The NFL has entered the second half of the season and the excitement is building as playoff races tighten. Week 11 kicks off on Thursday night (8:25 PM ET, NFL Network) when the Indianapolis Colts visit the Tennessee Titans in an AFC South divisional contest. The 6-3 Colts lead the division by two games over the Titans.
Through the first 10 weeks, there are 23 teams either in or within one-and-a-half games of a playoff spot.
“It’s a long season and we’re just taking it one game at a time,” says defensive end JASON PIERRE-PAUL of the New York Giants, who have won three in a row after an 0-6 start. “We are not trying to think three games ahead. We’re just thinking about the next game. We’re taking it one game at a time.”
The Giants, who are now just a game-and-a-half out of first place in the NFC East, are only the second team in NFL history to lose its first six games and win the next three (2009 Tennessee).
As the NFL enters Week 11, seven of the eight divisions have at least one team either in or tied for first place that did not win its division in 2012.
|DIVISION||2012 CHAMP||2013 LEADER||DIVISION||2012 CHAMP||2013 LEADER|
|AFC North||Baltimore||Cincinnati (6-4)||NFC North||Green Bay||Detroit (6-3)|
|AFC South||Houston||Indianapolis (6-3)||NFC South||Atlanta||New Orleans (7-2)|
|AFC East||New England||New England (7-2)||NFC East||Washington||Dallas (5-5), Philadelphia (5-5)|
|AFC West||Denver||Kansas City (9-0)||NFC West||San Francisco||Seattle (9-1)|
Additionally, four of the teams who are currently either in or tied for first place finished in or tied for last place in its division last season: Kansas City, New Orleans, Detroit and Philadelphia.
“Being successful in this league is dealing with adversity and bouncing back,” says Lions head coach JIM SCHWARTZ. “It’s a long season to get through. We have six wins and that’s not going to be enough. You have to go out and prepare for your next opponent.”
The week concludes with two marquee matchups. Two AFC West rivals will meet on Sunday night (NBC, 8:30 PM ET) when the 9-0 Kansas City Chiefs visit the 8-1 Denver Broncos. The teams’ combined winning percentage of .944 (17-1) is the highest in a game this late in the season since December 7, 1969 when the 11-0 Los Angeles Rams faced the 10-1 Minnesota Vikings (combined 21-1, .955 winning percentage). And on Monday night (ESPN, 8:40 PM ET), the 6-3 Carolina Panthers, winners of five in a row, will host the 7-2 New England Patriots. Some of the key games this week:
CLEVELAND BROWNS (4-5) at CINCINNATI BENGALS (6-4) (Sunday, CBS, 1:00 PM ET)
The top three teams in the AFC North are separated by just a game-and-a-half. Cincinnati sits atop the division with a 6-4 record with both Cleveland and Baltimore right behind at 4-5. The Browns will look to cut into that lead on Sunday when they visit the Bengals.
Cleveland defeated the Ravens in Week 9 and had a bye last week. In the team’s Week 9 win, quarterback JASON CAMPBELL threw three touchdown passes with a 116.6 passer rating and was named the AFC Offensive Player of the Week. The Browns, who knocked off the Bengals in Week 4, are looking to sweep the season series from Cincinnati for the first time since 2002.
“We’ve hit the halfway point of the season and now we have to play well in the second half,” says Browns head coach ROB CHUDZINSKI. “It starts with our same approach and playing games one at a time.”
The Bengals are 4-0 at home in 2013, outscoring opponents 116-55. Cincinnati looks to bounce back from two consecutive overtime losses: 22-20 at Miami in Week 9 and 20-17 at Baltimore last week.
“We still control our own destiny,” says center KYLE COOK on the Bengals’ division chances. “We have three division games left and two are at home. We’re far from the end of the season. We’ve got plenty of season left.”
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (6-3) at NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (7-2) (Sunday, FOX, 4:25 PM ET)
Two of the NFC’s best will meet on Sunday afternoon in New Orleans. The Saints lead the NFC South with a 7-2 record while the 49ers are in the postseason hunt with a 6-3 mark.
San Francisco has won five of its past six games, scoring at least 30 points in all five wins. Running back FRANK GORE, who has rushed for four touchdowns in his past three games, is tied for third in the NFL with seven rushing TDs.
New Orleans defeated Dallas last week 49-17 as the Saints set an NFL single-game record with 40 first downs. The offense was led by quarterback DREW BREES, who completed 34 of 41 passes (82.9 percent) for 392 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions for a 139 passer rating. Brees extended his NFL-record streak to 21 consecutive games with at least two touchdown passes at one venue (Superdome). Running back MARK INGRAM rushed for a career-high 145 yards – averaging 10.4 yards per carry – and added a touchdown.
“It was an important win for us,” says Saints head coach SEAN PAYTON about the team’s victory over Dallas. “We did a lot of good things. But each week is a different challenge and we’ll certainly have our hands full this week coming up against San Francisco.”
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (9-0) AT DENVER BRONCOS (8-1) (Sunday, NBC, 8:30 PM ET)
The AFC’s top two teams will meet on Sunday night as the 9-0 Chiefs face the 8-1 Broncos. The teams’ combined winning percentage of .944 (17-1) is the highest in a game this late in the season since December 7, 1969 when the 11-0 Los Angeles Rams faced the 10-1 Minnesota Vikings (combined 21-1, .955 winning percentage).
The Chiefs, who had a bye in Week 10, are the first team in the four professional sports leagues (NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL) to start a season 9-0 after finishing with the worst record in the previous year. Kansas City has allowed a league-low 111 points and is the first club since 1934 to start 9-0 and not allow more than 17 points in any of the first nine games.
“They’ve got a good football team,” says Chiefs head coach ANDY REID of the Broncos. “They’ve got good players and good coaches and that’s normally a pretty good formula.”
The high-powered Denver offense will match up against the Chiefs’ stingy defense. The Broncos have scored 371 points, the most through the first nine games of a season in NFL history. Leading the way is quarterback PEYTON MANNING, who has passed for 33 touchdowns, tied with TOM BRADY (2007) for the most through the first nine games of a season in NFL history.
“It’s a big game,” says Broncos interim head coach/defensive coordinator JACK DEL RIO. “It’s a divisional game against the team we’re chasing right now.”
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (7-2) AT CAROLINA PANTHERS (6-3) (Monday, ESPN, 8:40 PM ET)
The Patriots, who had a bye in Week 10, will look to continue the offensive success it had in Week 9 when New England scored 55 points and racked up 610 yards of total offense. In that win over Pittsburgh, quarterback TOM BRADY threw for 432 yards and four touchdowns without an interception. The performance was Brady’s 15th with at least four touchdowns and no interceptions and the Patriots are 15-0 in those contests.
“There’s a lot of football left to be played,” says New England head coach BILL BELICHICK. “We just need to focus on what we’re doing and who we’re playing and try to go out there and play better than we’ve played, try to improve and try to win. We’re not looking at anybody but Carolina right now. It’s a good football team and I’m sure they’ll be ready to go on Monday night.”
Carolina aims for its sixth consecutive win. The Panthers’ defense has been one of the league’s best, allowing 115 points, the second-fewest in the NFL behind only 9-0 Kansas City (111). Carolina is the only team in the NFL to rank in the top five in total (second), rushing (second) and passing (tied for fourth) defense. Last week, the Panthers held San Francisco to nine points and 151 total net yards in Carolina’s 10-9 victory. Entering that contest, the 49ers had averaged 34.8 points and 357.6 total net yards per game over its past five games (all wins).
“Everybody’s on the same page,” says Panthers defensive end CHARLES JOHNSON, who ranks second in the NFC with 8.5 sacks. “When everybody is on the same page, buying into the scheme, you’re going to end up being successful. It’s all about being a team and playing as one.”