Right now, there is an argument to be made that the Patriots and Packers are the two best teams in the NFL, but both have issues on defense. Each team has been able to outscore opponents to this point, however, that could be put to the test against good opponents this week.
The Packers are on a 10-game winning streak dating back to last year (including the postseason) and unless the Falcons' pass rush gets to Aaron Rodgers, it will soon be 11. The Falcons haven't had a sack in three games. Compounding Atlanta's problem is the fact that they can't protect Matt Ryan (13 sacks). A loss by the Falcons and even the wild-card race is starting to look bleak.
The Patriots were beaten by the Jets in last season's playoffs, but this isn't the same New York team. They can't run the ball anymore and running back Shonn Greene is looking like a major disappointment. He's averaging 3.1 yards a carry this season. Tom Brady will come out firing. Remarkably, in 133 throws, he has two drops from his receivers and has 13 touchdown passes. Jets All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis can only cover one receiver and Brady should have a field day against the rest of the secondary. The Jets have given up 68 points over the last two weeks.
Which 0-4 team stops the bleeding?
Two 0-4 teams -- the Rams and Dolphins -- have a bye this week to lick their wounds and figure out what's gone wrong. The Vikings and Colts aren't so lucky. Minnesota plays host to the 1-3 Arizona Cardinals while Indianapolis hosts the 1-3 Kansas City Chiefs. If ever there was a chance for these teams to get a win, it's this week against teams with 0-2 road records.
The playoffs are probably out of reach for both teams, though: Only one team since 1990 has made the postseason after an 0-4 start. The Vikings have a better chance of beating the Cardinals than the Colts do with the Chiefs. Minnesota needs to put two good halves together and remember that Adrian Peterson averages 119 yards rushing and a touchdown at home for his career. Jared Allen has been a terror for the Vikings, especially at home, where he has 32 sacks, 13 tackles for loss, eight forced fumbles and seven passes defended in 28 career games as a Viking (including the playoffs). The Colts will struggle to slow the Chiefs' pass rush, specifically Tamba Hali.
Is Chicago asking too much of Forte?
I spoke with Matt Forte this week and he is a very impressive young man who thinks team first. It is amazing that he doesn't have a new long-term contract by now and he truly does risk his career every time he's on the field. He has more receptions than Devin Hester, Johnny Knox and Roy Williams combined! He rushed for 205 yards last week behind a questionable offensive line. In four games, he has touched the ball 86 times for 634 yards and two touchdowns. By comparison, Adrian Peterson has 90 touches for 425 yards and three touchdowns.
Forte leads the Bears into Detroit on Monday night to face the undefeated Lions. The last team to beat the Lions was the 2010 Bears. Forte is capable of a big night against a run defense giving up 113 yards a game at 4.8 yards per run. I sure hope he doesn't get injured trying to win the game for his team, especially since he accounts for 57 percent of the offense.
The Texans without Johnson
Andre Johnson, who some would call the best wide receiver in the NFL, will not be in uniform when the Raiders visit Houston on Sunday. The Texans went 2-1 without him last year, and one of those wins was over the Raiders. Without Johnson, the Texans feed the ball to Arian Foster: In those three games last season, Foster touched the ball 76 times for 514 yards and five touchdowns.
The Raiders' run defense is giving up 136 yards a game at 5.9 yards a clip. The Texans already run the ball more than any team in the NFL, averaging 34 carries a game. Coach Gary Kubiak is 26-3 when he calls 30-plus runs. The Raiders have more rushing yardage than any team in the NFL and they will go toe-to-toe with the Texans. This game could easily feature 70 running plays.
Surprising 49ers shoot for 4-1
A number of teams are aiming for a fourth win this week. Some are surprises like the Titans, Giants and, of course, the Bills. I think all three have a good chance to get there. One other team is guaranteed to win its fourth game this weekend: The winner of the the Bucs-49ers tilt. We all saw the Bucs coming last year when they won 10 games, but no one saw the 49ers on this path with a rookie coach and Alex Smith at quarterback.
Jim Harbaugh has done a very good job with Smith since they joined forces in the offseason. The decision to let Smith spread his personnel and play from the shotgun last week in the come-from-behind road win over the Eagles was impressive. In the second half, Smith went 13 for 17 for 232 yards and two touchdowns. Does Harbaugh's offense pick up where it left off last week? If it does, the Niners might be the 4-1 team everyone will be talking about.
The 'Dream' is over
Michael Vick proclaimed the end of the "Dream Team" -- if there ever really was one in the first place. Right now, the Eagles can't stop the run, and they face Buffalo's Fred Jackson, who averages 5.8 yards a carry. That's more like a nightmare. They also can't keep Vick upright and now left tackle Jason Peters is out. The Bills don't really rush the passer but they do have eight interceptions.
Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has thrown nine touchdown passes and the Eagles have given up 10, which makes for another ugly scenario. Philadelphia can run the ball and the Bills will struggle to stop the ground game. Will the Eagles go into Orchard Park and copy what the Bears did last week -- namely, run the ball 31 times and throw it 17 against the Panthers?