The undefeated Saints come to town today as one of a few teams with a comfortable lead in their division race, owning a four-game edge over the Falcons with seven to play (same lead as the Colts and one better than the Vikings). But several intriguing races for division titles appear to be shaping up, including today's AFC West showdown between the Broncos (6-3) and Chargers (6-3). These two divisions could go down to the wire:
Where it sits: The Cowboys (6-3) hold a one-game lead over the Eagles (5-4) and Giants (5-4).
Big games: Dec. 6 — Cowboys at Giants; Dec. 13 — Eagles at Giants; Jan. 3 — Eagles at Cowboys
Prediction: Cowboys. The Giants have lost four straight, with coach Tom Coughlin recently calling out his leaders to step up. One of the Eagles' top playmakers, RB Brian Westbrook, is out after suffering two concussions in a three-week span. And both have tougher remaining schedules than Dallas (Giants play Falcons, Broncos and Vikings; Eagles face three tough road tests).
Where it sits: The Broncos (6-3) and Chargers (6-3) are tied for first, with Denver winning the first matchup in San Diego.
Big games: Today — Chargers at Broncos; Dec. 13 — Broncos at Colts; Dec. 27 — Broncos at Eagles
Prediction: Chargers. Few probably thought San Diego would be in this position after losing to the Broncos a month ago, but the Chargers have won four straight, including a dramatic victory over the Giants. And they have an easier road to the title, as they still face the Chiefs, Browns and Titans.
NFL WEEK 11
Bengals (7-2) at Raiders (2-7)
Ex-Bucs QB Bruce Gradkowski, left, delivers in his first Raiders start, beating the Bengals like he did with Tampa Bay in 2006.
Quote of the week
"Honestly, he's breaking face masks when he's running through there. I get the heck out of the way when I hear him coming."
Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald on RB Beanie Wells, above
You could understand if Cowboys C Andre Gurode would have some angry feelings toward DT Albert Haynesworth, who kicked a helmetless Gurode in the head and scraped a cleat across his face in a 2006 game. But as Gurode prepares to face Haynesworth's Redskins today, he says he has moved on.
"I think that situation is behind us," Gurode said. "It's something that happened years ago. He doesn't focus on it. I don't focus on it. We just moved forward and continue to play football. You can't let what happened in the past define who you are."
What they're saying
Bengals WR Chad Ochocinco is rarely reluctant to speak his mind. He did it again this week as he defended Raiders benched QB JaMarcus Russell, saying he's a victim of his supporting cast and that Tom Brady or Peyton Manning would be struggling with Oakland's offense. "Man, JaMarcus is extremely good," Ochocinco said. "You have to remember, a quarterback can only be as good as his supporting cast. Case closed. Always. It will always be that way. Always."
Cavaliers star LeBron James, above, recently suggested that if he dedicated himself to football, he could play in the NFL. Though it's obviously far-fetched, it sounds as if James' struggling hometown Browns would welcome him with open arms. "I think he should come on down," Browns coach Eric Mangini said. "I know he's pretty busy right now, but if he wants to give it a shot … the guy's gifted, gifted athletically, he's competitive, he's tough. I'm sure whatever he applied himself to, he'd probably be good in baseball, or soccer or swimming. The guy's a freak athletically."
Number of the week
5 Offensive touchdowns for the Browns in nine games.
Debut of the week
Part of the Bills' overhaul last week was the emergence of interim coach Perry Fewell, who is taking over for fired Dick Jauron. Fewell will have a homecoming of sorts in his debut today in Jacksonville, where he spent five years as a defensive assistant. "Great memories," Fewell said. "I remember playing (coaching) in the '98 playoffs and '99 played in the AFC Championship (Game), had some really good football teams with Mark Brunell, Keenan McCardell, Fred Taylor and Tony Boselli. Loved living in the area. We were a good football team for a while. I got my start there, so very positive memories."
You rarely see punters on SportsCenter or even mentioned in newspaper game stories. But Redskins P Hunter Smith has grabbed his share of attention recently after throwing a 35-yard touchdown pass on a wild fake field-goal attempt against Denver last week. "Generally, the only time we generate news is when we don't punt well and the news is that we've lost our job," Smith said Thursday.
Times wires, SI.com, the Akron Beacon Journal, the Arizona Republic, the Florida Times-Union and the Contra Costa Times contributed to this report.