NEW YORK (AP) — Colin Kaepernick has the job from the start this season, and the feeling is the flashy quarterback is more than capable of leading the San Francisco 49ers to a Super Bowl championship.
The 49ers, who came up a few yards short of winning last year's title game, open the preseason as the No. 1 team in the AP Pro32 NFL power rankings. "He looks ready to take the next step," Newsday's Bob Glauber said of the third-year quarterback who stepped in for the now departed Alex Smith and went 7-3 in leading the 49ers to the Super Bowl.
"A lot of losses from last year's roster," noted NBC Sports' Tony Dungy, "but solid in all three phases." San Francisco's wide receiver spot took a hit with the loss of Michael Crabtree until midseason, but the 49ers filled the void by signing Ravens standout Anquan Boldin. The 49ers also added dependable kicker Phil Dawson in the offseason to replace the inconsistent David Akers and signed cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha.
San Francisco received five first-place votes Tuesday from The Associated Press panel of 11 media members who regularly cover the league, and totaled 344 points. The Denver Broncos, who added standout wide receiver Wes Welker to catch Peyton Manning's passes, are second with four first-place votes and 335 points.
"Welker gives them enough O to overcome injury problems," said Dungy, who voted Denver first and San Francisco second. "Wes Welker keeps the chain moving and Montee Ball Jr. closes the game in the fourth quarter," summed up ESPN's Herm Edwards.
Receiving one first-place vote each are the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens and the Seahawks. "How do you beat them at home, they have the 12th man?" Edwards asked of Seattle, the team he had No. 1 on his ballot.
The Atlanta Falcons are third with 323 points, one point ahead of Seattle. Rounding out the top 10, Green Bay is fifth, followed by Baltimore, Houston and New England tied at No. 7, Cincinnati and Indianapolis.
There are high hopes again in Atlanta. The Falcons turned Matt Ryan into a $100 million quarterback with a contract extension, tight end Tony Gonzalez was lured out of retirement and a top running back was brought in from St. Louis.
"The Falcons have a Super Bowl-ready passing attack. They hope Steven Jackson can give them a Super Bowl-ready rushing attack," Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News said. Adds Charean Williams of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: "Falcons should have a huge chip on their shoulder. No one is talking about them."
The Jacksonville Jaguars, one of eight teams with new coaches this season, are ranked last — picked 32nd by six of the voters. A year ago, the Colts started 32nd with rookie quarterback Andrew Luck but made the playoffs and finished 10th — exactly where they start in the preseason rankings.
Kansas City ended up 32nd last year after winning two games. The Chiefs fired their coach, then hired fired Eagles coach Andy Reid and head into the preseason at No. 19. An updated preseason AP Pro32 NFL power rankings will be released Sept. 3, followed by weekly rankings through the regular season.
The voting panel is Cris Collinsworth (NBC Sports), Tony Dungy (NBC Sports), Herm Edwards (ESPN), Bob Glauber (Newsday), Rick Gosselin (Dallas Morning News), Clark Judge (CBSSports.com), Ira Kaufman (Tampa Tribune), Pat Kirwan (SiriusXM), John Lynch (Fox Sports), Alex Marvez (FoxSports1, SiriusXM NFL Radio), and Charean Williams (Fort Worth Star-Telegram).
Follow Richard Rosenblatt on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/rosenblattap