The Seattle Seahawks are still the clear favorite in leading the Associated Press power rankings, with commanding home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs there for the clinching with a couple of wins.
The San Francisco 49ers served notice, though, that they haven't disappeared. Thus, after a grind-it-out NFC West division victory by the 49ers over the Seahawks on Sunday, the top of the NFL is a little more crowded.
After two straight weeks as a unanimous first choice by the 12-member panel of media regularly covering the league, the Seahawks (11-2) received 10 first-place votes this time. The Denver Broncos (11-2) got the other two and came in second, in results released on Tuesday.
ESPN analyst Herm Edwards and ESPN.com reporter Jeff Legwold switched their first-place selections this week.
''Everyone needs to stop saying Peyton Manning can't play in the cold. The Broncos scored 51 points,'' Edwards wrote of Denver's lopsided win over the Tennessee Titans, the third 50-point game of the season by Manning and the Broncos.
The Seahawks lost their unmatched hold on the NFL's best record. Only 43 points separate them from the 49ers (9-4), who were fifth.
''Still may be the most balanced team the league has to offer at the moment,'' Legwold said.
The New Orleans Saints (10-3) moved back up two spots to third after a decisive victory over division foe Carolina. The New England Patriots (10-3) were fourth, following their third comeback win from a double-digit deficit in a row. Doing so again without star tight end Rob Gronkowski will be a difficult feat.
''The defense has been plagued with injuries and now Gronk is gone,'' wrote Pat Kirwan of CBSSports.com. ''The only QB in the NFL that can keep this team winning is Tom Brady. This is the biggest test of his career.''
The Panthers (9-4) were sixth and Kansas City (10-3) seventh. The Chiefs broke a three-game losing streak with a blowout win at Washington.
''Chiefs will be best No. 5 seed in the playoffs in a long time,'' said Fox consultant John Czarnecki.
Rounding out the top 10: Cincinnati Bengals (9-4), Philadelphia Eagles (8-5) and Indianapolis Colts (8-5), who were beaten 42-28 by the Bengals and have dropped three of their past five games, losing those by an average margin of more than 24 points.
''What has happened to the Colts?'' wrote NBC analyst Tony Dungy of the team he used to coach.
The Arizona Cardinals (8-5) were 11th and the Baltimore Ravens (7-6) and Chicago Bears (7-6) tied for 12th. Creeping up the rankings again were the Jacksonville Jaguars (4-9) who were a unanimous last-place team two months ago. They're 25th now.
''No one in the AFC is hotter,'' wrote Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News. The Ravens, Broncos and Patriots have also won four of their last five games, like the Jaguars.
The Houston Texans (2-11), headed for the first pick in the draft next spring, fired coach Gary Kubiak last week and were the consensus 32nd-place team, the only padding at the bottom for the reeling Washington Redskins (3-10).
Said Ira Kaufman of the Tampa Tribune: ''Whether it's a firing or a resignation, Mike Shanahan is toast.''
AP NFL website: http://www.pro32.ap.org