NFL Preview 2021: Bucs, Packers Sit Atop Top-Heavy NFC Playoff Field

As the Bucs roll it back, can anyone challenge them in the NFC?

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September 7, 2021

The NFL’s heavyweight conference is the NFC.

Not only does the National Football Conference house the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but six of the top 10 teams by Super Bowl odds reside in the NFC.

Despite that, there doesn’t seem to be a ton of parity within the conference, at least not on paper. Teams like the Bucs and Green Bay Packers look like they should roll to division crowns, while it’s admittedly hard to find a legitimate Super Bowl contender in the East where any of the four clubs could stake a claim at the division.

Here’s how we see it shaking out in the NFC:

1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (NFC South champions)
2. Green Bay Packers (NFC North champions)
3. San Francisco 49ers (NFC West champions)
4. Dallas Cowboys (NFC East champions)
5. Los Angeles Rams (wild card)
6. New Orleans Saints (wild card)
7. Minnesota Vikings (wild card)

There’s no scenario in which any of the top five teams would shock the football world by winning the Super Bowl, but there’s also a pretty large gap between the haves and the have-nots in the NFC.

Up top, the Bucs returned everyone and have a relatively easy schedule. Assuming Tom Brady doesn’t start looking like a 45-year-old playing professional football, Tampa has the inside track to not only the division but the No. 1 seed. If anyone is going to challenge them for that second thing, it does feel like the Packers. Green Bay is coming off consecutive 13-win seasons and has one of the more complete rosters in the NFL. Any offseason drama seems to be on the back burner, and Aaron Rodgers should want to put his best foot forward in what sure feels like his final season as a Packer.

If San Francisco lands on the right QB situation, the 49ers could also get that top seed. But the division is brutal, as they just outlast the rest of the West. This is the beginning of the end for Russell Wilson in Seattle, though, with the Seahawks missing out, as Matthew Stafford thrives under Sean McVay and gets the Rams into the dance.

Seattle’s struggles benefit teams like New Orleans, which admittedly is in the midst of a transition with Jameis Winston at quarterback. In this scenario, though, Sean Payton is able to help the former No. 1 pick cut down on his boneheadedness just enough to sneak in as a wild card. Meanwhile, in the East, the Cowboys are the best of a bad division with enough talent at enough positions to overshadow glaring issues on both sides of the ball.

The Vikings somehow avoid enough Kirk Cousins problems — on and off the field — to barely hold off the Washington Football Team. Don’t completely sleep on Philadelphia or Chicago, either, as they could be pests but are both likely still at least a year away and are among the first few teams out of the tournament.

Thumbnail photo via Kyle Terada/USA TODAY Sports Images
New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick
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