It's Week 6 and there are no undefeated teams left. There were five teams at 5-0 last year and the picture was a lot clearer as to which ones were playoff bound. At this point, everything is up for grabs and special teams, injuries, bad calls and coaches' decisions are more magnified than ever. There is no margin for error and a team can go from the penthouse to the outhouse in a weekend.
Here are the 10 things I have my eye on this week:
1. A big coaching decision
Brett Favre will keep his streak of consecutive starts alive this Sunday against Dallas, but what's going to happen if his injuries lead him to inaccurate throws or, even worse, interceptions?
Is this the week, with their backs to the wall, that the Vikings decide Tarvaris Jackson gives them the best chance to win? If the Vikings are losing at home headed into the fourth quarter and Favre is struggling, Brad Childress has a tough decision to make.
2. Another Reid flip-flop?
What happens in Philadelphia, should Kevin Kolb throw for 300 yards, several touchdowns and lead his team to a second straight victory? Does Andy Reid apply the same logic he used when he changed his mind about giving Kolb his job back when Michael Vick led the team to a few wins in Kolb's absence? Reid said its Vick's job when he's healthy, but he said the same thing about Kolb earlier this year. I will be watching this game with great interest. As for Vick campaigning to play, it makes more sense to start Kolb, who has taken the practice reps, and insert Vick if Kolb struggles.
3. Belichick disciples stop the run
Bill Belichick and his two former defensive coordinators, Romeo Crennel (now the Chiefs' defensive coordinator) and Eric Mangini (now the Browns' coach) are incredible at teaching run defense. Between the three, they have given up just three rushing touchdowns in 348 carries. That is one touchdown every 116 runs.
This week, Belichick faces the Ravens' Ray Rice, Crennel sees the Texans' Arian Foster and Eric Mangini faces the Steelers' Rashard Mendenhall. Those are three of the best backs in the league, and they have combined for 10 touchdowns already. I'll be watching to see if they keep up their stout defense against such talented rushers.
Also, in case you thought Mangini was the weak link among the three, his Browns have yet to allow a rushing touchdown.
4. Backups in bad spots
5. What happened to winning streaks?
There are only two four-game winning streaks in the NFL so far. The Falcons and the Jets both lost very close opening games and haven't lost since. Is the parity in the league so great that we have to get used to teams going up and down every week like a roller coaster?
There are 10 teams playing this week, led by Tennessee and San Diego, that haven't put back-to-back wins together yet.
6. Nothing special about San Diego
The Chargers would probably be 5-0 if they could play special teams. Giving left tackle Marcus McNeill a big-money deal this week is good for the team and the reported return of wide receiver Vincent Jackson also sounds promising, but if the special teams guys don't clean up their act, it won't mean a thing. Firing the special teams coach will not solve the problem, but using more starters just might.
I bet the coaches miss former special teams ace Kassim Osgood, who signed with Jacksonville in the offseason, right about now.
7. Life after Moss
The Ravens are in town this weekend and we will all quickly find out how Belichick adjusts his offense. Does Brandon Tate take over the role Moss played, or will it be Deion Branch? Will the Ravens feel they can blitz Tom Brady more without Moss on the field?
Every team that plays New England will be watching.
8. Time for Cassel to step up
The Chiefs have been really impressive this season and playoff hopes are starting to creep into the conversation. It is obviously premature for Kansas City to be thinking championship or even the postseason, but this is a week that Matt Cassel needs to produce and should be able to against Houston.
Cassel faces a Texans team that is giving up 344 passing yards a game and two-plus passing touchdowns. The two Super Bowl XLIV participants combined for 85 pass plays in the big game. Cassel isn't Drew Brees or Peyton Manning, but needs to hold up his end.
9. Think long-term success
Even with the pressure to win so great every week, and every team having a chance in this year of parity, I'm not so sure that's a good enough reason to put guys out on the field that might need another week of rest.
Jets coach Rex Ryan found out what happens when you leave those decisions up to the players. Darrelle Revis said he could go last week, and tweaked his hamstring again. Now, Ryan is making the call on whether Revis will play.
I will be very interested to see if Vick, Rodgers, Mathias Kiwanuka and Peyton Hillis step on the field. There is still a lot of football left to play, and getting them healthy for the rest of the season is most important.
10. Can Hasselbeck or Smith hang on?
Starting quarterbacks used to have job security in this league. Not anymore. Two starters that need a big game this Sunday to keep their jobs appear to be Matt Hasselbeck and Alex Smith. Hasselbeck, who has thrown 16 interceptions over his last eight games, really needs to take care of the ball. That won't be easy on the road with Julius Peppers and Chicago's defense playing so well.
Smith had a well-documented confrontation with coach Mike Singletary last Sunday night and responded with two quick touchdowns, but ended with an interception. Cross-town rival Oakland is his next opponent and the pressure is on once again. I hope, for the Niners' sake, he responds and gets San Francisco its first win.