Each week, 12 national media members — including the Tribune’s Ira Kaufman — rank teams in what is known as The Associated Press Pro32 power rankings. Here is Kaufman’s ballot.
1. Seattle - Even losing at Candlestick, showed how formidable team will be in January.
2. Denver - Peyton is bludgeoning everything in his path en route to a fifth MVP award.
3. New Orleans - At home, they can beat anybody. On the road … we shall see.
4. San Francisco - That’s three in a row, returning to the smashmouth style Jim Harbaugh craves.
5. Carolina - They will take their frustrations out on Jets rookie QB Geno Smith in Charlotte.
6. Kansas City - Defense and special teams should spell the difference in the Black Hole.
7. New England - No team pulls out more improbable or dramatic wins than the Brady Bunch.
8. Cincinnati - When they’re rolling, the Bengals have the look of serious Super Bowl contender.
9. Philadelphia - Neither wind, rain nor snow has kept this offense from humming.
10. Arizona - Probably have to win out to have a realistic shot at an NFC wild card.
11. Chicago - Remember when the Bears were undermined by a stodgy attack? Not anymore.
12. Detroit - Buried by elements in Philly, they look for redemption at home Monday night.
13. Indianapolis - Somehow they’re 8-5, despite being outscored on the season.
14. Baltimore - Firmly in the AFC wild-card chase as they head into Motown.
15. Miami - Philbin has done a nice job of keeping this team together through the turmoil.
16. Dallas - Turmoil comes with the territory in Big D, which surely doesn’t stand for defense.
17. Green Bay - Just hanging around until their savior returns under center.
18. San Diego - An upset at Denver on Thursday night would give them playoff life.
19. N.Y. Jets - On the road, they have struggled to remain competitive.
20. Pittsburgh - The sad story of the 2013 Steelers is etched along the sidelines.
21. St. Louis - You need more than a vibrant pass rush to compete in this rugged division.
22. Tennessee - Mike Munchak’s seat is heating up after a promising start.
23. Tampa Bay - A home victory against the 49ers could be enough to secure Schiano’s future.
24. N.Y. Giants - A lost season for Eli Manning plays out amid little fanfare.
25. Minnesota - Surprisingly comepetitive down the stretch, but big changes loom.
26. Cleveland - Watching Josh Gordon play is worth the price of admission.
27. Jacksonville - Don’t look now, but the Jags have their sights on second place in AFC South.
28. Atlanta - They need new players more than they need a new stadium.
29. Oakland - A once-dynamic franchise keeps struggling to find relevance.
30. Buffalo - It will take more than a players-only meeting to turn this ghost ship around.
31. Washington - Whether it’s a firing or a resignation, Mike Shanahan is toast.
32. Houston - The head coaching search is on in earnest, and it’s an attractive job.
VOTING PANEL: Cris Collinsworth, NBC Sports; Tony Dungy, NBC Sports; Herman Edwards, ESPN; Bob Glauber, Newsday; Rick Gosselin, Dallas Morning News; Clark Judge, CBSSports.com; Ira Kaufman, The Tampa Tribune; Pat Kirwan, SiriusXM NFL Radio/CBSSports.com; Jeff Legwold, ESPN/ESPN.com; John Lynch, Fox Sports; Alex Marvez, Foxsports.com; Charean Williams, Fort Worth Star-Telegram