Hot Pockets: Five quarterbacks under the microscope

We spend more time analyzing quarterbacks than any other position in this crazy numbers racket, and here are the five signal callers I'll be focused on the most as Week 6 unfolds:

Donovan McNabb, at San Francisco: It's a must-win game for the Eagles and McNabb goes into battle with a compromised set of weapons; Brian Westbrook probably won't play, Reggie Brown hasn't been practicing, and no one knows what Kevin Curtis is ready to handle. Some pundits are calling for Correll Buckhalter to cut up San Francisco's sagging run defense, but I see two reasons why that's unlikely: the Niners are allowing just 3.8 yards per carry on the ground (it's not the sieve that the gross yards suggest), and Andy Reid never met a passing play he didn't like. At the end of the day, no matter what he's working with, I think the timing is right for McNabb to have one of his better games of the year, even if he's throwing to Harold Carmichael and Vince Papale at the end of it all. Week 6 Projection: 303 yards, multiple touchdowns.

Philip Rivers, vs. New England: He's one of the most frustrating players to watch in the league right now, capable of looking like a Pro Bowler and a CFL reject in the same quarter. The mechanics aren't consistent and the production hasn't been either, but the Chargers don't have time for Rivers to gradually improve - they need him to ascend now because it's obvious LaDainian Tomlinson is compromised by a bad toe. The Patriots are a curious match for Rivers and friends; while Bill Belichick is still one of the best schemers in the business, New England has a very slow linebacking corps and exploitable pieces in the secondary. If the Chargers are wise, they'll look to get Darren Sproles involved in the passing game; the Pats have no good matchup for him. Week 6 Projection: Completion percentage of 65 percent or better, two scores (one to a running back).

Derek Anderson, vs. New York Giants: He's basically week-to-week for his job these day, and the matchup doesn't get any tougher - up against the biggest bully currently on the block, with the spotlight of Monday thrown into the mix. The best chance for the Browns to keep this match competitive is to shorten the game and keep the offense balanced and on schedule, which probably means Jamal Lewis needs to touch the ball 20 times or more (even if he's reduced to three yards and a pile of mud). Anderson and Braylon Edwards haven't been on the same page all year, but at least they're entering this critical week off a bye. I'd feel better about Anderson's prospects if Kellen Winslow weren't limited in practice this week. October Projection: He'll lose his job at some point over the next three weeks.

Matt Cassel, at San Diego: The deep connection to Randy Moss got a lot of people excited, but if you can package that into a sell-high on either of these guys, I'll sign off on it. I don't trust Cassel's pocket awareness on a snap-to-snap basis, and there's no one exciting in the New England backfield that forces defenses to stay honest against the run. It's too early to have a definitive reading on Cassel's future in this league, but from what I've seen to this point, I have to bet against him. Week 6 Forecast: No more than one touchdown, multiple turnovers.

Lions Quarterback, at Minnesota: Just when it looks like things can't get uglier in Detroit, a new low is reached. Jon Kitna is no superstar at quarterback but at least he's an experienced option that's been around the block a few times. Dan Orlovsky or Drew Stanton against Minnesota's rallying defense, on the road? Sounds like a mismatch to me, and it makes me significantly concerned about Calvin Johnson and Roy Williams for this week. Week 6 advice: Avoid all Detroit QBs, start Johnson begrudgingly, and look away from Williams if you can.

Quick hitters at the other positions: The Wildcat gimmick has receiver a lot of attention in Miami, but let's not overlook how healthy Ronnie Brown looks, and the upgrades on the offensive line. Successful running in the NFL is more about execution than scheme, and I really like what I'm seeing from these guys of late . . . There's been all of one highlight to Torry Holt's season, a ridiculously-lucky touchdown grab against the Giants in Week 2. The matchup at Washington is a tricky one to be sure, but off a bye and with Marc Bulger back in the saddle, at least Holt has a chance to be relevant . . . Greg Olsen still isn't getting a lot of targets but he's made a big play in three of five games, and the Bears still need ways to stretch the field. With Kyle Orton feeling more and more confident every week, don't be surprised if Olsen's role is expanded as well. I fully expect his stock to keep moving upward . . . Taylor Mehlhaff gets a chance in New Orleans as the Saints mercifully put Martin Gramatica on injured reserve. A rookie kicker is no sure bet, of course, but the setup is good by the Bayou: indoor football, the Brees/Payton offense. This might be a story with legs.


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