This season's fight to avoid the dreaded drop could be the most dramatic the Premier League has ever seen.
It's high-stakes poker where the winner grabs a share of the whopping £3billion television bounty which kicks in next season, while the loser faces an uneasy future of cost-cutting.
This is the stark reality our clubs are already planning for.
Take Stoke manager Tony Pulis last week: "It is a massive year for every club in the Premier League and this football club realises that and recognises that. We will not be selling any of our top players in January."
Survival is vital and that window in January will tell us much about the lengths Premier League owners will stretch to if it means maintaining their status.
Reading's defeat on Wearside means they and QPR are cut adrift from the pack, but back-to-back wins could change their outlook.
And let's not forget that the Royals twice managed six on the bounce when charging to promotion last season.
Their owner, Anton Zingarevich is a relative novice, like his Rs counterpart Tony Fernandes.
Will they take a pragmatic view when the transfer window opens or seek to protect their investment by speculating further?
I'd be amazed if those two clubs dropped without a fight.
Above them only two points separate five other clubs: Wigan, Aston Villa, Southampton, Sunderland and Newcastle.
Increasingly it looks as though the unlucky three will come from these seven teams. Perhaps it is they who will be the busiest in January.
But what of those who do drop out?
Well, almost half way through the Championship season none of the three relegated sides - Wolves, Blackburn and Bolton - find themselves in promotion contention, or indeed even in the top half of the table.
That's an indictment of the upheaval relegation from the Premier League can bring.
Of the three that slipped through the net in 2011, West Ham bounced straight back by largely keeping their big earners at Upton Park, Birmingham are toiling in 19th place and Blackpool are currently 11th.
While cushioning the landing, parachute payments do not stop the fall.
On this week's The Footballers' Football Show we examine the cost of relegation and the potential of a free-spending transfer window at a time when Premier League clubs are exploring means of controlling finances.
Explaining this dichotomy will be the task of Swansea chairman Huw Jenkins and Stoke chief executive Tony Scholes.
Don't miss The Footballers' Football Show, 10pm, Thursday, Sky Sports 1 HD.