The NFL is known as a parity league.
Or, is there “a lot of bad football” in 2022, as one future Hall of Fame quarterback put it a couple of weeks ago?
Either way, 10 teams enter Week 7 with 3-3 records. Six of those teams were playoff squads last year, including both Super Bowl teams, the Los Angeles Rams and the Cincinnati Bengals. The other four are the New England Patriots, San Francisco 49ers, Green Bay Packers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. All are in action this week with the exception of the Rams, who are on a bye.
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This week we ask: Who among this group is in the most trouble going forward?
While the Bengals have won three of their last four games and appear to have course corrected, there are still troubling signs ahead. Coach Zac Taylor has been forcing a running game that does not appear to be competent. His play calling at times becomes overcomplicated. And while sack numbers have dropped since the first two games (in which Cincinnati yielded 13), it is still allowing Joe Burrow to be hit far too many times.
And then when you look at Cincy’s schedule, having already lost a head-to-head against the Ravens — the toughest presumptive challenge the Bengals face in the AFC North — doesn’t help. But the stretch to close out the season, with games against the Titans (3-2), Chiefs (4-2), Buccaneers (3-3), Patriots (3-3), Bills (5-1) and Ravens (3-3) from Week 12 on, the margin for error will be slim to none in a crowded AFC. — Lorenzo Reyes
Green Bay Packers
This might be about the time when Aaron Rodgers implores the Cheeseheads to simply relax. But losing at home against the Jets? Sure, the Packers have a quality win at Tampa on their report card and boast the league’s No. 1-ranked pass defense, but seeing the special teams mishaps last weekend served as a reminder of how it went sideways when they blew the No. 1 seed in last season’s playoffs. They were supposed to fix that. Also, the void left with the trade of Davante Adams is so glaring. The passing game ranks 17th and the leading pass-catcher is a tight end. We’ve seen A-Rod break in new targets over the years, but it’s a rather inexact science to project the development curve. So, count the lack of proven receivers as an issue. Then there are the Vikings, who pummeled the Pack in Week 1. Minnesota’s better and at 5-1 already has a two-game lead atop the NFC North. It has to be frustrating enough for Packers fans to realize that they have won just one Super Bowl crown with the talented Rodgers as the centerpiece. Well, now it’s apparent that more frustration potentially looms as the Pack’s streak of three consecutive division titles is in jeopardy, on top of a shakier Super Bowl mission. — Jarrett Bell
Green Bay Packers
Initially I was going to pick the Patriots, but I didn’t have high expectations for New England entering the season. I predicted New England would miss the playoffs. However, in the NFC, the Packers have underperformed. They don’t have a true No. 1 wide receiver. Green Bay’s had six different leading pass catchers in six games. All of the Packers’ pass catchers are struggling to separate from coverage and Aaron Rodgers publicly said the team needs to simplify the offense. Defense was supposed to be Green Bay’s calling card, but the unit’s underachieved this season as well. The Packers are in the most trouble because they have no identity other than the fact that they have a future Hall of Fame quarterback. — Tyler Dragon
Los Angeles Rams
The team I’m most worried about at least have the week off to try and figure some things out. Offensively, it has been ugly for the Rams. At 17.3 points per game, they rank 25th in scoring. Cooper Kupp (56 catches, 607 yards) is still an elite wide receiver, but he alone accounts for 34.8% of the team’s receptions and 42.3% of yards through the air. Quarterback Matthew Stafford has thrown a league-high eight interceptions and been sacked 22 times (tied for second in the NFL) behind a banged-up offensive line. Furthermore, the line play has seeped into destroying any semblance of a run game. They are second-worst in the league on yards per attempt (3.4), only ahead of the Buccaneers. — Chris Bumbaca
Los Angeles Rams
To me, it’s a bit of a coin flip between the Patriots, who are unsettled at quarterback and facing a tougher hurdle in the talent-packed AFC, and the Rams. But, at this point, I’m more concerned by the troubles facing the defending Super Bowl champions. When they return to action in Week 8, following their bye, they’ll be fielding the seventh offensive line combination in seven games now that LT Joseph Noteboom’s season is over with an Achilles injury. L.A. can’t run the ball (second-worst in the league) and can’t protect QB Matthew Stafford — and he has a league-worst eight INTs (plus three lost fumbles) toiling behind the lack of protection, to say nothing of the lack of outside speed at receiver with Odell Beckham Jr. still unsigned and Van Jefferson injured. An offense that’s never ranked worse than 11th overall under Sean McVay was 26th through Week 6. Maybe GM Les Snead pulls off another masterful trade. Maybe a Von Miller-less defense steps up to cover for Stafford and Co. until the blocking issues resolve. Maybe OBJ returns. Maybe the larger margin of error in the NFC allows the Rams time to recover. Lot of maybes, though. — Nate Davis
Los Angeles Rams
Trouble is relative when you consider teams with the most expectations. The reigning Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams had a nice bounce back game against the Panthers last week, where Allen Robinson caught a touchdown pass. But their offense just isn’t the same without Odell Beckham Jr. and Robert Woods. Cooper Kupp is handling too much of the load offensively, and the Rams run game has also suffered. This makes LA’s chances of repeating as champions this season slim. — Safid Deen