NEW YORK — Despite missing key players, the New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers are off to fast starts so far this season.
The Patriots are 2-0 while playing without Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski. And the Steelers have the same record even without running back Le’Veon Bell, who is suspended for the first three games of the season.
Pittsburgh and New England have something else in common: They also share the top spot in the latest AP Pro32 poll released on Tuesday.
The Patriots received five first-place votes and the Steelers earned three and both have 368 points from balloting by media members who regularly cover the NFL. Each of the traditional powers also faces another unbeaten team this week.
The Patriots begin the NFL’s Week 3 schedule when they host the Houston Texans on Thursday night.
Jacoby Brissett, the rookie third-round pick, could start for New England after Jimmy Garoppolo injured his throwing shoulder in the second quarter against the Miami Dolphins.
“Not that you need any more proof that Bill Belichick is one of the greatest coaches of all time — maybe the greatest — but a 2-0 start without Tom Brady, using both Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett … well, you get the idea,” Newsday’s Bob Glauber said.
The Steelers face Carson Wentz, the No. 2 overall pick in the draft, and the surprising Eagles on Sunday in Philly.
“A well-balanced attack and an improved defense stamp the Steelers as serious Super Bowl contenders,” said Ira Kaufman of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The Denver Broncos, who are also 2-0, got three first-place votes and are No. 3 overall with 365 points. The Broncos will have their first road game of the season on Sunday when they travel to Cincinnati.
“Life’s good for a first-year starting quarterback when you play for a team with a defense for the ages,” Glauber said of Trevor Siemian.
“Denver’s D does it again against Colts, as Aqib Talib’s interception return for a touchdown seals the win and keeps the defending champs unbeaten.”
Carolina, which received the other first-place vote, moved up a spot to No. 4 and is the highest-ranked NFC team in the poll.
The Vikings jumped up five spots to No. 5 after edging the rival Packers, who dropped five places to No. 9.
The Cardinals moved to sixth after routing the Buccaneers for their first win of the season.
“Larry Fitzgerald keeps building a Hall of Fame resume, but David Johnson is the engine in Arizona’s dynamic attack,” Kaufman said.
The Texans are No. 7, the unbeaten New York Giants are No. 8 and the Bengals round out the top 10.