Niners take a tumble in Pro32 power rankings

Rams had upper hand to drop 49ers in AP Pro32 poll

A mere five points from the top spot in last week's Associated Press Pro32 power rankings, the 49ers' reputation and ranking took a big hit after a 16-13 overtime loss to the St. Louis Rams, dropping three spots this week to No. 5 in the poll of a nationwide media panel.

San Francisco's upset loss allowed the New England Patriots to move up to the No. 2 spot held by the 49ers last week, setting up an NFL version of No. 1 vs. No. 2 on Monday night when the Houston Texans visit New England.

The Texans remained first in this week's rankings while the Patriots inched up two spots into a second-place tie with the Atlanta Falcons.

Houston received eight first-place votes and 376 points in balloting by The Associated Press' panel of 12 media members who regularly cover the league. The Texans (11-1) are first for the fourth straight week.

The Texans were first with 370 points last week, just five points ahead of the 49ers, who had three first place votes last week got only two votes higher than fifth this week from the 12 paenlists.

New England (9-3) and Atlanta (11-1) each had 364 points; the Patriots received three first-place votes, the Falcons one.

''We will find out all we need to know about this team when they visit New England on Monday,'' said the Chicago Tribune's Dan Pompei, who had the Texans first and the Patriots third on his ballot.

''Had impressive win in Chicago. Can they get one in New England?'' asked Clifton Brown of Sporting News, who had the Texans fifth and the Patriots first.
Brown had the 49ers higher than any other panelist, ranking them second this week. Brown had San Francisco first last week.

The Texans clinched a playoff spot with last week's win over Tennessee, while the Falcons clinched the NFC South and the Patriots the AFC East over the weekend.

New England has made a steady climb up the rankings thanks to a six-game winning streak.

''Hard to keep out of the top spot when all you do is win,'' ESPN's Chris Berman said.

''Still don't trust the defense,'' noted Rich Gannon of CBS Sports/SiriusXM NFL Radio, ''but they do have Brady and the No. 1 offense that's averaging 36 ppg.''

Denver is up a spot to fourth after clinching the AFC West with its seventh straight win.

"They can run. They can play defense. They have Peyton Manning. And they can't lose,'' said Clark Judge of CBSSports.com. ''Yeah, I'd say the Broncos are complete.''

Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News noted the Texans and Broncos are the most balanced teams in the league because they are the ''only teams that rank in the top 10 in both offense and defense.''

The New York Giants dropped a spot to eighth after a 17-16 loss to Robert Griffin III and Washington on Monday night, with the Redskins up two places to 14th. The Giants are the highest-ranked 7-5 team and are ahead of two 8-4 teams – Chicago (ninth) and Indianapolis (10th).

The defending Super Bowl champion Giants have a one-game lead over Dallas and Washington in the suddenly tight NFC East race.

''The Giants have been very inconsistent and to me it starts up front on both sides of the ball,'' said John Lynch of Fox Sports. ''This D-line that has been so feared and integral to their success and championships in recent years needs to start dominating!''

Pittsburgh, in a playoff fight with Baltimore and Cincinnati, improved three spots to 11th with a win over the Ravens.

''They likely salvaged their season in an unlikely venue – Baltimore,'' noted Ira Kaufman of the Tampa Tribune.

Kansas City, with an emotional win over Carolina, moved up two places from last to 30th. Jacksonville fell to 32nd.

Here's what members of the media panel had to say about the 49ers this week, with where each panelist ranked San Francisco in parentheses.

Chris Berman (ESPN, 4): Kaepernick was bound to be human.

Clifton Brown (Sporting News, 2): The quarterback saga will make their stretch run interesting.

Rich Gannon (CBS Sports/SiriusXM NFL Radio, 6): Very curious to see if the QB situation becomes a problem for this team down the stretch.

Bob Glauber (Newsday, 5): Colin Kaepernick looked like a championship quarterback when he first filled in for Alex Smith. Now he's looking like an uncertain second-year quarterback going through the usual NFL growing pains. Jim Harbaugh gives him another week as the starter, though, hoping Kaepernick has better luck against the Dolphins at home.

Rick Gosselin (Dallas Morning News, 5): The 49ers are 0-1-1 against the lowly Rams and 8-2 against everyone else.

Clark Judge (CBSSports.com, 5): Jim Harbaugh just announced he'll start the next game at quarterback.

Ira Kaufman (Tampa Tribune, 5): Anytime Frank Gore is contained, this offense struggles.

Pat Kirwan (SiriusXM NFL Radio/CBSSports.com, 6): The Kaepernick experiment continues and as I said last week there is risk involved. Flashing great skills is one thing, winning tough games is another story.

John Lynch (Fox Sports, 5): A bold move by Harbaugh to stick with Kaepernick at QB backfired against the Rams.

Alex Marvez (Foxsports.com, 5): What is it with the St. Louis Rams? The 49ers are 0-1-1 against that mediocre franchise and 8-2 versus the rest of the league.

Dan Pompei (Chicago Tribune, 6): Alex Smith is advised to keep his arm loose.

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