With only five weeks remaining in the NFL regular season, every head coach who began the year on the job apparently will complete the season, with only one postseason firing considered likely.

That is expected to happen in Cincinnati, where the Bengals are 2-10 under Bruce Coslet and could finish with the worst record in the league. Team owner and de facto GM Mike Brown surprised many by keeping Coslet after the team went 3-13 in '98, but Brown did not want to pay off Coslet's contract and spend money on a new coach, too.

In New England, where Pete Carroll had his team in first place in the AFC East for most of the season, there are rumblings after three straight losses that owner Robert Kraft will make a change if the Patriots fail to make the playoffs. The Patriots reportedly are interested in Art Shell, the former Raiders coach who is the offensive line coach for the Atlanta Falcons.

There are several other possibilities for vacancies. Mike Ditka may have had enough in New Orleans, which also may have had enough of Ditka, especially after his obscene gesture toward surly hometown fans last month cost him a $20,000 fine.

Ditka may be headed back to television, perhaps as a third man in the booth for "Monday Night Football" on ABC. If Jimmy Johnson can get the Miami Dolphins to the Super Bowl, he also may walk away and go back to television, possibly joining the CBS studio crew.

Jim Fassel of the Giants appears to be on somewhat shaky ground with his team having lost three straight and still displaying a dreadful offense. It took Fassel 10 games to switch to $16 million quarterback Kerry Collins, but it may have been too late to salvage the season. There also has been open dissension this year between the offense and defense.

And then there's Bill Parcells, who thought he had a Super Bowl team this year until Vinny Testaverde's injury in the opener. The Jets are almost out of the playoff mix and the team likely will have new ownership next season.

The hot assistant coach prospects for head-coaching jobs next year are Mike Martz, offensive coordinator in St. Louis, and Dom Capers, defensive coordinator for Jacksonville.

Owens Rebounds

He once was known as Richie Redskin, an unknown from Lehigh who started as a rookie for the Washington Redskins, then saw his star dim two years ago because of injuries.

But now, Rich Owens has salvaged his career and rejuvenated his play. He has become one of the top free agent signings of the offseason, starting nine games for the 8-3 Dolphins.

Owens has posted six sacks, forced a fumble and defensed eight passes. He's the leading tackler on the defensive line and his sack total is second on the team.

One of the worst offseason free agent signings involved another defensive end, Charles Haley, the former all-pro with Dallas and San Francisco who came out of retirement to rejoin the 49ers.

Haley, who lives in Northern Virginia, was given a $1.2 million signing bonus and $400,000 a year in base salary. For the season, he has seven tackles and no sacks.

Bruised Broncos

There are plenty of reasons the Denver Broncos are 4-7 after winning back-to-back Super Bowls.

The retirement of quarterback John Elway and the season-ending knee injury to all-pro running back Terrell Davis obviously had a major impact. But injuries across the board also helped end the Broncos' dream of another title.

In 1997, Denver starters missed 29 games because of injury. In 1998, the total was only 14 games. This year, with five games remaining, the total is 34. Linebacker John Mobley also suffered a season-ending injury. Pro Bowl tight end Shannon Sharpe has missed seven games and defensive end Alfred Williams has missed four.

Runaway Couch

Cleveland rookie quarterback Tim Couch has been forced to run for his life directing the league's worst offense. His coach, Chris Palmer, would like the first player taken in the 1999 draft to use his head as well as his legs.

"He's got to learn to slide or I'll take him out of the ballgame," Palmer said. "There's got to come a time when you say, 'Okay, let's slow down here a bit.' The league is trying to protect the quarterbacks because they're so much a part of what the NFL is. You've got to be smart. You have to slide and do the things necessary to make the next play."

Couch has gained 274 yards on 37 carries and is the Browns' second-leading rusher. . . .

Saints running back Ricky Williams, the '98 Heisman Trophy winner, said a few weeks ago that he probably would vote for his former teammate, Texas quarterback Major Applewhite, as his Heisman successor.

He has since backed off that statement, saying he thinks Florida State wide receiver Peter Warrick is the best player, but still has not committed to giving him his vote.

Wisconsin's Ron Dayne, who broke Williams's NCAA Division I career rushing record, is considered the front-runner. . . .

With their victory over the Chargers on Sunday, the Vikings are 9-1 coming off a bye week under Coach Dennis Green.