“We’re getting better and better each week,” says Chicago Bears head coach LOVIE SMITH, whose team improved to 6-3 last week. “We’ve been seeing progress. We’re climbing up the standings. It’s November and this is when the teams that are really going to compete step up and play their best football. Hopefully that will be us.”

And what a difference a year makes. Six of the eight divisions feature a new team in first place from last season’s final standings.  The six new division leaders are a combined 42-14 (.750) through Week 10, 12 wins better than their records from a year ago at this time (30-24, .556)

DIVISION

2010 WINNER

2011 LEADER

2011 RECORD

2010 RECORD THRU WEEK 10

AFC South

Indianapolis

Houston

7-3

4-5

AFC West

Kansas City

Oakland

5-4

5-4

NFC East

Philadelphia

N.Y. Giants

6-3

6-3

NFC North

Chicago

Green Bay

9-0

6-3

NFC South

Atlanta

New Orleans

7-3

6-3

NFC West

Seattle

San Francisco

8-1

3-6


Leading the way are the Green Bay Packers, who improved to 9-0 with a win on Monday night. The Packers are the third defending Super Bowl champion to start the following season 9-0 (1990 San Francisco 49ers and 1998 Denver Broncos).


Some of the key games in Week 11:

            NEW YORK JETS (5-4) at DENVER BRONCOS (4-5) (Thursday, NFLN, 8:00 PM ET)                

Two teams in the thick of the AFC playoff race will kick off Week 11 with a Thursday night showdown in Denver.

The Jets had won three in a row before their Week 10 loss and look to bounce back in Week 11. At 5-4, New York is tied with Buffalo for second in the AFC East, one game behind division-leading New England (6-3).

“We can’t dwell on it,” says Jets head coach REX RYAN about the team’s loss last week to the Patriots. “We have to move on quickly. With the way Denver’s playing, it’s going to be a tough game.”

The Broncos have won three of their past four with quarterback TIM TEBOW as the team’s starter. In last week’s 17-10 win at Kansas City, Tebow threw a 56-yard touchdown pass and added a seven-yard TD run. It marked the sixth time in his career that he had a touchdown pass and TD run in the same game.

“We have a very resilient team and one with a lot of character,” says Tebow. “We’re a team that goes out there and cares about each other. We care about what we do and we go out there and lay everything out on the field.”

            CINCINNATI BENGALS (6-3) at BALTIMORE RAVENS (6-3) (Sunday, CBS, 1:00 PM ET)                

The Bengals and Ravens enter Week 11 tied for second place in the AFC North, one game behind the division-leading Pittsburgh Steelers. At 6-3, both Cincinnati and Baltimore are in prime position for an AFC playoff berth.

“I’ve said all along that we’re contenders and we’re going to be contenders,” says Bengals tackle ANDREW WHITWORTH on the team’s attitude.

Cincinnati is one of seven teams – San Francisco (8), Houston (7), Cincinnati (6), Detroit (6), Buffalo (5), Denver (4), Carolina (2) – that has already matched or surpassed last year’s win total. Two more teams – Dallas (5-4) and Tennessee (5-4) can add to that total this week.

Last week, Bengals quarterback ANDY DALTON threw two touchdown passes – his third consecutive game with at least two passing TDs – and has 14 this season, the most by a rookie through the first nine game since at least 1970

The Ravens are a perfect 4-0 at home this season and, dating back to 2009, have won 14 of their past 15 home games, outscoring opponents 415-224 during that stretch.

“It’s the National Football League,” says Baltimore linebacker RAY LEWIS, “and the bottom line is we have the division on the line next week. That’s exciting.”

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (3-6) AT NEW YORK GIANTS (6-3) (Sunday, NBC, 8:20 PM ET)                

NFC East rivals meet on Sunday night when the Eagles visit the Giants. Philadelphia trails first-place New York by three games and looks to get back into the division race.

In Week 3, the Giants defeated the Eagles 29-16, outscoring Philadelphia 15-0 in the fourth quarter to complete the come-from-behind victory. New York quarterback ELI MANNINGpassed for four touchdowns on the day and was named the NFC Offensive Player of the Week for his performance. In that contest, Manning became the first Eagles opponent to throw at least four touchdown passes in a victory at Philadelphia since 1989, when Pro Football Hall of Famer JOE MONTANA passed for five TDs to lead San Francisco.

“We’ve got to get out there and have a good week of practice,” says New York wide receiver HAKEEM NICKS, who had a touchdown catch in Week 10. “We’ve got a division rival this week.”

Eagles running back LE SEAN MC COY leads the NFL with 12 touchdowns (10 rushing, two receiving) and has scored in each of the team’s first nine games. McCoy is the fourth running back since 1960 to score a touchdown in each of the first nine games of a season, joining Pro Football Hall of Famers LENNY MOORE (1964) and O.J. SIMPSON (1975) andGEORGE ROGERS (1986).

“We need to work on a few things. But we’re close, obviously,” says Philadelphia head coach ANDY REID. Five of the Eagles’ six losses this season have been by seven points or fewer. “Our challenge as coaches and players is to make sure we get that win.”

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (4-5) AT NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (6-3) (MONDAY, ESPN, 8:30 PM ET)                

New England’s victory in Week 10 gave BILL BELICHICK and TOM BRADY their 117th win together, the most by a head coach-quarterback tandem in the Super Bowl era, passing Pro Football Hall of Famers DON SHULA and DAN MARINO.

“Our players did a great job,” says Belichick about the Patriots’ win against the New York Jets. “Give them credit. But now we need to turn the page. We’ve got another big one coming up on Monday night. We’re not even at Thanksgiving yet. There’s a lot of football left in the season. One football game won’t win you much.”

In the Week 10 victory, Brady passed for 329 yards and three touchdowns, including 113 yards and two touchdowns to tight end ROB GRONKOWSKI. Wide receiver WES WELKERadded six receptions and became the fastest player in NFL history to record 500 receptions with one team (70 games).

The Chiefs, who have rebounded from an 0-3 start, find themselves just one game out of first place in the AFC West and are gearing up for the stretch run.

“The season’s going to continue on and we’re in a position where, if we can come out and player better football, we’ll be right in this,” says Kansas City head coach TODD HALEY. “The bottom line is for us getting ourselves ready to go this week. It will be a big, big game for us, going on the road to New England.”

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NFL FACTOID

Chicago’s DEVIN HESTER had an 82-yard punt-return touchdown in the Bears’ 37-13 win over Detroit. Including the postseason, Hester has 19 career total return touchdowns (NFL-record 12 punt, six kickoff, one missed field goal), tied with Pro Football Hall of Famer DEION SANDERS for the most in NFL history.

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