As Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer emphasized at the Annual League Meeting in Orlando last month, all teams will start the 2018 season 0-0.
And while the Vikings won't be able to carry over their 13-3 regular-season record, NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal said that Minnesota has reason to be confident. He included the Vikings, whose free agency signings included Kirk Cousins and Sheldon Richardson, in "the real deals" category of his recent article ranking NFC teams.
Rosenthal said that "Minnesota has every right to dream big after adding Cousins and getting running back Dalvin Cook back from injury" but added that the NFC North race will be tight with the return of Aaron Rodgers, who missed most of 2017 with a broken collarbone.
In addition to the division-rival Vikings and Packers, Rosenthal included the defending champion Eagles and playoff participant Rams, Falcons and Saints in the "real deals" lineup. Rosenthal wrote:
It's not like the Eagles offense can necessarily play better than it did while scoring 79 points combined in the NFC championship and Super Bowl, but the return of Carson Wentz should help prevent a step back. This is a roster that is deep in the right places (the lines) and has a compelling mix of youth and veterans in their prime.
The Eagles – and the rest of this tier – would be bitterly disappointed by anything but a playoff trip.
I believe that if you ran the 2017 playoffs 10 different times, seven to eight different champions might have emerged. It was that kind of season, with the Falcons and Saints both rightfully believing they were close to ring-worthy. There's no reason for either team to feel differently about 2018 with both rosters boasting mostly homegrown, young and increasingly balanced talent.
Rosenthal's next category was "Don't forget about us," which included the Panthers, Seahawks and Cowboys. He said it's clear the NFC is "a deep conference when this trio doesn't crack the top tier."
The "uphill climb" grouping followed, including the Buccaneers, Lions, Giants, 49ers and Redskins, the latter of whom will start quarterback Alex Smith after trading for him this offseason.
In the final grouping, Rosenthal said the Bears and Cardinals are in the "rebuilding" stage. He pointed out Chicago's active offseason, however, and said the NFC North team could be competitive.
I've never felt more optimistic about them, however, after an offseason of exciting additions on offense, a new head coach and their smart move to retain defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. Perhaps the Bears are ready to make their jump up the standings a year ahead of schedule like the 2017 Rams, who were also in my bottom tier a year ago.
Vikings 'Town Takeover' heading to Marshall, Minnesota
The Vikings annually do a "town takeover" in the home of Minnesota's Football Program of the Year, and this year they're heading to Marshall, Minnesota.
Vikings players, cheerleaders and Viktor the Viking will head to Marshall this weekend for a two-day celebration that will include autograph sessions, youth football clinics, elementary school visits and more.
*Marshall Independent *writer Jenny Kirk wrote about the upcoming festivities, which will also feature a $10,000 check presentation to the Marshall Tigers football program, who were undefeated in the 2017 regular season and advanced to the State Class AAAA playoffs. Kirk quoted Tigers Head Coach Terry Bahlmann, who said it's "really a nice honor" to receive the recognition and donation.
"There are a lot of people that work hard to help make our Marshall football program special, and it always nice to be recognized statewide for that hard work," Bahlmann said.
The journey that led to the statewide recognition began many months ago — maybe even years ago. A Marshall High School parent submitted the nomination near the beginning of the 2017 football season, noting that the Tiger team had given the community a reason to cheer the previous year and had set the bar high for the upcoming season as well.
The parent went on to say that the Tiger students embody a positive attitude of leadership, giving the entire community a sense of pride. She added that the players and fans unify to represent their community with exemplary sportsmanship and class.
View images from this weekend's action at the 2017 X Games competition at U.S. Bank Stadium.
U.S. Bank Stadium to host X Games through 2020
U.S. Bank Stadium hosted the X Games last summer, and the event was a hit – not only for fans but for the competitors and organizers, as well.
The X Games already were planned to return to Minneapolis for the 2018 competition, but ESPN recently announced that a two-year extension agreement has been reached to host X Games Minneapolis through 2020.
X Games Vice President Tim Reed said the 2017 Games "proved what an incredible fan experience" U.S. Bank Stadium offered for the event.
"Minneapolis and U.S. Bank Stadium have quickly established themselves as a destination for the world's top sport and entertainment brands, and we look forward to building off of a terrific first year in Minneapolis," Reed added.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey also was quoted, saying the city which hosted Super Bowl LII in February is "tailor-made" to host ESPN's X Games.
"With a zip line over the Mississippi and Levi LaVallee's backflip on a snowmobile in the heart of downtown Minneapolis this winter, we've shown the world we know how to live on the edge and what we can do as a world-class host for major sporting events," Frey said. "That's why it only makes sense that our city will be the home of the X Games through 2020."