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NEW YORK (AP) — With the regular season winding down, Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and the rest of the New England Patriots are back in a familiar spot.
On top of the NFL.
The Patriots moved up two spots to No. 1 in the AP Pro32 poll on Tuesday, receiving nine of 12 first-place votes for 379 points in balloting by media members who regularly cover the NFL.
The Patriots (11-3) edged the Steelers 27-24 at Heinz Field on Sunday in one of the most anticipated matchups of the season.
"Another No. 1 AFC seed is in their hungry grasp after the Patriots rode Rob Gronkowski to victory at Heinz Field," said Ira Kaufman of SB Nation Radio.
Gronkowski had nine catches for 168 yards for the AFC East champions.
The Patriots now are in position to clinch home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. Because the Patriots close the regular season with home games against Buffalo and the Jets, they might not leave Foxborough until the Super Bowl in Minneapolis in February.
"Patriots fans so inclined can now safely buy their airplane tickets to Minneapolis for Super Bowl 52," said Alex Marvez of The Sporting News.
The Steelers slipped to No. 2 in the poll after the loss.
Pittsburgh blew a 24-16 point lead, then botched a chance to pull it out on the final drive when tight end Jesse James' apparent touchdown was overturned on review. Ben Roethlisberger then threw an interception in the end zone rather than spike the ball to set up a potential tying field goal.
"I'm not happy with the outcome," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said on Tuesday. "We played to win. We didn't win the game. We're not quantifying level of success. We didn't do enough to win the game."
The Minnesota Vikings inched up a spot to No. 3 after routing the lifeless Cincinnati Bengals 34-7 to clinch the NFC North.
"Odds increasing of hosting Super Bowl," Fox Sports' John Czarnecki said.
Despite beating the New York Giants in their first game without Carson Wentz, the Philadelphia Eagles dropped two spots to No. 4. The Eagles, who have the NFL's best record at 12-2, received the remaining three first-place votes.
The Los Angeles Rams remained at No. 5 after routing the Seattle Seahawks 42-7 and are closing in on their first division title since 2003.
"The changing of the guard in the NFC West is now complete, thanks to a road rout of the Seahawks led by dynamic MVP candidate Todd Gurley," Kaufman said.
The New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers, tied for first place in the NFC South at 10-4, were tied in the poll at No. 6.
The Jacksonville Jaguars remained at No. 8 as they ended a decade-long playoff drought with a 45-7 rout of AFC South rival Houston on Sunday.
The Atlanta Falcons stayed at No. 9 after holding off the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 24-21 on Monday to stay in the playoff race.
The Kansas City Chiefs jumped four spots to round out the top 10.
For more NFL coverage: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL
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