NFC Conference Projections: Are Brady And The Bucs Set To Rule Again?
The NFC hasn’t had a repeat conference champion since the Seattle Seahawks in 2014, a marked contrast to the Kansas City Chiefs’ consistent reign over the AFC.
As the NFL begins the journey to Super Bowl LVI, how does the NFC stack up according to Stats Insider’s season projections?
Let’s take a look.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Conference Projection: 20.6%
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are NFC favourites and boast a 20.6% regaining the NFC title. The Bucs going back to back would be a remarkable story, but with Tom Brady in the saddle, it makes sense to trust the defending champions. Keep in mind that Tampa Bay just delivered one of the most dominant Super Bowl performances of all time against one of the greatest quarterbacks who has ever played professional football. Patrick Mahomes is an amazing athlete, a generational quarterback, and a magician as a playmaker. He had absolutely no chance against the Bucs’ ferocious pass rush. Mahomes was pressured 29 times, the most of any quarterback in Super Bowl history. The Buccaneers weren’t consistently dominant during the 2020 NFL season, but they steadily improved as the playoffs continued, and they saved their best game for last. With that kind of closing statement against the Chiefs, what’s to stop Tom Brady from winning his eighth Lombardi Trophy?
Fun Fact- Last season, the Bucs won three road playoff games before hosting the Super Bowl, becoming the first NFL team of all time to win the Super Bowl in its home stadium.
Los Angeles Rams
Conference Projection: 11.8%
The Los Angeles Rams are second in Stats Insider’s NFC projections. They have a 11.8% probability of reaching the Super Bowl for the second time in 4 seasons under head coach Sean McVay. This season will be a referendum on the career of Matthew Stafford, who came to the Rams in the blockbuster trade which sent Jared Goff to the Detroit Lions. Stafford has played 12 NFL seasons, all with the lowly Lions. In only one of those 12 seasons did the Lions have a scoring defence ranked better than 13thin the NFL. The Lions have ranked 25th or worse in run offence DVOA in each NFL season since 2013.
You will find plenty of NFL people who think Matthew Stafford is an unremarkable pro quarterback, based on the fact that he didn’t lift the Lions to an elevated place over the past decade. Many other analysts, however, look at the dysfunctional, deficient situation he faced in Detroit and believe that Stafford’s now in position to blossom with the Rams.
San Francisco 49ers
Conference Projection: 11.8%
Along with the division-foe Rams, the 49ers are equal-second in Stats Insider’s NFC projections and presently hold a 11.8% chance of making the franchise’s 8th ever Super Bowl. There’s a lot of speculation about whether No. 3 NFL draft pick Trey Lance will overtake incumbent Jimmy Garoppolo for the starting quarterback job, but coach Kyle Shanahan seems to be insistent that ‘Jimmy G’ is his guy for 2021. The real intrigue surrounding the 49ers’ quarterback spot begins next year.
A noteworthy statistic about Garoppolo: Though the Niners did miss him badly last season, his numbers in six games were well below his stats throughout the 2019 season in which he led San Francisco to the Super Bowl. Garoppolo’s TD-INT ratio in six 2020 games was 7 to 5. In his full 16-game 2019 season: 27 to 13.
A point of concern for the 49ers early in training camp is that two safeties are hurt. Tony Jefferson is out for the year, while Jaquiski Tartt is going to be out for several weeks. The Niners are scrambling to find bodies, grabbing Ha Ha Clinton-Dix off the scrap heap. That’s not how this team wants to enter the season against Matt Stafford and the Rams’ passing game. The 49ers were crushed with injuries last year, raising questions about their strength and conditioning team. If San Francisco’s defensive line can stay healthy, this team still has a Super Bowl ceiling. However, the lack of depth in the secondary was a problem last year, which reduces the margin for error if any prominent pass rusher gets hurt.
Green Bay Packers
Conference Projection: 9.2%
The Green Bay Packers are fourth in Stats Insider’s NFC projections with a 9.2% chance of returning the Super Bowl for the first time in 12 years. Aaron Rodgers is back for another year in Green Bay, but it’s natural to doubt the Packers given the soap opera inside the organisation which dominated offseason headlines. The biggest reason the Packers could still win the NFC: They have a soft division to play against. The Chicago Bears could become great when Justin Fields grows into the quarterback position, but that might be a year or two away. The Minnesota Vikings and head coach Mike Zimmer have been irate at quarterback Kirk Cousins for his behaviour in training camp. That seems like a situation which is bound to unravel. The Lions are the Lions. After Green Bay lost to the Bucs at home last January in the NFC title game, one wonders if the Packers and Rodgers will get a similarly great chance to make the Super Bowl this year, or ever again?
Conference Projection: 6.9%
The Seattle Seahawks are fifth in Stats Insider’s NFC projections, and boats a 6.9% chance of making the franchise’s 4th trip to the Super Bowl. The equation is very simple in Seattle: Will the Seahawks’ offensive line finally protect Russell Wilson? Wilson has been sacked an average of 43.8 times per season in nine seasons with the Seahawks, which is more than any other NFL QB since the merger with the AFL in 1970. It is hard to trust that Pete Carroll – a quality defensive coach – is willing to make necessary adjustments on offence. Carroll has refused to embrace a more modern offensive style and Wilson and the Seahawks have suffered because of it.
Conference Projection: 5.9%
The Dallas Cowboys are sixth in Stats Insider’s NFC projections. The Cowboys play in the NFL’s weakest division, the NFC East, but no one would rate them higher than the Bucs, Packers, Rams, and 49ers in the NFC. They have a great chance of playing a home game in the playoffs, but that’s all they have going for them.
New Orleans Saints
Conference Projection: 5.9%
The New Orleans Saints are projected to get the seventh and final playoff spot in the NFC. Stats Insider is currently giving them a 5.9% chance of a second ever Super Bowl appearance, and first in 13 years. There’s no Drew Brees in New Orleans, but the Saints still have Alvin Kamara and a strong defence. This is a contender for a playoff spot, but much like the Cowboys, the Saints don’t have a particularly high ceiling in the NFC.
The best of the rest
The Minnesota Vikings represent the best of the rest, and are currently slotted in as a 4.3% chance of winning the NFC. We noted above that Kirk Cousins is driving Mike Zimmer nuts and that’s not a great emotion to inflict upon the notoriously grumpy head coach.
The Arizona Cardinals are next up and have a 3.9% chance of making their first Super Bowl in 14 years. The Cardinals have J.J. Watt and A.J. Green, but those two stars might be past their prime. If they still have good football in them, they have to show they can play full seasons. Arizona’s offensive line is also a significant concern.
The Washington Football Team has a 3.6% chance of winning the conference for the first time since 1992. Ryan Fitzpatrick gives them a quarterback upgrade, but not an upgrade which makes Washington a true Super Bowl contender. ‘FitzMagic’s’ ceiling is 10-7, not 14-3.
The Chicago Bears, like Washington have a 3.6% chance of representing the NFC in the Super Bowl. They’ll welcome Justin Fields, the rookie quarterback who has a bright future… but not necessarily under Matt Nagy. The Bears might need to struggle this year, hire a new coach for Fields, and see what the future holds.
The Atlanta Falcons have at 3.2% chance of a Super Bowl appearance, and will hope to do so under new head coach, Arthur Smith. The former Titans offensive co-ordinator gets to work with Matt Ryan and No. 4 NFL draft pick Kyle Pitts. This offence could be fun, but the Falcons have lingering problems on their offensive and defensive lines.
The New York Giants (2.8%), Carolina Panthers (2.7%), Philadelphia Eagles (2.7%), and Detroit Lions (1.2%) round out the rest of the NFC. With Daniel Jones, Sam Darnold, Jalen Hurts, and Jared Goff quarterbacking these offences, no one should expect any significant achievements from them in 2021.
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