Will the Packers sink like the Saints, Bears?

Probably not, PackerReport.com's Steve Lawrence says, because Ted Thompson has built a team without the flaws that have doomed other elite teams. That, and playing in the NFC North helps, too.

The New Orleans Saints and Chicago Bears played for the NFC championship following the 2006 season. High hopes surrounded both teams entering this past season. Instead, both teams missed the playoffs by posting equally disappointing 7-9 records.

The Pittsburgh Steelers and Denver Broncos played for the AFC championship following the 2005 season. Both missed the playoffs the next season, with Denver going 9-7 and Pittsburgh finishing 8-8.

The Philadelphia Eagles and Atlanta Falcons played for the NFC championship following the 2004 season. Again, both teams missed the playoffs the next season, with Philadelphia finishing a last-place 6-10 while Atlanta went 8-8.

Could the Packers be ripe for a similar free fall?

Common sense says no. Not with all of that young talent, an up-and-coming coach, an enviable salary-cap situation and a talent evaluator the caliber of Ted Thompson.

Then again, I'll bet nobody in Chicago or New Orleans forecasted their teams would fall on their faces this past season. I'll also bet nobody associated with the Eagles or Falcons would have believed those teams wouldn't get a sniff of another championship game in the following three seasons.

The Packers, however, appear to be immune from such shocking falls from grace.

The Bears, for all of their defensive dominance, no longer could overcome the black hole that is quarterback, especially without underappreciated running back Thomas Jones and an offensive line that got real old, real fast.

The Saints no longer could overcome their porous defense after their high-powered offense suffered a couple major personnel losses.

Terrell Owens might have acted like a first-class donkey's behind while in Philadelphia, but the Eagles' offense hasn't been the same without him.

Instead of following his path to stardom, Falcons quarterback Michael Vick's career plateaued. When defenses figured out he couldn't consistently throw a pass from Point A to Point B without it bouncing into the turf or soaring over his receiver's head, the Falcons were doomed. Now, Vick's career is ruined, and so are the Falcons.

The Packers have only one obvious Achilles heel, and that would be quarterback. They would be doomed if Brett Favre retires or suffers a major injury and Aaron Rodgers isn't ready for prime time, or if Favre suddenly starts playing like he's a typical 39-year-old.

Still, barring Grossman-like play at quarterback or a couple of devastating injuries, the Packers should remain top contenders in the NFC for a few reasons.

First, the Packers aren't dependent on just a strong offense or a strong defense. Offensively, the Packers can run it and throw it. Defensively, the Packers are good against the run and pass. The special teams are a positive, too. There are too many strengths for this team to crumble like last year's Saints and Bears.

Second, the Packers were the NFL's youngest team last season, so there's plenty of room for a good team to get even better. That's especially true with the interior of the Packers' offensive line. Certainly, it's up to Thompson to improve the roster by adding another cornerback, another lineman and depth at linebacker at running back.

Third, the Packers have the good fortune of playing in the NFC North, where every team has at least a few gaping holes. The Bears' offense is a mess almost across the board. Will they ever have a quarterback? And what about the future of Brian Urlacher? Minnesota can't possibly be a real contender unless Tarvaris Jackson develops into a real quarterback. The Vikings also are hamstrung by having no receivers and a porous secondary, and defensive end is a problem because one first-round pick, Kenechi Udeze, has leukemia and another first-round pick, Erasmus James, can't stay healthy. As for Detroit, I'll believe the Lions are playoff contenders exactly one day after they actually qualify for the playoffs, and even then, I'll have to peek out the window to make sure pigs aren't flying or the sky isn't falling.

Anything can happen in the NFL. That's part of the league's appeal. But Thompson has built a team that, while not impervious to disaster, is constructed to win over the long haul because there are no glaring weaknesses.

Assuming Thompson continues building the roster, assuming the players stay hungry and assuming Mike McCarthy continues learning from his mistakes, the Packers will avoid that ignominious list of teams that fall from the penthouse to the outhouse every season.

Steve Lawrence is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com. E-mail him at steve_lawrence_packers@yahoo.com

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