Rivals failed to KO Packers

The bye week is here, and the Packers are a stunningly familiar 1-4. But, hey, all hope isn't lost.

— After Sunday's games, the Packers could be within a game of first place in the wonderful NFC North standings. The first-place Lions, boasting a 2-2 record, host 3-2 Carolina. If the Panthers can beat Tom Brady and the Patriots, they should be able to beat Joey Harrington and the Lions, right?

— One of the Lions' losses was a 32-point, ahem, heartbreaker at the hands of those Cuddly Monsters of the Midway, the Chicago Bears (1-3). The Lions, of course, beat the Packers by 14. Thankfully, that doesn't make the Bears 46 points better than the Packers, but with the way Brett Favre has dominated the Bears in his career, a 46-point deficit might at least make things interesting.

— At 1-3, the preseason division favorites, the Minnesota Vikings, are even more disappointing than the Packers. Without Randy Moss, the Vikings' offense is having problems scoring. In the wake of the Lake Minnetonka sex cruise scandal, feel free to insert your own joke here.

— Say what you want about Mike Sherman, but at least he's not Mike Tice. And while many Packers fans would trade Sherman for Lions coach Steve Mariucci in a heartbeat, at one point does his utter inability to turn around the Lions (13-23 in two-plus seasons) outweigh his accomplishments in San Francisco and his friendship with Favre?

— Speaking of Tice and the Vikings, next Sunday's game at Minnesota could be the biggest game of the season. Especially with games at Cincinnati (4-1), home vs. Pittsburgh (3-1) and at Atlanta (3-2) looming in the following three weeks. If they can survive that stretch, they could be in position to steal the North. Not only does the schedule get weaker (home vs. Minnesota, at Philadelphia, at Chicago, home vs. Detroit, at Baltimore, home vs. Chicago, at Seattle), but four of those seven games come against division foes, so the Packers wouldn't need to count on other teams doing their dirty work to get back in the race.

– While Favre has made too many mistakes, he clearly remains the division's best quarterback. Check out the passer rating page on nfl.com, which lists the top 30 quarterbacks in the 32-team league. Favre ranks 14th. Minnesota's Daunte Culpepper, with four touchdowns and 10 interceptions, ranks 29th. Chicago's Kyle Orton and Detroit's Harrington don't even make the list. Since quarterbacks more often than not win (or lose) games, the Packers probably would have to be considered the favorite to win the division.

— Sort of like how the Boston Red Sox failed to deliver the knockout punch to the struggling New York Yankees back in May and June, the rest of the North failed to KO a Packers team reeling from a shaky offensive line, a nonexistent running game and the loss of Javon Walker. The line remains shaky, the running game remains awful and Walker is on injured reserve, but the Packers are still alive. The Lions, Vikings and Bears will wind end up regretting it, because the line and the running game are due to get better (by default) and Favre has turned to the Donalds to adapt to life without Walker. Donald Driver remains one of the league's most unappreciated players, and tight end Donald Lee has shown signs of being everything they had hoped David Martin would be the last few years. Heck, even Martin has made some plays.

The Packers remain a highly flawed team, and nobody should even begin to think they could win at a Philadelphia or an Atlanta in the playoffs. And, sadly, the Saints aren't on the schedule another half dozen times. Are the Packers Super Bowl contenders? Hardly. But you can't win the Super Bowl without first getting into the playoffs. With Favre, a weak division and Jim Bates running an improving defense, a playoff berth doesn't seem as farfetched as it did at this time last week.

Lawrence is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com. Send comments to steve_lawrence_packers@yahoo.com

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