> A shut-downdefense. While all of football waits for Brett Favre to break the alltime marksfor touchdown passes (he needs seven), passing yards (he needs 3,862) andvictories by a quarterback (he needs two), the Packers' opponents have to thinkabout how to dent a resurgent Green Bay front four. That quartet helped key aterrific December in which the Pack won its last four games and held foes to anaverage of 10.5¬†points. Ends Aaron Kampman and Cullen Jenkins hold thepoint well on the run and just might combine for 30¬†sacks this year. RyanPickett and Corey Williams are strong middle-cloggers, and first-rounder JustinHarrell should eventually be a solid addition at tackle. If Green Bay can finda running back to replace Ahman Green (second-round pick Brandon Jackson orthird-year back Vernand Morency, who has had only one season of more than 140carries since his arrival at Oklahoma State) and survive a tough early schedule(four 2006 playoff teams in the first 29 days), this season won't be only theBrett Favre Race for the Records; it will be a playoff-contending year aswell.
> The biggestquestion around the Packers this summer: Was¬†the 4-0 finish a mirage, withthree wins over teams going nowhere and a fourth coming against the Bears, ateam coasting into the postseason? Or was it an important jump on 2007,something that would carry over from December to September?
Of course, theplayers and coaches are going to say the momentum is still there, and it maywell be. The most important game of the four was the 26-7 night-game win overChicago on Dec. 31, and we'll never really know how much effort the Bears,having clinched home¬†field advantage in the NFC, put into it. Chicago'sstarters played into the third quarter, except for Rex Grossman, who was pulledat halftime after throwing three interceptions that helped the Pack build a23-0 lead. (Grossman later admitted his focus was off because "it's thelast game, it's New Year's Eve.")
"That was ahuge game," says wide receiver Donald Driver. "They made the Super Bowllast year, but that day we beat them in all phases. We proved we were a betterteam than them that day." Asked if he thinks the Packers are better thanthe Bears today, Driver says yes: "Remember--we owned that division forthree years, before ."
Now there's somebulletin-board fodder for their first meeting this year, a Sunday-nighter atLambeau on Oct.¬†7. For the Packers to have a prayer, though, they'd betterkeep Favre upright and safe from the fearsome Bears front. In the three gamesagainst Chicago before last year's finale, the Bears chased Favre all over thefield, sacked him seven times and picked off eight passes; he didn't throw atouchdown.
Favre, meanwhile,has put behind him an off-season in which he was at odds with the Packers'front office, and, at 37, he feels a bona fide hope that this can be a playoffyear. "I came back to win," he said during training camp. "I wasnever worried about the records before, and I certainly didn't come back tobreak them. I would be absolutely miserable if I ever played for records oranything other than to win ball games. I hope I don't need any records forpeople to remember me as a pretty good quarterback."
In the off-seasonhe felt general manager Ted Thompson didn't move quickly enough to trade forRandy Moss. The quarterback believed that teaming Moss with Driver, second-yearwideout Greg Jennings and glue-handed rookie James Jones could have made thePackers' receiving corps among the best in football. When Thompson dawdled,¬†trying to get a better deal from the Raiders, the Patriots jumped in andsent a fourth-round pick to Oakland for Moss. "I was pretty upset aboutthat for a while," Favre said. "I'm still not sure why we didn't doit." Thompson admitted this summer that he might have been "a littletoo conservative."
At least this year,unlike the past several, Favre doesn't come in thinking he has to throw fourtouchdown passes in every game to win. In their 4-0 season-ending run, thePackers got terrific play from five cornerstone defenders--ends Jenkins andKampman, cornerbacks Charles Woodson and Al Harris, and linebacker A.J. Hawk.(Hawk had a Nitschke-like three-game stretch in November in which he made 39tackles.) "I feel so good about our first unit on defense," says coachMike McCarthy. "That'll be the catalyst of our team."
It's been a longtime since the catalyst in Green Bay was anything except Favre's play. It comesat a time when the quarterback would happily be a complementary player, if itjust meant the Packers were playing for something in Week¬†17.
COACH MIKE MCCARTHY(8-8 in NFL), second season with Packers
BRANDON JACKSON (R)(New Aquisition)
HT 6' 3"
HT 6' 3"
HT 6' 2"
SACKS 3 1/2
SACKS 15 1/2
SACKS 6 1/2
MASON CROSBY (R)(New Aquisition)
NEW ACQUISITION(R) Rookie (college statistics)
> 2006 RECORD8-8 NFL RANK (Rush/Pass/Total): OFFENSE 23/8/9 DEFENSE 13/17/12
16 at N.Y. Giants
23 SAN DIEGO
30 at Minnesota
29 at Denver (M)
4 at Kansas City
22 at Detroit (T)
29 at Dallas (T)
16 at St. Louis
23 at Chicago
NFL rank 23
Opponents' 2006winning percentage .492
Games againstplayoff teams 7
(M) Monday (T) Thursday
Instant access to the latest and best Packers stories,stats and blogs from across the Web, handpicked by SI's editors.
ENEMY LINES AN OPPOSING TEAM'S SCOUT SIZES UP THEPACKERS
> The running game could doom this team. VernandMorency's been hurt all camp, and Brandon Jackson, the rookie from Nebraska,was not a 25-carry guy in college. If Brett Favre doesn't have a ground game,he won't win. . . . James Jones, the rookie out of San Jose State, had the besthands of any receiver in the draft, including Calvin Johnson. . . . Theoffensive line hurt Favre last year, but I think a season in the system willmake the two second-year guards, Daryn Colledge and Jason Spitz, a lot better.Colledge has to play with better leverage; he got steamrolled at times lastyear. . . . Never thought I'd see Charles Woodson play so hard, and so well,after dogging it in Oakland. It helps that he's playing alongside one of thereal gamer corners in football, Al Harris.
THE KING 500
> DEFENSIVE END
Kampman was the NFL's best end at disrupting thepassing game in '06, according to Pro Football Prospectus, with 57 1‚ÅÑ2 combinedsacks, QB hits and hurries. That's more than Julius Peppers, Dwight Freeney orJason Taylor. Plus, he's played 93% of the defensive snaps over the last twoseasons. At 270 pounds, he says, "my game has to be explosion andflexibility."
WALTER IOOSS JR.
Favre takes aim at the alltime passing records with a strengthened supportingcast.