Who can hang with the 49ers in the NFC? It’s Philly and the pretenders

A look at which teams could challenge high-flying 49ers for NFC supremacy

Maybe I’m not buying the whole 17-0 regular season thing, but after three weeks, it’s pretty clear the 49ers are the class of the NFC and, at best, co-favorites to play in Super Bowl LVIII on Feb. 11 in Las Vegas.

They’ve scored 30 points in three straight games and are disappointed it hasn’t been more. Their stars, of which there are many, have performed admirably. The 49ers’ only notable injury, wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk, should not be an issue this week when they host the Arizona Cardinals at Levi’s Stadium.

While an NFL season does not allow for clear sailing to a conference championship game, the 49ers have delivered on almost every positive preseason prediction.

The general public appears to be catching on that Brock Purdy is more than just an undersized game manager at quarterback.

With that in mind, here’s a look at how the NFC teams currently above.500 line up heading into Week 4, with only one team capable of defeating the 49ers thus far:

  1. Philadelphia (3-0): The Eagles defeated the previously unbeaten Tampa Bay Buccaneers 25-11 on Monday night. They did it in the same manner in which they won the NFC title a year ago, dominating both sides of the line of scrimmage with 201 yards rushing and 272 yards passing while holding the Bucs to 174 yards total offense and 45 plays.

The Eagles are the only team that can match the 49ers at the point of attack, and the addition of rookie defensive tackle Jalen Carter appears to have negated the Eagles’ decision to let Javon Hargrave leave in free agency.

Jalen Hurts isn’t the same player he was a year ago, but he’s still getting used to Brian Johnson, the play-caller who took over for Shane Steichen when the former offensive coordinator left to become the head coach in Indianapolis. However, if their health permits, they should be in sync by the time the 49ers visit town on December 3.

The next three weeks include games against Washington (2-1), the Los Angeles Rams (1-2), and the New York Jets (1-2).

  1. Dallas (2-1): Talk about extreme teamwork. The Cowboys thrashed both New York teams by a combined score of 70-10 in the first two games, only to be pummeled 28-16 in Arizona.

It was concerning, but I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt because it wasn’t something in their DNA. If something like that happens in the near future, the Metroplex will be hoping for No. 3 quarterback Trey Lance to take over for Dak Prescott and Deion Sanders to replace Mike McCarthy as head coach.

Next three weeks: at New England (1-2), at the 49ers (3-0), and at the Los Angeles Chargers (1-2).

  1. Detroit (2-1): Beat Kansas City in Week 1 and is coming off a relatively easy win over Atlanta sandwiched between a loss to Seattle. When the Rams acquired Jared Goff in the Matthew Stafford trade, it appeared to be the end of his career. Goff, on the other hand, has thrived.

Goff to Amon-Ra St. Brown is one of the best pitch-and-catch combinations in the NFL, and the defense has looked like a playoff team in Weeks 1 and 3.

The next three weeks include games against Green Bay (2-1), Carolina (0-3), and Tampa Bay (2-1).

  1. Green Bay (2-1): Perhaps it’s wishful thinking to believe that Jordan Love can replace Aaron Rodgers with only a fraction of the outside drama. His stats aren’t particularly impressive, but he has demonstrated an early ability to make clutch plays.

The Packers have outperformed expectations, and if there’s one thing we’ve learned about Matt LaFleur, it’s that he’s a good head coach.

The next three weeks include games against Detroit (2-1), Las Vegas (1-2), and a bye.


  1. Seattle (2-1): At this point, I’m willing to chalk up the Week 1 home loss to the Rams as one of those inexplicable first-week flops. Geno Smith is back on track, completing 68.6 percent of his passes, and he has some help in the form of running back Kenneth Walker III and wide receivers D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett.

Bobby Wagner has returned home, and the Seahawks have proven adept at reloading with young talent in Pete Carroll’s 15th season. They’re giving up 29.3 points per game through three games, and if that trend continues, they’ll never be able to compete with the 49ers.

The next three weeks are as follows: at New York Giants (1-2), bye, and at Cincinnati (1-2).

  1. New Orleans (2-1): The Saints will most likely be without Derek Carr for a few weeks, though I recall him missing only one game with a broken back when he was with the Raiders. Even though three teams are currently 2-1, the Saints appear to have the defensive personnel to stay afloat in what should be the NFL’s weakest division.

If Carr can return and give the Saints some offense, a playoff berth is possible, though it’s difficult to imagine them beating the 49ers in the postseason on the road.

The next three weeks include games against Tampa Bay (2-1), New England (1-2), and Houston (1-2).

  1. Atlanta (2-1): Two wins against Carolina and Green Bay were followed by a crushing defeat against Detroit. Desmond Ridder is unlikely to be a playoff quarterback, but the Falcons can run the ball with Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate Bijan Robinson and Tyler Allgeier. The pair has 486 of Atlanta’s 938 scrimmage yards.

Grady Jarrett remains one of the NFL’s best interior defenders, and safety Jesse Bates III has three interceptions.

The next three weeks include games against Jacksonville (1-2), Houston (1-2), and Washington (2-1).

  1. Tampa Bay (2-1): I understand that starting with wins over winless teams (Minnesota and Chicago) and then getting blown out at home by Philadelphia isn’t necessarily cause for celebration. But who expected the Bucs to be 2-1 at this point?

The Buccaneers have some defensive talent, but their inability to run the ball will force Baker Mayfield to make too many errors until Kyle Trask gets his chance.

The next three weeks are as follows: at New Orleans (2-1), bye, and at Detroit (2-1).

  1. Washington (2-1): And to think, after starting 2-0, Sam Howell was being discussed as potentially superior to Purdy. Those victories, however, came against Arizona and Denver, the latter of which is now an NFL laughingstock after surrendering a 70-burger to Miami.

Then came Buffalo’s 37-3 comeback, with Howell throwing four interceptions. In a single season, you can’t undo the damage done by former owner Daniel Snyder.

The following three weeks: at Philadelphia (3-0), at Chicago (0-3), and at Atlanta (2-1).

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