Undrafted – The Network

Who Challenges the Bucs in the NFC?

So Tom Brady cemented his 7th ring and officially now has more Super Bowls individually than any NFL team has in total. Which is bonkers. What’s more bonkers is that he isn’t done yet, and the Bucs are likely to get better in 2021.

The Bucs had a rocky start to the 2020 season, and the memes began too early. Brady once again silenced all of his critics, or in the case of the Miami Dolphins fan base, just encouraged them to offer him even more abuse. The fact of the matter is that he’s the greatest to ever do it. He knew exactly which pieces he needed to complete that offence and get it ticking. An out of favour, disgruntled Leonard Fournette put on a show taking carries from Brady, Antonio Brown looked calm and collected again, and Gronk showed up out of retirement and became Gronk again.

So now give him a full offseason with his weapons, and a year under his belt with his new coaching staff. He understands them better, they understand him better, Progress and a better oiled machine is likely. In addition to that, the defence, which still hosted a fairly inexperienced line up, in terms of years in the league and playoff experience, is going to be better in 2021 too.

Now I’m not saying that Brady was the best quarterback in the league this season. In fact, far from it. Brady just does what he needs to do when it matters to win super bowls. The scary fact of the matter is that suddenly, just about when Tom Brady shows up, the Bucs defence becomes this elite force of nature. The Bucs owe just as much of this Super Bowl victory to their defence as they do to Tom, if not more. If you look at the Championship game against the Packers, the defence held it down while Brady was quite frankly poor in the second half. In the Super Bowl, they held a Patrick Mahomes and co firework show to zero touchdowns. That’s hard to do. Yes he had an injury, but that Bucs defence had the Chiefs rocked. Todd Bowles deserves to be credited for what was a beautifully called set of playoff games. Hats off to that man.

But my question is, who’s stopping them getting back to the big game again? Who’s going to stand in Bradys way of playing in his 11th Super Bowl? With Drew Brees retiring and the Saints in cap turmoil, I’d be surprised to see them get better in 2021, in fact i’m expecting a down season for New Orleans while they figure some things out. So who does that leave us with?

Green Bay Packers

The Packers had a rough day in the Conference championship game with the Bucs. That much was obvious. Somehow, with their defence nabbing the ball off Brady three times in one half of football, they weren’t able to capitalise. Head coach Matt LeFleur also attributed a few awkward play calls, which left a lot to be desired. But he will have learned from those, and analysed his strategies i’m sure.

I feel like the Packers didn’t do themselves justice in that game. But that doesn’t mean they’re not a danger to Tampa Bay in 2021. Rodgers needs a weapon or two, and Green Bay (and likely Rodgers), is going to riot if that isn’t addressed in the off season that’s about to start. Davante Adams production considering the fact that he’s not got enough talent around him to draw a distraction is insane. Teams will quite happily only offer single coverage to every other receiver on the Packers team, and focus their attention on Adams. Now imagine how good he could be if they had a genuine number two. I’m actually a fan of Valdez-Scantling as a three spot receiver, but they’re missing that number two. Somebody like Rashod Bateman in this years draft would give them a great base to work with.

Of course they might be losing Aaron Jones to free agency, but I don’t feel like this will be as much of an issue as it may be portrayed. AJ Dillon is a very different type of back, a powerhouse, but he looked good in flashes!

So if the Packers can add a couple of weapons to that offence, and not allow their line to leak sacks as badly as it did in the Conference final this season, I think they could be right back there this season. Aaron Rodgers might be in the best form of his entire career, so if he can keep that up, you always have a chance.

Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement – USA TODAY Sports

Arizona Cardinals

Yep. I believe if the Cardinals can get it cooking that they too would be one of the few teams capable of knocking off the Bucs in the playoffs.

The trouble the Cardinals have, is being a part of the most talented division in football right now. The Rams, Seahawks, Cardinals and 49ers should all be playoff teams in 2021. Yet all four share the same division, so those head to head match ups against each other matter even more in the NFC West.

So what do the Cardinals need to go from 8-8 to the playoffs? Division wins. They were 2-4 within their division, and only just beat the Seahawks in over time in week 7. They need to be stronger against these direct opponents. The Cards were too hold and cold in 2020. Starting the season 5-2, with the addition of Deandre Hopkins, we’re thinking, uh oh, here come Arizona in the playoffs, but after the bye week, they went on a 3-6 run to finish 8-8. Two of those three wins in the second half of the season came against struggling Giants and Eagles teams, which makes it look even worse, but they also beat the Bills.

The Cardinals are a power back, a pass rusher, and a corner away, with a little cap room to work with. If they can add some quarterback pressure, and somebody like Najee Harris in the draft, plus a corner to play opposite Byron Murphy, then this is a good team.

They have all the weapons they need at the receiver spot, despite the potential retirement of Larry Legend. Kyler Murray is one of the most dynamic playmakers at the quarterback position across the whole league, but needs to be more consistent. they then need to rebuild around their weapons on defence, sign a few of their free agents back up, and get it rolling in 2021. A defence with Budda Baker and Chandler Jones as it’s pillars is a good start. We haven’t seen the ability of 2020 first round rookie Isaiah Simmons yet either.

San Francisco 49ers

2020 was not an accurate reflection of the 49ers at all. We know that, the 49ers know that too, and I’m expecting to see them make some moves this off season to get their team to the standard it needs to be for them to compete in another Super Bowl.

The 2020 season left the 49ers at 6-10, but despite the turmoil they still clipped a 3-3 record in the aforementioned NFC West, the toughest division in the league. The 49ers at full strength are Super Bowl contenders, because their defence is that good. Consider this, a defence that played most of it’s season without Nick Bosa, Dee Ford, Solomon Thomas, Richard Sherman, Jaquiski Tartt, Emmanuel Moseley, Dre Greenlaw, and Jimmie Ward, was still top 5 in the league for the least amount of yards allowed. Only four yards per game more than the New Orleans Saints. This is a good team you can’t write off.

Not only were they missing key pieces on defence, but their starting Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo only managed to play in 6 games, which is something the Niners are keen to figure out. A trade was pitched to the Vikings to try and lure Kirk Cousins away, because the Niners know that if they can get themselves a healthy, mid tier, capable quarterback, that their defence will do the rest. They couldn’t keep the offence on the field. Injuries plagued them on that side of the ball too. Not only was Jimmy G out, but rookie Brandon Aiyuk was in and out, but George Kittle missed a chunk of the season, and he’s a superstar. Then running back Raheem Mostert was out for a chunk of time too, as was receiver Deebo Samuel, and the list goes on.

The Niners, if healthy, have one of the strongest rosters in the league, they might be better placed than anyone to take it to the Bucs, and with a rough season cast aside, they’re now left with the 12th pick in the draft too.

I’d expect them to throw that out in a trade, or grab a corner with it, move on from Jimmy G, bring in a game manager, and be right there in January when we’re talking about playoffs. If there’s any defence in the league that can hang with Tom Brady, it’s the healthy 49ers.

MORE: Would the real Kirk Cousins, please stand up?

LA Rams

Speaking of quarterback situations, the Rams have been a quarterback away for the last three years. Unfortunately, as much as I like Jared Goff, he’s not the right quarterback for that team. However, bringing in Matt Stafford makes the Rams Super Bowl contenders.

Stafford has been a very solid, good, reliable quarterback for a terrible Detroit Lions team. Give him a strong Rams offence, an even stronger defence, and a genius like Sean McVay in his ear, and you have yourselves a shot. The Rams know that the time is now, which is why they’ve given up their future to add Stafford.

(Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images)

I personally wrote them off last season. They’d lost too many pieces on defence for my liking, and had salary cap woes up to their eyeballs. But they figured it out, and had the most well coached and disciplined defence in the league. The Rams were 23 yards better than the next best team in the league, giving up only 281 yards per game. Washington in second, managed to hold opposing teams to an average of 304. 281 is a crazy number, and to be that far ahead is very impressive.

Then you look at the strength of their offensive line, and a list of weapons that includes Cooper Kupp, who i think is a top 10 receiver, plus Robert Woods, Tyler Higbee, and the rookie running back Cam Akers, who looked every bit as good as a young Todd Gurley this season. They’re a quarterback away, and now they have one. So look out NFC, I’d expect the Rams to be every bit as good as anybody else in the division in 2021.

Brady and the Bucs double up?

To summarise, the NFC is not going to be a walk in the park for Brady and the Tampa Bay Bucs. Even with the impending retirement of Drew Brees, and the Seahawks somehow struggling to play well on a week to week basis, there are still several more than capable challengers standing in Tampa’s way. I’d have to put the Rams or the Niners as my favourites, but keep an eye on the other two as well.

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What does Odell do? - Undrafted - The Network 24th February 2021 at 6:01 pm

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