NEW YORK – Despite not playing last week because of their bye, the New England Patriots are still on top of the NFL.
The Patriots (7-2) received seven of 12 first-place votes Tuesday for the AP Pro32 power rankings, which are decided by a media panel that regularly covers the league.
The Patriots face Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday night, starting a tough three-game stretch for New England.
"The Patriots will truly be the Super Bowl front-runner if they can survive a brutal November stretch that features games against Indianapolis (6-3), Detroit (7-2) and Green Bay (6-3)." Alex Marvez of Foxsports.com said.
ESPN's Herm Edwards said the Colts also have something to prove against coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady.
"Indianapolis lost early in the season to Denver," Edwards said. "The Colts need to show they can play with elite AFC teams this weekend against the Patriots."
The Arizona Cardinals (8-1) received the other five first-place votes and stayed at No. 2 in the poll.
The Cardinals will have to rely on backup quarterback Drew Stanton after Carson Palmer was lost for the season with a torn ACL in his knee.
"If the Cardinals are to become the first team to play a Super Bowl in their home stadium, backup QB Drew Stanton will now have to take them." Rick Gosselin of The Dallas Morning News said.
Stanton threw a touchdown pass as the Cardinals rallied in the fourth quarter to beat the St. Louis Rams on Sunday.
"(Coach Bruce) Arians really believes in QB Drew Stanton," Fox Sports' John Czarnecki said.
In fact, the top five all stayed the same as the Denver Broncos, Philadelphia Eagles and Detroit Lions followed the Patriots and Cardinals.
The Eagles (7-2) are also counting on a backup QB with Mark Sanchez replacing Nick Foles.
"Resurgent Mark Sanchez is having fun guiding the NFC's highest-scoring attack," said Ira Kaufman of the Tampa Tribune.
Next up for the Lions is a key game on Sunday at Arizona in a matchup of two of the top teams in the NFC.
"Matthew Stafford does it again," NBC's Tony Dungy said of the Lions QB's last-minute touchdown pass to beat Miami. "Big test this week at Arizona."
The Green Bay Packers, the Colts, Seattle Seahawks, Dallas Cowboys and Kansas City Chiefs rounded out the top 10.
"Tony Romo returns from a back injury and revives the Dallas offense in a much-needed win over the Jaguars in London to stop a two-game losing streak," Newsday's Bob Glauber said.
The Packers' defensive performance in their Sunday night rout of the Bears impressed Jenny Vrentas of The Monday Morning Quarterback.
"Wily move by the Packers, addressing their 32nd-ranked run defense over the bye week by moving Clay Matthews to inside linebacker," she said.
AP NFL websites: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL