Week 6 gave teams one last chance to evaluate their needs before Tuesday's trade deadline, and one injury could force a team to make a move.
1. What should the Raiders do now?
Just as Oakland is starting to play very good football, they've lost starting quarterback Jason Campbell. Kyle Boller came off the bench to preserve Sunday's win, but Terrelle Pryor is so far from being ready that the team has to look outside the organization for an answer. The Raiders have a chance to win the division and it might be worth dealing a good draft pick to get a solid alternative to Boller.
The first two calls should be to David Garrard and Marc Bulger. The next one would be to Denver about trading for Kyle Orton -- though I'm fairly confident the Broncos aren't interested in helping a division opponent. In a perfect world, the Bengals would have a change of heart about Carson Palmer, but that's probably a dead end. Maybe the Redskins would be interested in discussing Rex Grossman, if they thought Jonathan Crompton, who's on their practice squad, was ready to be the backup to John Beck. New England's Bill Belichick has made a few trades with the Raiders before and I would probe the idea of trading for Brian Hoyer, especially if the Patriots think Ryan Mallett is ready to be a No. 2 QB.
2. Giants bounce back, but they aren't alone
The Giants were embarrassed at home last week when they lost to the Seahawks. They bounced back with a win over a much better Bills team. It comes as no surprise that Eli Manning led the way. In his 69 previous regular-season games since the start of the 2007 season, Manning has had a losing streak just six times. Usually the turnaround involves the calm, cool, collected Manning making fewer mistakes. Dan Marino spent a day the Giants last week and he told me he was impressed with the confidence Manning had that things would be fixed in time to beat the Bills.
The Giants believe in Manning, who didn't throw a touchdown against the Bills but did produce five scoring drives. The most impressive aspect of the Giants' win was the fact that they started three drives inside their own 20-yard line and scored on all three. NFL teams typically score less than 30 percent of the time when a drive starts inside their 20.
3. Where did the scoring go?
After a fast start for NFL offenses, it looks like the defenses are starting to gain ground. Eight teams scored 30 or more points in Week 5, and almost every week this season has featured a significant number of teams cracking that barrier, but that number dropped sharply in Week 6 (see chart). And after talking to a few coaches Sunday night, it is clear that defenses are starting to adjust with more game tape to break down. As Bill Cowher said to me, "Now you have a good feel for what these teams are right now and how you should play them."
4. The Patriots step up on defense
For the first month of the season, the Patriots' formula for success was to outscore the opponent. Last week, I saw a change when the Patriots held the Jets to 21 points, with Belichick telling me during the week that he saw some progress with the defense.
This week, against a good Cowboys offense, the defense actually held things together until the offense finally got on track with a scoring drive on its last possession. The Patriots won by four points and six of those came from turnovers forced by the defense. New England hasn't had star middle linebacker Jerod Mayo for the last two games, and he will return to a much-improved unit. The Patriots are becoming a well-balanced team that is getting tougher and tougher to beat.
5. They answered the bell
With all the injuries in the league right now, backup players are being asked to perform. Special notice goes to three players, starting with Earnest Graham, who took over the running back duties for the Buccaneers and delivered 131 total yards. Dan Skuta took over the middle linebacker spot for the injured Rey Maualuga and finished with five tackles to help the Bengals hold the Colts to 17 points. Darryl Tapp replaced the injured Trent Cole for the Eagles and came through with two tackles for a loss, one sack and a hit on the quarterback against Washington.
6. Best assistant coaching efforts
Most assistants can walk into a restaurant and no one even knows who they are. They work 18-hour days, and they deserve some occasional recognition.
Leading the list this week is Vic Fangio, defensive coordinator of the San Francisco 49ers. His defense got five sacks and held Detroit's running game to 3.7 yards per carry. The 49ers also kept the Lions to just two third-down conversions in 15 tries to get a big road win.
Second is a coach who has been under more pressure than any assistant in the league, Eagles defensive coordinator Juan Castillo. A week ago, there were rumors Castillo was going to be fired, or at the very least that a consultant would be added to the staff. Neither thing happened and Castillo stood tall and got the job done. The Redskins were held to 13 points as the Eagles picked off Rex Grossman four times, produced two sacks, stuffed the run game and allowed one third-down conversion in 10 tries. Coach Castillo can get a good night's rest after the way his players responded to the mounting pressure.