With Brett Favre coming out of retirement and expected to start for Minnesota on Friday night against Kansas City, what is the state of the NFC North Division?
With Favre and electric Percy Harvin in Minnesota, Jay Cutler and Orlando Pace in Chicago, a more experienced Aaron Rodgers and a new-and-infinitely improved defense in Green Bay and nowhere to go but up in Detroit with No. 1 overall pick Matthew Stafford, the NFC North has become easily the NFL's most intriguing division and perhaps its most powerful.
According to Paul Bessire, the man behind the computers at WhatIfSports.com and a Packers shareholder, Favre actually means little in the grand scheme of things. His simulations show the Vikings would win the division with or without Favre, with Favre meaning only 0.05 extra wins in his 10,000 simulations. While the offense scores more with Favre, the defense allows more points because of Favre.
But that's silicon and paper, neither of which take into account the players' psyche.
As anyone who's gone out on a date with someone attractive will attest, the courtship and the pursuit and the possibilities are thrilling. But what happens when you tie the knot?
All, obviously, will be candy and roses if Favre can muster one more defy-the-ages season from his soon-to-be 40-year-old body.
But how will the Vikings' decision to treat Favre totally differently from the other 79 players on the roster impact the team if the petals begin to fall of that rose?
Will coach Brad Childress' message fall on deaf ears considering that 1-and-79 philosophy? Just how much integrity has Childress lost after he said he "closed the book" on Favre after his decision three weeks ago to remain retired, only to grab that book off the shelf again on Favre's timeline?
Do the Vikings, with a dominant running game and an elite defense, need a dynamic playmaker like Favre or do they need a solid caretaker — think Trent Dilfer for those Super Bowl-champion Ravens?
What happens if Favre finally gets injured and is out for a significant period? The Vikings' courtship of Favre speaks volumes to what they think of Sage Rosenfels and Tarvaris Jackson. They're not good enough, and if the game is on the line and Rosenfels or Jackson are on the field, that doubt will be on the players' minds, as well.
Is Favre really ready for this? Let's rewind to March 8, 2008, when Favre retired.
"I know I can play," he said at his tear-filled press conference. "But this year, and this is not the first year but it really to me and Deanna was more noticeable, the stress part of it. It's demanding. It always has been, but I think as I've gotten older I'm much more aware of that. I'm much more aware of how hard it is to win in this league and to play at a high level. I'm not up to the challenge anymore. I can play, but I'm not up to the challenge. You can't just show up and play for three hours on Sunday. If you could, there'd be a lot more people doing it and they'd be doing it for a lot longer. I have way too much pride, I expect a lot out of myself, and if I cannot do those things 100 percent, then I can't play."
Favre was 38 at the time and in peak condition. He'll turn 40 in October. The stress level won't be any less. Those 2007 Packers were Super Bowl contenders. These Vikings enter the 2009 season as Super Bowl contenders.
Is he ready physically? He admitted that he's not in great shape during his press conference on Tuesday. He wasn't last year, either, and, coincidentally or not, his arm gave out on him. But never mind the injury, which should be surgically repaired. In the last five games of 2008, Favre threw two touchdowns and nine interceptions as the Jets went 1-4. During the glorious 2007, he threw 11 touchdowns and nine interceptions as the Packers went 4-3 (including playoffs) to end the season. To close 2006, he threw five touchdowns and 11 interceptions as the Packers went 4-3. In 2005, he threw two touchdowns and 12 interceptions as the Packers went 2-4 down the stretch. To close 2004, he threw nine touchdowns and 10 interceptions as the Packers went 3-3 (including playoffs).
To be certain, if Favre does his part, the Vikings very well could win the Super Bowl. Defenses load the box to stop Adrian Peterson at their own peril. Worry about Favre, and Peterson runs wild.
But for all the potential for glory with Favre, there's potential for disaster as well. The Bears are better with Cutler, who's been in Chicago all offseason. The Lions are better with Stafford, who's been in Detroit all summer. The Packers are better with coordinator Dom Capers, who's been revamping the defense all season.
Football's a team game. This isn't fantasy football.
As Donald Driver put it: "I know that we have over here, and that's a team that's going to win the NFC North and go to the Super Bowl."
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.