Panthers end regular season at No. 1
NEW YORK >> The Carolina Panthers ended the regular season with only one loss. And the Panthers will begin their run to the Super Bowl with home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.
And after a one-week absence, they're back at No. 1 in the AP Pro 32 power rankings, too.
The Panthers returned to the top spot on Tuesday in the final AP Pro32 of the 2015 season. They received all 12 first-place votes in balloting by media members who regularly cover the NFL.
"This team has been dominant all season, outside of stubbing its toe in Atlanta," ESPN's Herm Edwards said.
AFC West rivals Denver and Kansas City both jumped two spots to No. 2 and No. 3, respectively.
The Broncos got a lift from Peyton Manning to beat the Chargers on Sunday to clinch home-field advantage in the AFC.
"Peyton Manning comes off the bench and plays the hero in Denver's critical win over the Chargers, as the Broncos take advantage of New England's stumble against the Dolphins to get the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs," Newsday's Bob Glauber said. "It's a spectacular turn of events for the 39-year-old quarterback, who can flip the script after it appeared he'd end his career on the sideline."
Meanwhile, the Chiefs will enter Saturday's wild-card playoff game against Houston on a 10-game winning streak.
"Heading to Houston with 10 consecutive wins and a coach who knows what it takes to win in January," said Ira Kaufman of the Tampa Tribune, speaking of Andy Reid and the Chiefs.
The Cardinals slipped from the top spot to No. 4 after getting routed by the Seahawks, who jumped two spots to No. 6.
"The NFC West champion Cardinals have the most complete portfolio heading into the playoffs," said Rick Gosselin of The Dallas Morning News. "They led the NFL in offense and finished fifth in defense on the way to a 13-3 record."
The Patriots dropped to No. 5 after an unexpected loss to Miami.
"Not the way we're used to seeing them go into playoffs," NBC Sports' Tony Dungy said.
The Bengals, who will try to win a playoff game for the first time in a quarter-century on Saturday night against the Steelers, fell one spot to No. 7. The Steelers jumped two spots to No. 9
"The Bengals take an AFC North crown and a 12-4 record into the playoffs," Gosselin said. "But Cincinnati has not won a playoff game since 1990 and is 0-6 in the postseason under coach Marvin Lewis."
NFC North champion Minnesota moved up a spot to No. 8 after beating the Packers for the division title. Green Bay dropped a spot to No. 11. The Packers' playoff opponent, Washington, rounded out the top 10.
The Colts, who agreed to a four-year deal with Chuck Pagano on Monday, finished No. 17 in the poll.
"This team reeked of the dysfunction between the coach and the general manager, but somehow they patched together a .500 season despite the prolonged absence of Andrew Luck," Glauber said.
"That was good enough for team owner Jim Irsay to give Chuck Pagano a contract extension."
And the Titans, who finished 3-13, clinched the No. 1 pick in the draft.
"At least they have (Marcus) Mariota," Fox Sports' John Czarnecki said.
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