Inside the NFC West, the competition looks even stiffer than a year ago. The Seattle Seahawks and Los Angeles Rams figure to be formidable, once again. And the Arizona Cardinals are closing the gap in a hurry.
The last-place Cardinals gave the 49ers plenty of problems last season. They are young, athletic and they play hard. The Cardinals are on the rise with a dynamic quarterback, Kyler Murray, and elite wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins joining the ageless Larry Fitzgerald.
Meanwhile, across the country, in the NFC South, the 49ers need not be concerned with the offseason splash of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
There was a lot of chatter in the offseason about the 49ers being the preferred free-agent destination of Brady, who was ready to move on after spending 20 years with Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots.
The 49ers were certainly made aware of Brady's apparent openness toward stepping in and replacing his former backup, Jimmy Garoppolo. Brady's apparent desires did not sway general manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan.
Brady will soon turn 43. He's on the decline, no doubt. Garoppolo is 28 and, theoretically, on the rise after just one season as a full-season starter.
The 49ers do not have to worry about Tom Brady for a while.
The 49ers and Buccaneers will not meet this season -- unless the teams should happen to meet in the postseason. And with one team added to the playoff mix per conference, the odds have increased ever-so-slightly that it could happen.
The club met during Week 1 of the 2019 season. The 49ers went to Raymond James Stadium, which will serve as the site for Super Bowl LV in February 2021, and came away with a two-touchdown victory.
Oh, by the way, former Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston gifted the 49ers two touchdowns with interceptions that Richard Sherman and Ahkello Witherspoon returned for scores.
At his best, Winston is more prolific than Brady at this stage of their careers. Winston threw for a league-high 5,109 yards with an 8.2 average per attempt and 33 touchdowns. Brady last season had 1,000 few yards, 1.6 yards fewer per attempt and 24 touchdowns.
But at his worst, Winston is far worse than Brady, who is about the closest thing to being automatic as any quarterback who has ever played the game. Winston turned it over 35 times with 30 interceptions and five lost fumbles.
It is amazing the Buccaneers won seven games with that kind of scattered play from their quarterback.
Brady will not make the head-scratching errors that drive Tampa Bay coach Bruce Arians batty. He will have much better receivers with the Buccaneers than he had in recent years with the Patriots. It will be a luxury for Brady to throw to 1,000-yard producers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin.
And it seems to be reasonable to assume the Bucs will strongly consider adding Antonio Brown, too.
The New Orleans Saints, Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers should be more than a little concerned about how Brady could pick apart their defenses, but the 49ers have other issues to worry about than the Buccaneers.
But if they could be guaranteed one trip to Tampa next season, they would sign up for that right now.
Why Tom Brady joining NFC shouldn't concern 49ers in Super Bowl quest originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area