Are the Packers the class of the NFC North as long as Brett Favre is still there?
You mean the same Favre who threw that gawdawful pass in the emotional playoff loss at Philadelphia, which prematurely ended the Packers' 2003 season? For reasons obvious to just about everyone -- like, uh, name the Green Bay backup or their heir unapparent to Favre -- the three-time league most valuable player remains the most crucial personage for the health of the team. Even if tailback Ahman Green has emerged the past three seasons as an offensive fulcrum, Green Bay can't count on the enigmatic Favre anymore to win every close game with a stirring two-minute drill. Truth be told, the team has always had to tolerate Favre's frequent risk-taking, a derring-do style that defines life on the edge. The difference in recent seasons is that the rewards don't outdistance the risks as much as they once did. Even with Favre, the Packers are a relatively ordinary bunch, so imagine what Green Bay would be like without him. In a division that is tight because it is so diluted, Favre is worth a win or two on his own, and that's enough to set any NFC North team apart. With or without the future Hall of Fame member, Green Bay still has to play better defense to reach the playoffs in 2004 for a fourth straight season. Remember, the Packers only stumbled into the postseason last year because of Arizona's last-play touchdown against Minnesota after time had elapsed. Green Bay isn't apt to be as fortunate this time around. The Packers need better secondary play than they got on the infamous fourth-and-26 play in the playoff loss to the Eagles. And they'd better conjure up a way to create more consistent pass-rush pressure. Otherwise, the legendary Favre can play until he's 100 years old, and the Packers won't win another Super Bowl.