Why the Bucs, Packers, 49ers, Rams have struggled and what's next

When the NFL season began, we were all sure there was a clear top tier of teams that would compete for the No. 1 seed in the NFC. I'm just not sure many of us had the Eagles, Giants, Vikings and the Dak Prescott-less Cowboys in that group. The NFC is in utter chaos through six weeks, as the teams many of us expected to be heavily favored as title contenders are flailing through rough stretches.

By the end of Sunday's Week 6 games, the dominant teams from the 2021 season were even deeper in quicksand. The Packers, the top seed from last year's postseason, lost to the Jets by double digits at home. The second-seeded Bucs were upset by the 1-4 Steelers. The eventual Super Bowl champion Rams lost more players to injury and looked sloppy in a closer-than-it-seemed win over the lowly Panthers, while the 49ers, their opponents in the NFC Championship Game, were physically overmatched in a road loss to the Falcons. Three losses and a win that felt like a loss only make the situation muddier in the NFC.

Let's break down these four teams, what led to their frustrating Sundays, and what needs to happen for them to break out of their rut. On paper, they might be better than the Giants and Vikings, but at 3-3 -- three games behind the Eagles in the race for the No. 1 seed in the NFC -- each needs to fix things quickly:

Jump to a team:
49ers | Bucs | Packers | Rams

Green Bay Packers

Week 6 result: Lost 27-10 to the New York Jets

It was one thing to get blown out in the opener by the Vikings, since that happened to the Packers in their Week 1 loss to the Saints a year ago, and everything was fine. They were unfortunate to lose in London to the Giants, but the team seemed to chalk that up to its maiden voyage over the Atlantic. Cornerback Jaire Alexander summed it up succinctly in advance of Sunday's game against the Jets: "I ain't worried, but if we lose next week, then I'll be worried."

Well, it's next week, and Alexander should be worried. The Packers were outplayed from start to finish at Lambeau Field during a comprehensive Jets victory. The Jets were off to a surprising start at 3-2, but those three wins had each come against backup quarterbacks. If anything -- given that they had narrowly missed out on a Sauce Gardner pick-six in the first quarter when a would-be interception hit the turf -- this could have been an even more significant blowout for Gang Green.

It's difficult to identify what Green Bay's winning formula should be right now. There were a few ways it tended to win games during its stretch with consecutive 13-win seasons in Matt LaFleur's first three seasons, a streak that is clearly in danger after a 3-3 start. Those paths to victory either aren't available to the Packers or haven't been sustainable this season, including in the loss to the Jets. Here's what they are missing in 2022:

They turn the ball over too often. Going back to Mike McCarthy's final season with the team, the Packers have been protecting the football at historically impressive rates. They turned the ball over 15 times in 2018, 13 times in 2019, a mere 11 times in 2020 and 13 again last season. They were only the second team in league history to record no more than 15 giveaways in four consecutive seasons.

After losing a fumble on an exchange between Aaron Rodgers and AJ Dillon on Sunday, the Packers have now turned the ball over eight times in six games. A year ago, if we leave aside Jordan Love's start against the Chiefs, they didn't reach eight giveaways until their Week 12 game against the Rams, three days after Thanksgiving. If anything, they should be happy this isn't at eight or nine giveaways through six games, because they have recovered seven of their 12 fumbles on offense.

It's one thing when rookie Romeo Doubs fumbles twice after catches, or when Aaron Jones is hit sticked by a rare coverage snap from 340-pound Bucs tackle Vita Vea. But Sunday's fumble was the second time this season the Packers have lost the ball on an exchange between Rodgers and a running back. His three interceptions haven't been particularly close or required a tip at the line of scrimmage or any sort of bad luck. Rodgers was strip-sacked inside his own 10-yard line, only for Green Bay to fall on the resulting fumble.