Enough messing around.
I spent the past two weeks ranking the NFC West teams position by position, and the 49ers won most categories.
But where do they stack up in the NFC? Are the 49ers still the best team in their conference?
Let’s find out. Let’s rank the top-five teams in the NFC, starting with No. 5
5. The Eagles
The Eagles are a dark horse. They won nine games last season, their defense ranked 10th out of 32 teams and their offense ranked 14th. They were good, even though they lost during the first round of the playoffs.
Carson Wentz is an MVP-caliber quarterback when healthy. He has a strong arm, he’s accurate, he’s mobile and he doesn’t throw lots of interceptions. Hasn’t thrown more than seven picks in a season since he was a rookie in 2016.
The Eagles had one major weakness last season: Their receivers. They dropped a whopping 29 passes. DeSean Jackson was injured, Alshon Jeffery was old and slow and Nelson Agholor was ineffective.
Jeffery still is old and slow. But Jackson is healthy now, Agholor is on the Raiders and the Eagles have revamped their wide-receiver group. In Round 1 this year, they drafted Jalen Reagor, who’s similar to Tyreek Hill. The Eagles also traded for Marquise Goodwin, the fastest player in the league. They’re trying to replicate the Chiefs offense -- Eagles head coach Doug Pederson used to be the Chiefs offensive coordinator under Andy Reid.
Philadelphia’s receivers will be much more dangerous next season. And if Wentz stays healthy, the Eagles will win the NFC East.
4. The Seahawks
Russell Wilson arguably is the best quarterback in the NFC, and this offseason the Seahawks improved his support cast. They signed tight end Greg Olsen and running back Carlos Hyde. Meaning the Seahawks have one of the most talented offenses in the entire league. Even their offensive line has improved. It used to be their biggest weakness. Now the Seahawks have zero weaknesses on offense.
The defensive line is an issue, but the Seahawks will sign a cheap pass-rusher who will come off the bench and play 20 snaps a game. And he probably will produce more than Jadeveon Clowney, who recorded just three sacks for the Seahawks in 2019 and currently is a free agent.
The Seahawks defense won’t be great in 2020. But if their running backs stay healthy, their offense will be elite, because it’s awfully difficult to stop both Seattle’s run game and Wilson.
3. The 49ers
Hear me out.
The 49ers still are one of the best teams in the NFL, and they still have the best defense in the NFC. And they still have Robert Saleh, the best defensive coordinator in the league who probably will become a head coach soon. So in a sense, the 49ers have two quality head coaches right now -- one on defense and one on offense.
The 49ers should win no fewer than 12 games next season, and easily could win 13 or 14 games -- their schedule is easier than last season.
But the 49ers got worse this offseason while a couple of their rivals got better. The 49ers lost Joe Staley, DeForest Buckner and Emmanuel Sanders -- three veteran leaders -- and replaced two of them with rookies. Javon Kinlaw will replace Buckner, and Brandon Aiyuk will replace Sanders.
Kinlaw and Aiyuk are talented, but probably won’t be as good as Buckner and Sanders next season. And until Aiyuk or another young receiver steps up, the 49ers will have just two major weapons in the pass game: George Kittle and Deebo Samuel. Most of these top teams have three or four major weapons.
Plus the 49ers lost the Super Bowl. Meaning they’ve had one month less to rest and prepare for the upcoming season than most of the league. That’s a big deal, and a big reason why almost every team that loses the Super Bowl doen’t win it the following year -- the abbreviated offseason is brutal.
The Patriots have won the Super Bowl the year after losing it, but they’re used to abbreviated offseasons -- they play in the Super Bowl almost every year. The 49ers don’t. It will be interesting to see how they deal with the Super Bowl hangover.
If it doesn’t affect them, and Jimmy Garoppolo improves in his second full season as a starter, the 49ers could win the NFC for the second season in a row.
2. The Saints
The Saints improved this offseason.
They signed Emmanuel Sanders, who will be a massive upgrade over Ted Ginn Jr.
Now opposing defenses will have to cover Sanders, Michael Thomas, Jared Cook and Alvin Kamara at the same time. Good luck.
The Saints also spent a first-round pick on a guard -- Cesar Ruiz. They have arguably the best offensive line in the NFL, plus one of the best quarterbacks, Drew Brees, who specializes in throwing quick passes. It’s extremely difficult to sack him. Which means the Saints match up well against the 49ers’ dominant defensive line.
Plus, the Saints defense ranked 11th last season. They have zero weaknesses. But they’re still not the best team in the NFC.
1. The Buccaneers
The 49ers created this monster.
They could have had Tom Brady -- his first choice was to sign with the 49ers. Which means they also could have had Rob Gronkowski.
Instead, the Niners stuck with Garoppolo, and let Brady and Gronkowski sign with the Buccaneers, a team that had the No. 1 ranked passing game without them last season.
The Buccaneers already have two of the best receivers in the NFL -- Chris Godwin and Mike Evans. Now they have future Hall of Famers at tight end and quarterback.
Brady will make such a huge difference for the Buccaneers. Last season, their starting quarterback was Jameis Winston, who now is the Saints’ backup. In 2019, Winston threw 30 picks. Thirty. He single handedly lost multiple games for them, but they still finished with a record of 7-9.
Brady won’t throw 30 picks next season -- he probably will throw fewer than 10. Which means their offense will be nearly impossible to stop. And their defense is pretty good, too - it ranked 15th last season.
Brady makes the Bucs the team to beat in the NFC.
Garoppolo will get his chance to dethrone his former mentor next season.