Following a highly unusual offseason, the New England Patriots have experienced a similarly topsy-turvy start to the regular season.
Whereas average records but promising play have characterized the team's start in recent seasons, the 2013 Patriots own a shiny 4-1 facade to hide a rather disturbing underbelly.
And as in previous seasons, one excellent unit on one side of the ball has dragged up one of the league's worst on the other side. However, as Pats fans know, it is the offense that has looked shockingly ordinary this season, hampered by injuries and inexperience. And unlike in past seasons, when a historically prolific offense could carry the team, this defense is good enough to compete but not necessarily shoulder the entire burden.
Thus, the onus falls on the offense to "begin pulling its weight," as Tom Brady bluntly admitted after scoring just six points against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday—New England's lowest output since a 21-0 loss to the Dolphins in 2006 that was marred by accusations of cadence-stealing.
Indeed, with the offense falling so spectacularly short of expectations, there is certainly a noticeable theme to this list.
As counter-intuitive as it seems, this week's results against the New Orleans Saints will not be particularly important. No one wants to lose of course, but a first-half game against an NFC opponent is about as harmless of a loss that a team could suffer.
More important is that the Patriots demonstrate marked improvement in key areas and reveal some discernible hope of potentially fulfilling Patriots fans' "Super Bowl-or-bust" mentality.
With that in mind, here are the five areas in most immediate need of improvement.
*Unless otherwise noted, all stats courtesy Pro Football Focus' premium section (subscription required).