Black and Blue all over: The offseason begins

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert
Welcome to the real start to the offseason: The day after Super Bowl. We still have the Pro Bowl next weekend, but that one doesn't count in the standings.

For me, the lesson of Super Bowl XLIII for NFC North teams remains the same: It doesn't matter how well you perform (or don't) in the regular season. Just play well enough to get to the tournament. If your top players do their best once the playoffs begin, anything can happen.

That happened for the New York Giants last year. And it was nearly the case this year for the Arizona Cardinals, who lost 27-23 to Pittsburgh. After watching the game, it seemed clear that the Cardinals were 35 seconds away from beating a better team and walking away with the Super Bowl trophy.

You have to be talented and well-coached to do what the Giants did and what the Cardinals nearly did. But you don't have to be perfect. That's a comforting thought if you wear Black and Blue.

Now let's hit a few stories around the division on the first Monday of February:

  • Totally agree with Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times: Sunday night's game reinforced what game-breaking receivers can do for a team. Pittsburgh's Santonio Holmes and Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald both did for their teams what none of the current Bears receivers could.

  • Here's the story from the St. Petersburg Times of a 71-year-old Bears fan who scored a random, free ticket to the Super Bowl.

  • Minnesota center Matt Birk lost out on the Walter Payton Man of the Year award to Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner.

  • Tom Powers of the St. Paul Pioneer Press bangs the Brett Favre drum for the Vikings. Powers: "This is Minnesota's chance. The Vikings have a good core, but they could have just one real shot at a title before they have to start replacing some of the pieces that are wearing out."

  • From Elias Sports Bureau: Pittsburgh linebacker LaMarr Woodley tied an NFL record with eight sacks in the postseason, matching the mark set in 1985 by Chicago defensive end Richard Dent and Baltimore defensive end Michael McCrary in 2000.