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Far from finished

Patriots, Favre will both continue to shine

Posted: Monday June 6, 2005 10:36AM; Updated: Monday June 6, 2005 2:33PM
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A trimmed-down Brett Favre watches on during his annual softball benefit.
John Biever/SI
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GRAND CHUTE, Wis. -- This is my AFC prediction column, and you're probably wondering: What is that weird dateline doing on the AFC prediction column? Well, I came to Wisconsin over the weekend to take the temperature of Brett Favre and gauge his readiness for a 14th season in Green Bay, so it just happens to be where I am right now.

Favre interlude: The Packers QB holds an annual benefit softball game in this little suburb of Appleton, Wis., a 30-minute drive from Lambeau Field. He does it here because this is where the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, the Midwest League Class A affiliate of the Seattle Mariners, play in a nice little venue called Fox Cities Stadium.

Favre looked good. Said he weighs 224 pounds and just finished a five-week, five-day-a-week workout regimen with former Notre Dame strength and conditioning man Ken Kroener down in Mississippi. The Packers paid for the training because they think Favre needs to be in better condition to withstand the rigors of an NFL season than he was last year. Which Favre, basically, confirmed. "People made a big deal of this," he told me, sitting at a locker in the Timber Rattlers' spartan clubhouse, "but I do feel better. This time last year, I hadn't really done anything."

Favre's conditioning program included stretching, body-weight lunges and squats, but no weightlifting. Dressed in the same Sault High T-shirt I saw him wear in the Packers locker room the Saturday before playoff loss to the Vikings last January, Favre looked the same as he always does. I told him the last time I'd seen him, after that last loss to the Vikings in the wild-card game, he'd looked distraught. "I should have looked distraught," he said. "I didn't live up to expectations, we didn't live up to expectations. We got into position to do good things in the playoffs, and we blew it. After the season, I just wanted to give myself time to really think about whether I wanted to come back. Now I feel great about my decision."

End of interlude.

Now for the AFC champion.

Surprise! New England.

Super Bowl XL, Feb. 5, 2006: Vikings versus Patriots.

This goes against the logic my anti-Eagles NFC pick, which I made because I think it's only a matter of time before the forces of Tagliabuian gravity take a team that's been on top for five years down to earth. The Eagles have won an average of 11.8 games per regular season over the past five years, and recent football history during the free-agency era says a five-year run of excellence is about all any team has in it. Well, this is New England's fifth year.

I like how, despite being battered this offseason, the Patriots used the opportunity to reinvent themselves to a degree. I think the change from Romeo Crennel to Eric Mangini on defense will be as seamless as it can be when a very good tactician and motivator is lost. Mangini is a younger Bill Belichick with a more human side to him. He's a smart worker bee who is liked by the players. The loss of offensive coordinator Charlie Weis is more problematic, obviously. Last winter, when it was obvious Weis was going to Notre Dame after the season, I told Belichick I had the perfect replacement for Weis. "Bill Belichick,'' I said. He wouldn't take the bait. "OK,'' he responded. "But who would be the head coach then?"

Belichick's point was that the head coach in the Patriots system is responsible for so much more than many other NFL coaches, such as player procurement, and there are so many day-to-day headaches for an NFL head coach that it would be better to have someone else be the coordinator. Maybe Belichick knew then how he'd handle things. I don't know, but it looks like he will at least open the season calling the offensive plays.