The NFC North is a tough division, no doubt about it.
In the past four seasons, the Packers and Vikings have swapped the division title each year; the Vikings were NFC North champs in 2015 and 2017, and the Packers took the crown in 2014 and 2016.
Which of the four teams will top the division in 2018?
ESPN asked each of the team's beat reporters to predict a winner, and three of the four said the Vikings will win the division for the second straight season. ESPN Packers reporter Rob Demovsky wrote:
This looks like a two-playoff-team division if the Vikings and Packers live up to expectations. The Week 2 game between the two teams at Lambeau Field will give one of them an early leg up in the division and could shape the way things go the rest of the way. At this point, though, the Vikings look like the more complete team thanks to a strong defense, an improving offense and stability off the field in the coaching and personnel departments.
Demovsky, Jeff Dickerson (Bears reporter), Michael Rothstein (Lions) and Courtney Cronin (Vikings) all expect both the Packers and Vikings to make the playoffs. Cronin predicted Green Bay to top the division, while Dickerson and Rothstein opined the Packers as a Wild Card team. Rothstein wrote:
Rodgers is back and automatically makes the Packers one of the top teams in the NFC, but Minnesota might be the top team in the conference other than Philadelphia and maybe Los Angeles. The Vikings improved from last season, added Kirk Cousins, get Dalvin Cook back from injury and have the division's top defense, so they win the division again. The Packers also make the playoffs as a wild-card team. The Lions end up close but a tough schedule at the beginning and end of the season keeps them out of the playoffs for the second straight year.
NFL Network to carry pair of Vikings preseason games
According to a press release by NFL.com, NFL Network will carry 15 live 2018 preseason games, including two Vikings contests. The layout of Week 1 games was explained:
NFL Network's live preseason schedule kicks off Thursday, Aug. 9 at 7 p.m. (ET) when the number one overall pick of the 2018 NFL Draft Baker Mayfieldand the Cleveland Browns face the second overall pick Saquon Barkleyand the New York Giants. On Friday, Aug. 10 at 7:30 p.m. (ET), NFL Network broadcasts the preseason debut of the third overall pick Sam Darnold when the New York Jets host the Atlanta Falcons.
Additional live Week 1 preseason games on NFL Network include quarterback Jimmy Garoppoloand the San Francisco 49ers hosting the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday, Aug. 9 at 10 p.m. (ET), Matt Patricia'shead coaching debut and Jon Gruden'sreturn to the sidelines when the Detroit Lions travel to face the Oakland Raiders on Friday, Aug. 10 at 10:30 p.m. (ET), and a top free agent quarterback showcase when Kirk Cousinsand the Minnesota Vikings face Case Keenumand the Denver Broncos Saturday, Aug. 11 at 9 p.m. (ET).
In Week 2, NFL Network will air five preseason games, including the Vikings-Jaguars matchup at U.S. Bank Stadium at Noon. Other Week 2 matchups broadcast by NFL Network will be Browns-Bills, Rams-Raiders, Bengals-Cowboys and Seahawks-Chargers.
Week 3 games will be Raiders-Packers, Chiefs-Bears and Steelers-Titans. In Week 4, Lions-Browns and Cardinals-Broncos will be broadcast.