Risers and fallers of the NFC

The 49ers have played for the NFC championship each of the last three seasons. That run may be over. Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Twelve teams in the NFL make the playoffs every season. Generally, about half of them won't return the following year. The trick each season is guessing who'll be in and who'll be out.

Our picks for surprise contenders in the NFC in 2014 include two teams with new coaching staffs and one whose best player missed most of last season. We also expect three of last year's oldest clubs to fall far short of the postseason.

If you missed yesterday's AFC edition, it's here.


Tampa Bay Buccaneers

For the first time in five years, the Bucs have a legitimate NFL coach in Lovie Smith. Josh McCown could be a big upgrade at quarterback if he plays like he did in 2013, when he tossed 13 touchdowns against one interception for the Chicago Bears. The team also added veteran talent on the offensive line, picking up free agents Anthony Collins and Evan Dietrich-Smith, and two likely starters in the draft in first round wideout Mike Evans and second round TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins.

Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David give the Bucs two of the best defenders in the league in their front seven. After playing the toughest schedule in the league last season and going 2-5 in one-score contests, the Bucs should have some better luck in close games. Expect them to jump from 4-12 to .500 or better.