Contender or Pretender: Breaking Down Struggling NFL Powerhouses
The first quarter of the NFL season has given us many surprises. Among them include a number of struggling teams who have been accustomed to recent success. After four weeks, neither the New Orleans Saints, the Green Bay Packers, the Pittsburgh Steelers nor the New England Patriots have winning records.
All four of these teams were in the playoffs a year ago, and the Patriots represented the AFC in the Super Bowl. While some of them still have time to climb out of their hole, other teams may be in more trouble than they ever imagined.
Let's take a look at who still has a strong chance to turn it around and who could now be in panic mode.
New Orleans Saints: Pretenders
Jeff Gross/Getty Images
Since 1970, only one team has made the playoffs after starting 0-4. This spells disaster for the New Orleans Saints, who have now suffered two consecutive excruciating losses to the Kansas City Chiefs and the Green Bay Packers.
We knew going into the season that it would not be easy for the Saints to defend their NFC South title given the Bountygate suspensions. Not many people, however, saw them dropping each of their first four games.
Drew Brees and the Saints offense are still effective, averaging 27.5 points per game. The defense, however, has been abysmal. In the opening game, they allowed rookie Robert Griffin III to put together one of the best rookie debuts in recent memory. In Week 3, they allowed a late comeback against the then winless Chiefs. They followed that up by allowing Aaron Rodgers to throw for four touchdowns in yet another high-scoring loss.
Considering the fact that the undefeated Atlanta Falcons are running away with the NFC South, this team is in major trouble. Not much can be done to save their season at this point.
Green Bay Packers: Contenders
Jeff Gross/Getty Images
The Green Bay Packers avoided disaster by squeaking out a nail-biter against the New Orleans Saints in Week 4. Had they lost, Green Bay would have fallen to 1-3. History tells us that less than 15 percent of 1-3 teams end up making the playoffs.
This was a huge win in an effort to move past their Week 3 Monday-night disaster in Seattle. Emotions were running high throughout the game, and they fought past some more questionable calls to even their record at 2-2.
Yes, it is in the past, but had the Packers won against the Seahawks, they would be sitting at 3-1 and no one would be questioning the start to their season. The win against the Saints is only one game however, and the Packers must continue to fight emotions and battle back from their Week 3 disappointment.
The offense finally showed signs of their 2011 form, although it was against the last-ranked defense of the Saints. Unfortunately, the defense also played like it was 2011 and got torched for 474 total yards. This is a big step backward after two solid outings against the Seahawks and the Chicago Bears.
So yes, Green Bay is only 2-2, but the rest of the division isn't necessarily playing spectacularly, either. They have already beaten the Bears, and the Detroit Lions are only 1-3. The Minnesota Vikings are a surprising 3-1, but who knows if, or how long, that run will last.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Pretenders
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
The Pittsburgh Steelers had a bye in Week 4, which should help them in the short term. The break will give them two weeks to take a hard look at their issues and try to straighten them out. As the season wears on, however, playing the final 13 games without a break could take its toll on the struggling Steelers.
While the biggest question for Pittsburgh coming into the season was the offense under new coordinator Todd Haley, it has been the defense providing the biggest question marks after three games.
Although they are just 1-2, their next game against the Philadelphia Eagles could be looked at as a must-win.
Within their division, the Baltimore Ravens are looking like an AFC favorite, while the improving Cincinnati Bengals have only lost to the Ravens up to this point.
Falling even further behind these two teams could spell disaster for Pittsburgh. It is not time to panic quite yet in Steeler Nation, but another early loss could put them in desperation mode.
New England Patriots: Contenders
Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images
The New England Patriots followed their heartbreaking loss to the Baltimore Ravens with a sloppy first half against the Bills. Just when fans were beginning to worry, the Patriots piled on 45 second-half points to pull away for the win.
It is hard to shut down a Bill Belichick offense for consecutive weeks, and the Patriots showed why in Buffalo. Tom Brady led the attack with four passing touchdowns in the second half while adding another on the ground.
Although just 2-2, the Patriots are in a three-way tie atop the AFC East. It is hard to worry about a team leading their division a quarter of the way through the season, especially if the team is New England.
They have had some uncharacteristic outings thus far, but so has the rest of the division. They just proved the Bills are no match, and the New York Jets are reeling after a humiliating home loss to the San Francisco 49ers. The Dolphins are 1-3 and seemingly a long way away from contention.
It may be uncommon to see the Patriots with a .500 record, but there is no need to worry about this team. If they take care of business against their division like they should, New England will once again run away with the AFC East title.