NFC NORTH: Offseason primer

The New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons will officially conclude the NFL season Sunday in Houston at the Super Bowl.

But for the four teams in the NFC North, their offseason work began weeks ago.

Here's an NFC North primer to kick off the offseason:


2016 record: 10-6 (division winners)

Key free agents: T.J. Lang (G), Julius Peppers (OLB), Nick Perry (OLB), Jared Cook (TE), Eddie Lacy (RB), Micah Hyde (S)

2017 strength of schedule: 122-132-2 (.480, 18th toughest, six playoff teams)

Draft picks: 1st (29), 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th

This list of picks 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.

2016 MVP: Aaron Rodgers, QB

Rodgers said the Packers would run the table and qualify for the playoffs after a 4-6 start, and he kept his word. Over those last six regular-season games, Rodgers threw 15 touchdowns and no interceptions. He finished the season completing over 65 percent of his passes for 4,428 yards with a career-high 40 touchdown passes and just seven interceptions.

2016 rookie of the year: Blake Martinez, ILB

Martinez started nine games for the Packers and recorded 69 tackles, a sack and an interception in 13 games. He fit right into the middle of the Green Bay defense, and showed he belonged.

3 positions of need: Edge rusher, running back, cornerback

Twentyman: The Packers need to find some young pass rushers, as Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers can't play forever. A running back to complement Ty Montgomery wouldn't hurt, either.

It will be interesting to see if the Packers are players in free agency. They have some of their own to take care of, which they always prefer to do first, but this is a team that needs some more playmakers, especially on the defensive side of the ball.

As long as the Packers have Aaron Rodgers, they'll always be in the conversation for the team to beat in the NFC North.


2016 record: 9-7

Key free agents: Larry Warford (G), Riley Reiff (T), Anquan Boldin (WR), Devin Taylor (DE), Andre Roberts (WR), Don Muhlbach (LS), Rafael Bush (S)

2017 strength of schedule: 119-135-2 (.469, tied for 21st toughest, five playoff teams)

Draft picks: 1st (21), 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 6th

2016 MVP: Matthew Stafford, QB

Stafford had the Lions cruising at 9-4 until an injury to the middle finger on his throwing hand played a role in his decreased stat line to end the season. Overall, Stafford completed 65 percent of his passes for 4,327 yards with 24 touchdowns and 10 interceptions for a passer rating of 93.3.

2016 rookie of the year: Taylor Decker, LT

The rookie first-round pick played every single snap for the Lions at one of the more difficult positions in football. He allowed just 4.5 sacks in 16 contests.

3 positions of need: Pass rusher, linebacker, cornerback

Twentyman: If the Lions want to be better in 2017 and challenge Green Bay for the division title, they need more playmakers on defense, and have to find some kind of running game on offense.

Detroit ranked 30th in the league running the ball in 2016. They also didn't force a single takeaway the last five games of the season, and finished 20th in the league with just 14 for the entire season.


2016 record: 8-8

Key free agents: Andre Smith (T), Matt Kalil (T), Captain Munnerlyn (CB), Terence Newman (CB), Cordarrelle Patterson (WR), Matt Asiata (RB)

2017 strength of schedule: 115-139-2 (.453, tied for 27th toughest, six playoff teams)

Draft picks: 2nd (46), 3rd, 3rd, 4th, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th

2016 MVP: Xavier Rhodes, CB

Rhodes' ball skills improved dramatically in 2016. He finished with five interceptions, including a 100-yard return for a touchdown against Arizona, and earned his first Pro Bowl nod.

2016 rookie of the year: Kentrell Brothers, OLB

This wasn't a good season for rookies making an impact in Minnesota. Brothers played in 10 games (no starts). He made his biggest impact on special teams, where he had nine tackles.

3 positions of need: Offensive tackle, defensive tackle, running back

Twentyman: It's been reported that quarterback Teddy Bridgewater won't be back in 2017, which makes the Sam Bradford trade smart. Bradford wasn't the problem in Minnesota this past season. He completed 72 percent of his passes for 20 touchdowns and just five picks.

Minnesota ranked last running the football (75.3). They need upgrades along their offensive line, and potentially a running back to replace Adrian Peterson.


2016 record: 3-13

Key free agents: Alshon Jeffery (WR), Brian Hoyer (QB), Matt Barkley (QB)

2017 strength of schedule: 122-133-1 (.479, 19th toughest, six playoff teams)

Draft picks: 1st (3), 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 4th, 5th, 7th

2016 MVP: Jordan Howard, RB

Howard burst onto the scene as a rookie with seven games of at least 100 yards rushing. He finished second in the NFL with 1,313 yards with six touchdowns. He added another 298 receiving yards and a score. Howard averaged 5.2 yards per carry this past season.

2016 rookie of the year: Jordan Howard, RB

(See above)

3 positions of need: Quarterback, cornerback, offensive tackle

Twentyman: It will be interesting to see what the Bears decide to do at the quarterback position in 2017. Jay Cutler's guaranteed money is up. Will the Bears move on?

Chicago has a nice young nucleus on both sides of the ball. They're simply lacking some star power and stability at the quarterback position.

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