Can 49ers, NFC West all make the playoffs in 2021?
The new playoff format means the 49ers and entire NFC West can go through to the playoffs thanks to a preferable schedule against weaker divisions.
One of the biggest obstacles standing between the San Francisco 49ers and a return to the playoffs is the fact that they belong to the toughest division in football in the NFC West.
You could make a valid case for the Niners, Seattle Seahawks, Arizona Cardinals or the Los Angeles Rams to take the division this year. With such a stacked division, anything could happen in 2021.
And yes, the NFC West is that competitive.
San Francisco has a lot of the players coming back that had the team winning the division in 2019, the Seahawks are always in the hunt with quarterback Russell Wilson, the Rams made a major upgrade at quarterback in Matthew Stafford and the Cardinals have just kept on improving while adding established stars to their roster, like EDGE J.J. Watt.
But with the playoff format allowing three Wild Card spots per conference, an interesting quirk is that an entire division can now make it to the playoffs.
A quick look at the divisions the NFC West face in 2021 raises an eyebrow at this possibility, as even the weakest team in the division is stronger than almost any team they come up against.
NFC North may or may not challenge 49ers, NFC West
The NFC North is an interesting division for 2021, with questions over exactly what will happen at Green Bay with the saga between the Packers and star quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
Rodgers doesn’t want to play in Green Bay anymore, but the Packers have shown little signs of trading him at this point in time. If Rodgers continues to hold out or the team does trade him elsewhere, then the Packers will massively regress with Jordan Love under center.
The Chicago Bears are an interesting team with their new quarterback in rookie Justin Fields, but he’ll likely have teething problems in the pros, as this befalls most rookie quarterbacks. They’re not without talent, but the NFC West should handle them.
The Detroit Lions have had to downgrade at quarterback with Stafford wanting to play for a winning franchise. Jared Goff is a familiar face to the NFC West, and he doesn’t have Rams head coach Sean McVay anymore.
The Lions are likely to be at the bottom of the division this season.
That leaves the Minnesota Vikings, who are a good team that is somewhat limited at quarterback. They represent the biggest challenge in the division, but you could make the argument that the worst NFC West team (whoever that will be) is still better.
AFC South is a topheavy opponent for 49ers, NFC West
The most intriguing team is the Jacksonville Jaguars with the new Trevor Lawrence era.
Lawrence enters the league with the most hype of any quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck, and it’ll be fun to watch the rookie play. The only issue is that the Jaguars still need to build the team around him, so as good as Lawrence could be, the Jaguars will need time to reach the top of the division.
The Indianapolis Colts are in a state of flux as well, as they’ve put their eggs in the Carson Wentz basket. Wentz is talented but ever since he got injured in 2018, he’s battled consistency problems and ultimately flamed out with the Philadelphia Eagles. The Colts aren’t as strong with him at quarterback, but a new change may bring out the better side of Wentz. They’ll be interesting to watch.
The Houston Texans are, well… the Texans. They’re very bad without Deshaun Watson at quarterback, and it’ll take a while to get better.
That leaves the Tennessee Titans, by far the strongest of the eight teams the NFC West will play in their mutual opponents (again, depending on Rodgers possibly returning to the Packers). They have a great coach, an elite running game and good receivers to take the load off the passing game (this sure seems familiar for some reason).
NFC West can take advantage
The NFC West could all win over at least six of the eight opponents they have to play in these interdivisional matchups.
A lot hinges on the divisional games the teams will have and whether or not the Wild Card teams can win enough games to be in the playoff hunt, but the potential is there.
The NFC West is the toughest division in football, it’d be only fitting if all four teams play to their potential and find themselves in the postseason.