The Green Bay Packers and New England Patriots entered the season as Super Bowl favorites in their respective conferences. Both defenses have improved this season. Yet both teams enter Week 4 with a losing record.
To quote Vince Lombardi, "What the hell's going on?"
With Josh McDaniels around, the Patriots have transitioned more to a power football team. That worked against Tennessee, but not against Arizona. The reliance on the run -- especially Danny Woodhead -- may have got in the way against Baltimore. An otherwise sensational offensive gameplan against the Ravens got bogged down by McDaniels' trickery. Brady is operating under center a lot more this year. Brandon Lloyd gets a ton of targets and Julian Edelman is a much bigger factor. There are a lot of new, moving pieces here. It makes sense the Patriots' offense has been just a hair off their game. (They are 10th in points score.)
The Packers have enviable continuity and talent. Occasionally we wonder if defenses have caught up ever-so-slightly to Mike McCarthy's approach. Green Bay has struggled to move the ball this year. The increased contact allowed under replacement refs have not helped Green Bay's timing offense. This is a precise offense that requires execution over fooling defenses. It's a lot like the old Peyton Manning-led Colts teams, but the execution isn't happening at the moment.
Monday night's game against the Seattle Seahawks was a great example. Rodgers was sacked eight times in the first half. Sometimes the receivers didn't uncover. Other times the offensive line gave Rodgers no chance. Rodgers also has held the ball too long, too often. The Packers were slow to adjust.
It's hard to face a tougher string of defenses than San Francisco-Chicago-Seattle. The schedule mostly eases up for the Packers. With that said, last year's Packers offense wouldn't be 26th in points or 25th in yards after any three-game stretch.
The Patriots have lost two games by a combined three points. One was on the road against another very good AFC contender. They haven't been far away. Then again, they usually win those games.
I'm sticking with the Packers and Patriots as two of the best teams in the league. But they aren't going to cruise to No. 1 seeds this time around. Green Bay already has two NFC losses and a division win. They have a road date with Houston in Week 6 and a road game against the Giants in New York.
The Patriots are in one of the weaker divisions in the league. The offense hasn't been far away from an elite unit and the defense looks improved. (How improved remains to be seen.) They still look like heavy favorites in the AFC East.
Both teams have higher goals than just making the playoffs. They know well that it matters how you are playing in December, not September. Their fans shouldn't press the panic button yet.Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.