The Texans remained first in the AP Pro32 power rankings Tuesday, 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.
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.
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. San Francisco slips three spots to fifth after an overtime loss to the St. Louis Rams.
"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.
Comments on the Houston Texans by the AP Pro32 panel (ranking in parentheses):
Chris Berman (ESPN, 2) -- If this were BCS, Monday Night would be the title game.
Clifton Brown (Sporting News, 5) -- Had impressive win in Chicago. Can they get one in New England?
Rich Gannon (CBS Sports/SiriusXM NFL Radio, 1) -- Will be tough to beat in the playoffs if they secure home-field advantage throughout.
Bob Glauber (Newsday, 1) -- Sixth straight win clinches second straight AFC South title and 11th win sets franchise record. Texans winning in just about every conceivable fashion. Time to start thinking Super Bowl run.
Rick Gosselin (Dallas Morning News, 1) -- There have been 46 three-game road trips in the NFL since 2000. The Texans aspire to become just the sixth team to go 3-0 on one of those trips. That would entail winning this weekend in New England, though.
Clark Judge (CBSSports.com, 2) -- Biggest obstacle no longer is Indianapolis; it's ... see Atlanta.
Ira Kaufman (Tampa Tribune, 1) -- Riding a 15-1 streak, Matt Schaub may be the NFL's most disrespected quarterback.
Pat Kirwan (SiriusXM NFL Radio/CBSSports.com, 1) -- 11-1 and playing well on both sides of the ball. The big question is how they play in the postseason.
John Lynch (Fox Sports, 1) -- What a showdown coming with the Patriots coming on Monday night.
Alex Marvez (Foxsports.com, 1) -- The J.J. Watt-led defense got back on track in last Sunday's 24-10 win at Tennessee.
Dan Pompei (Chicago Tribune, 1) -- We will find out all we need to know about this team when they visit New England on Monday.