The Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are set to battle it out in Super Bowl LV Sunday. For the league's other 30 teams, including the Detroit Lions, they're already deep in offseason mode, trying to do enough to get their shot at the big game next season.
For Detroit, Chicago and Minnesota, their offseason work has been underway for weeks. Green Bay lost in the NFC Championship Game, and have been in offseason mode for a little over a week now.
Here's an NFC North primer to kick off the offseason:
2020 record: 13-3 (won division)
Key free agents: C Corey Linsley, RB Aaron Jones, CB Kevin King, CB Chandon Sullivan, TE Robert Tonyan, WR Allen Lazard, RB Jamaal Williams
2021 strength of schedule: Eighth, opponents had a .521 (133-122-1) winning percentage in 2020.
Draft picks: 1st (29), 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th
(Note: The list of picks for all teams does not include potential compensatory picks, which are awarded by the NFL in March to teams that lost more free agents than they signed the previous offseason.)
5 positions of need: DT, CB, OL, WR, Edge rusher
Twentyman: Linsley and Jones are two major free agency decisions the Packers have to make this offseason. Linsley was arguably the best center in football this year, and Jones has become a huge part of the Packers' offensive success. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers is expected to be back in 2021, despite raising some doubts after another loss in the NFC Championship. With Rodgers under center, the NFC North title still likely goes through Green Bay.
The Packers have been good the last two seasons under head coach Matt LaFleur, but they have to find a way to get over the top in the couple years Rodgers has left before they potentially turn the franchise over to Jordan Love. Green Bay has lost in the NFC Championship Game the last two years in a row. What is the missing piece or pieces? That's the big question in Green Bay this offseason.
2020 record: 8-8 (lost in wild card round of playoffs to Saints)
Key free agents: WR Allen Robinson, QB Mitchell Trubisky, WR Cordarrelle Patterson, OLB Barkevious Mingo, S Tashaun Gipson.
2021 strength of schedule: Third, opponents had a .553 (141-114-1) winning percentage in 2020.
Draft picks: 1st (20), 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 6th
5 positions of need: QB, OL, WR, LB, Edge rusher
Twentyman: The quarterback decision will be a big one this offseason in Chicago. It seems unlikely the Bears go into the 2021 season with Nick Foles as their starter, at least not without Foles having to earn the job against a veteran free-agent signee, or a rookie draft pick.
It will be interesting to see if Robinson re-signs or tests the free-agent market. He's underrated at the position, and will likely have an aggressive market for his services around the league. If he leaves, the Bears will have to try and replace him via free agency or the draft.
Some of the Bears' core pieces on defense are a year older, and the team has to begin retooling some depth with young players they can develop and eventually turn to. It's still a great defense, and should be again in 2021, but it won't matter if Chicago doesn't get better at the quarterback position.
2020 record: 7-9
Key free agents: S Anthony Harris, LB Eric Wilson, S George Iloka, OL Rashod Hill, DT Jaleel Johnson, DL Ifeadi Odenigbo, CB Chris Jones
2021 strength of schedule: Sixth, opponents had a .537 (137-118-1) winning percentage in 2020.
Draft picks: 1st (14), 3rd, 3rd, 4th, 4th, 4th, 5th, 5th, 6th, 7th
5 positions of need: DL, OL, CB, LB, QB
Twentyman: The Vikings are expected to get defensive tackle Michael Pierce back after he opted out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19. That's a big addition to an already good defense. All their major weapons on offense are back, and Harris is really the only big-time player up for free agency. Minnesota also has six draft picks in the top four rounds. The Vikings are in a pretty good spot heading into the offseason.
The biggest decision looks to be the future of quarterback Kirk Cousins, who's under contract for two more seasons. He is coming off a solid 2020 season that saw him throw a career-high 35 touchdowns, but he failed to lead Minnesota to the playoffs for the second time in three seasons. Do the Vikings think they can win it all with Cousins at the helm? Could they look to move him this offseason? Does Minnesota look to draft the future at the position this offseason?
2020 record: 5-11
2021 strength of schedule: Fourth, opponents had a .543 (138-116-2) winning percentage in 2020.
Draft picks: 1st (7), 2nd, 3rd, 3rd, 4th, 5th
5 positions of need: WR, LB, S, DL, QB
Twentyman: 2021 will usher in a new era in Lions football. The Lions have a new general manager in Brad Holmes, new head coach in Dan Campbell, and for the first time since 2009, they'll have a new quarterback under center entering the year after reportedly agreeing to trade Matthew Stafford to the Los Angeles Rams in exchange for quarterback Jared Goff, two first-round draft picks (in 2022 & 2023) and a third-round pick this year, per a league source.
Goff would be expected to enter the season as the starter, but the Lions haven't ruled out also taking a quarterback in this year's NFL Draft, per a league source. Most importantly, however, Holmes and Campbell need to pull the right strings when it comes to revamping a Lions defense that allowed franchise highs in points and yards allowed this season.
It will also be interesting to see if the Lions opt to re-sign Golladay and Okwara, their top free agents. Will the franchise tag come into play? There have already been a lot of changes in Detroit, and even more could come this offseason.