Packers and Buccaneers co-favored to win NFC Championship
The defending NFC champ Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Green Bay Packers share the spotlight as co-favorites to win the NFC title next season, as of Monday, Feb. 15.
The 13-3 Packers were a popular pick to reach Super Bowl LV, but Tom Brady and his new-look Buccaneers upset Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay in January’s NFC Championship Game.
NFC Championship 2021/2022
Sun, January 23 2022, 5:00 PM
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Green Bay Packers
Los Angeles Rams
San Francisco 49ers
New Orleans Saints
The Packers earned their second straight NFC North title in their second season under head coach Matt LaFleur and appear set to top their division once more in the 2021 season.
One glaring issue, though, is Rodgers’ commitment to the franchise.
Packers must repair relationship with Rodgers
The reigning NFL MVP reportedly started the 2020 season on the wrong foot, after LaFleur and the front office drafted quarterback Jordan Love in the first round of last year’s NFL Draft. The Packers could have selected a receiver, or another position of need, but instead looked to find Rodgers' eventual replacement.
The relationship between LaFleur and Rodgers reportedly deteriorated further, following Green Bay’s loss to Tampa Bay. In that game, LaFleur opted to kick a field goal in a fourth-and-goal situation with 2:05 remaining, rather than trust Rodgers to score a touchdown with the game on the line. Green Bay never got the ball back and fell to Tampa Bay, 31-26.
After the loss, Rodgers admitted his future in Green Bay is uncertain and cited potential roster changes next season as a reason he might consider a new home.
One player who might not return to the team is running back Aaron Jones, who ranked fourth in the league in rushing yards (1,104) last season.
The fifth-year veteran will hit free agency, along with running back Jamaal Williams, center Corey Linsley, and cornerback Kevin King.
Bruce Arians, Bucs hope to retain Super Bowl roster
The Buccaneers make for a safer bet to win the NFC, as they'll head into the season on a championship high.
The fear of a Super Bowl hangover might exist with another team, but this is Brady's squad. The seven-time Super Bowl champion just played in his record 10th Super Bowl and is no stranger to bouncing back for another title run.
The 43-year-old quarterback already confirmed he will return for another season in Tampa Bay, while tight end Rob Gronkowski, receiver Antonio Brown, and running back Leonard Fournette all want to re-sign with the Bucs in the offseason.
Impending free agent Chris Godwin may end up the odd man out. Godwin saw his production fall off in 2020, as he dealt with injuries and increased competition for targets on Tampa Bay's loaded offense.
On defense, edge rusher Shaquil Barrett will become a free agent in March but has expressed a desire to remain in Tampa Bay. Defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh and linebacker Lavonte David will also enter free agency.
With the salary cap expected to decrease next season, most NFL franchises will face an uphill battle with salary space. Nonetheless, the Bucs should be able to keep most of their significant pieces for next season and will also get a more normal offseason to work with next year's roster.
This group should only grow stronger in 2021, considering it was one of the teams most affected by last year's modified offseason and still managed to win the Super Bowl.
NFC West features daunting dark horses
The Bucs and Packers are the two obvious choices to contend for the NFC title, but the NFC West will be packed with competition in 2021.
Longtime Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford will spearhead Sean McVay's offense in Los Angeles, while the San Francisco 49ers will gain a newly healthy roster.
San Francisco quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo could end up on the trading block, but the 29-year-old has mostly been a bright spot for the Niners.
Since he joined the team in 2017, Garoppolo is 24-9 as a starter (including the playoffs). Last season, he played just six games because of a high-ankle sprain, while tight end George Kittle, cornerback Richard Sherman, edge rusher Nick Bosa, running back Raheem Mostert, and wide receiver Deebo Samuel all missed significant time with injuries.
A hobbled roster resulted in a down season for San Francisco, which went from 13-3 and a Super Bowl berth in 2019 to a 6-10 season in 2020.
With renewed health, the Niners should re-enter the NFC title discussion — especially if they win the Deshaun Watson trade sweepstakes.