former Kansas City colleague Matt Nagy, who called a strong game Sunday. At least Pagano is enjoying his press conferences now. Last week: 5
6. Dirk Koetter, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Since Jon Gruden’s ouster following the 2008 season, only one Bucs coach (Raheem Morris) has been retained for a third season. Just sayin’. Last week: Unranked
7. Jay Gruden, Washington Redskins: The last head coach to reach a fifth season under owner Dan Snyder … doesn’t exist. Just sayin’. (And a reboot actually might be in everyone’s best interest if it becomes apparent QB Kirk Cousins won’t be back.) Last week: Unranked
— Week 12 rankings (Ben McAdoo)
— Week 11 rankings (Hue Jackson)
— Week 10 rankings (Ben McAdoo)
— Week 9 rankings (Ben McAdoo)
— Week 8 rankings (Hue Jackson)
— Week 7 rankings (Chuck Pagano)
— Week 6 rankings (Hue Jackson)
— Week 5 rankings (Hue Jackson)
— Week 4 rankings (Hue Jackson)
— Week 3 rankings (Marvin Lewis)
— Week 2 rankings (Marvin Lewis)
— Week 1 rankings (Chuck Pagano)
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