With the NFL season around the corner, the NFC once again fields a crowded group of teams vying for a spot in the postseason.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are the defending Super Bowl champions, but even without Drew Brees the New Orleans Saints are looking to make the NFC South competitive.
The Green Bay Packers have been kings of the NFC North, but the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings look to give them a run for their money.
At this stage, it seems like any of the four teams in both the NFC East and NFC West can make a run for the division crown and make a deep run in the playoffs.
Tampa Bay is going to be a tough out as NFC champions, but these three teams could surprise both the Bucs and the entire league in 2021.
3. San Francisco 49ers
In 2020, the San Francisco 49ers held a record of 6-10 and missed the playoffs.
The year before, San Francisco went 13-3 and won the NFC championship, losing the Super Bowl to the Kansas City Chiefs, 31-20.
There’s no reason to believe they can’t return to their 2019 form in 2021.
Injuries ravaged the 49ers in 2020.
San Francisco had $80 million worth of contracts on IR heading into Week 9.
With everybody back, it’s easy to see how the 49ers could turn it around.
However, while Garoppolo is back, San Francisco decided to make a drastic upgrade at quarterback.
The team traded up for the number three overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft to select former North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance.
Head coach Kyle Shannahan insists Garoppolo will be the starter Week 1, but Lance hasn’t made that decision easy on him.
Trey Lance 🎯 🎯 🎯
— PFF (@PFF) August 7, 2021
Whenever Lance gets into his first contest, he has both the arm strength and play-making ability to help improve a 49ers offense that finished 15th overall in total yards last season with 5,922.
Even with their injuries, San Francisco finished fifth-best in the NFL in yards allowed with 5,030.
With Ford and Bosa both returning, it’s hard to see the 49ers’ offense not getting better.
Lance will be the x-factor for the 49ers in 2021.
When he gets his first start is still a question mark, but if he lives up to the hype of his third overall draft selection, San Francisco can be a scary team in the NFC this season.
2. Chicago Bears
The Chicago Bears had a quarterback problem last season.
As a team, they threw for just 3,655 yards (22nd in the NFL), 26 touchdowns (18th), and had an overall passer rating of 86.5 (24th).
While Foles is still on the team, Chicago went out and signed veteran quarterback Andy Dalton and drafted former Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields with the No. 11 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Dalton is likely to be the starter Week 1 as he has 144 career NFL games under his belt and has thrown for 33,764 yards with a 218/126 TD/INT ratio.
However, it’s Fields who is getting all of the buzz in training camp.
Justin Fields side arm TD pass 🥶pic.twitter.com/yhIcrpTcz8
— BFR (@BearsFilmRoom) August 8, 2021
The Bears traded up with the New York Giants to select Fields and gave up their first-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft.
However, if Fields, who is lauded for his ability to move in the pocket and create plays with his feet, lives up to expectations, Chicago could transform themselves into a perennial contender in the NFC.
While fans and the media alike focused on how bad the Bears’ quarterback situation was, many forgot how good the defense remained.
Chicago finished 11th in the NFL in yards allowed (5,519) and 14th in the points per game (23.1).
They were a top-15 team in both rushing and passing defense.
Plus, Chicago should be getting defensive tackle Eddie Goldman back after he sat out last season due to COVID-19.
Much like the 49ers with Lance, the Bears’ ceiling will rely on when Fields gets into a game and how successful he ends up being.
However, Fields’ ceiling is quite high and if the defense keeps firing on all cylinders, the Bears could potentially be the leaders in the NFC North and a team to watch for the NFC crown.
1. Washington Football Team
The Washington Football Team may have surprised some when they won the NFC East last season.
They could be an even bigger surprise in 2021 and potentially even contend for the NFC championship.
Washington’s strength comes from their defense.
Last season they ranked second in the NFL with only 4,873 yards allowed.
They finished fourth in points per game allowed at 20.6 and forced 23 total turnovers, tied for fifth in the NFL.
Young won AP Defensive Rookie of the Year last season after posting 44 total tackles, 7.5 sacks, and three forced fumbles.
Behind their dominant defensive line, Washington used their first overall pick in the 2021 NFL on former Kentucky linebacker Jamin Davis.
The No. 19 overall pick has been one of the stars of training camp.
WFT training camp observations: First-round pick Jamin Davis is off to a strong starthttps://t.co/io5fLIaZ5t
— Post Sports (@PostSports) August 4, 2021
Washington already has one of the best defenses in the league and it looks poised to only improve in 2021.
The question now becomes the offense.
In terms of skill position players, the Football Team has a pretty solid core.
For Washington to succeed, they will need new quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to be better than average.
Washington signed Fitzpatrick this offseason to a one-year, $10 million contract.
Fitzpatrick is a 16-year veteran of the NFL who played for the Miami Dolphins in 2020.
He appeared in nine games, started seven, and completed 68.5 percent of his passes for 2,091 yards and a 13/8 TD/INT ratio.
Fitzpatrick alone will not win the NFC championship.
However, with the defense in place and the skill position players around him, Fitzpatrick can lift Washington to new heights.
If Fitzpatrick can limit the turnovers and move the offense, Washington’s defense can carry them through the NFC championship.NEXT: Cowboys Are Smart To Slowly Ease Dak Prescott Into Game Action