Saints, Rams, Bears highlight top 3 in AP Pro32 poll

NEW YORK — The road to the Super Bowl in the NFC will go through the Big Easy.

Though the Saints’ path to get to Atlanta could be challenging: The top three teams in the latest AP Pro32 poll are all from the NFC.

The Saints received all 12 first-place votes for 384 points in balloting Wednesday by media members who regularly cover the NFL.

New Orleans (13-2) clinched the top seed in the NFC after Sunday’s 31-28 win over Pittsburgh. The previous time New Orleans had the top seed in the NFC was 2009 when it reached and won the Super Bowl.

“The news is all good for the Saints: They clinch home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs with a thrilling win over the Steelers, and (quarterback) Drew Brees has a chance to win his first-ever regular-season MVP award,” Newsday’s Bob Glauber said.

The NFC West champion Los Angeles Rams jumped three places to No. 2 after dominating Arizona without star running back Todd Gurley. The Rams can clinch a first-round bye with a win against San Francisco in the regular-season finale.

NFC North champion Chicago Bears inched up a spot to No. 3.

“With a swarming defence and a solid ground game, the Bears appear poised to make some waves in January along the frosty shores of Lake Michigan,” said Ira Kaufman of Fox 13 in Tampa.

The next three teams in the poll are all from the AFC.

Kansas City and the Los Angeles Chargers, tied at 11-4 in the AFC West, slipped to No. 4 and No. 5 respectively. The Chiefs dropped a spot after their 38-31 loss at Seattle on Sunday night, and the Chargers fell from No. 2 after losing to Baltimore on Saturday night.

The New England Patriots, who won the AFC East for the 10th consecutive year, moved up a spot to No. 6.

Seattle climbed three spots to No. 7 after clinching a playoff berth with a win over the Chiefs.

The Houston Texans slipped two spots to No. 8 after losing to the Philadelphia Eagles 32-30 on Jake Elliott’s field goal as time expired Sunday. However, the first-place Texans clinched a playoff spot later in the day when the Steelers lost.

Houston will clinch the AFC South with a win over the Jaguars.

The surging Baltimore Ravens jumped three spots to No. 9. The Ravens (9-6) lead the AFC North by a half-game over Pittsburgh. The Ravens host Cleveland on Sunday and will take the division with a win.

“Who wants to play them?,” asked Fox Sports’ John Czarnecki of the Ravens, who were 4-5 entering their bye week and have won five of six overall.

The Steelers need to win at home against the last-place Bengals and have the Ravens stumble for their best chance at reaching the post-season.

The Indianapolis Colts fell one spot despite rallying past the New York Giants to round out the top 10. The Colts and Tennessee Titans, who remained No. 14 in the poll, are both 9-6 and end the regular season in a prime-time matchup on NBC. The winner will clinch a playoff spot and could take the division if the Texans stumble earlier in the day.

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