Packers still atop AP Pro32 as season begins

NEW YORK (AP) - Green Bay had staying power in the AP Pro32 through the preseason. Now, let’s see how long the Packers can remain the top-rated team in The Associated Press NFL power rankings.

Green Bay earned five first-place votes from a panel of 12 media members who regularly cover the league, and had 373 points overall to edge New England and the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants. The Patriots got two first-place votes and 367 points, while the Giants were No. 1 on five ballots and totaled 363 points.

“I’ve seen enough improvement from the defense in preseason to keep the Packers at the top,” said 2002 NFL MVP Rich Gannon of CBS Sports and SiriusXM NFL Radio.

Added Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune: “The addition of Cedric Benson could give the Packers a dimension they lacked.”

That would be a running game, of course. If the Packers, who went 15-1 last year with virtually no ground attack and a leaky defense, improve both areas, there seems no reason they won’t lead the AP Pro32 for a long time.

Still, the Giants might feel slighted heading into Wednesday night’s season opener against Dallas. “After all, as Chris Berman of ESPN put it, “they are defending champs.”

The top eight are the same as in the previous poll conducted just before preseason games. San Francisco, Baltimore, Houston, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia followed the Giants.

One team that cracked the top 10 was Atlanta, which replaced NFC South rival New Orleans at ninth. The Saints, who begin the schedule without coach Sean Payton _ suspended for the season _ and interim coach Joe Vitt (six-game suspension) because of punishment for the team’s bounty program, slipped to 10th.

“Saints still have a ton of talent, plus Drew Brees,” Clark Judge of CBSSports.com said. “No Sean Payton will keep them down, though.”

Not nearly as down as they were in finishing last in the first AP Pro32 were the Colts. Rookie Andrew Luck’s poise had something to do with their rise to 27th, as did the impression many voters got that several teams simply are worse than rebuilding Indy.

“After watching Andrew Luck play, I think the Colts could win five or six games,” said Pat Kirwan of CBS Sports and Sirius XM. “Wins may come in the second half of the season, but they play too hard to be basement dwellers.”

That, uh, dishonor went to Cleveland, which had 15 rookies make the roster, including quarterback Brandon Weeden and running back Trent Richardson, both first-round choices. The Browns were 30th in the first poll.

“Baby steps in Cleveland with Weeden and Richardson,” former All-Pro safety John Lynch of Fox Sports said.

Another team that dropped: the New York Jets. After the first-string offense didn’t score a touchdown in the exhibition season, the Jets fell from No. 17 to No. 19. Three voters had them as low as 22nd.

“Jets had better hope gimmick packages new offensive coordinator Tony Sparano didn’t unveil during preseason can provide punch for unit that failed to score touchdown in 30 combined drives under Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow,” Alex Marvez of Foxsports.com said.

One team the voters felt good about after the preseason was Carolina; the Panthers moved up two spots to No. 18.

“Division crowded with contenders, and that might include Panthers before long,” Bob Glauber of Newsday said of the NFC South. “I can’t say enough about Cam Newton’s leadership and ability. A surprise team in `12? Could be.”

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Online: http://pro32.ap.org/poll and http://twitter.com/AP_NFL

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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