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> A shut-down defense. While all of football waits for Brett Favre to break the alltime marks for touchdown passes (he needs seven), passing yards (he needs 3,862) and victories by a quarterback (he needs two), the Packers' opponents have to think about how to dent a resurgent Green Bay front four. That quartet helped key a terrific December in which the Pack won its last four games and held foes to an average of 10.5�points. Ends Aaron Kampman and Cullen Jenkins hold the point well on the run and just might combine for 30�sacks this year. Ryan Pickett and Corey Williams are strong middle-cloggers, and first-rounder Justin Harrell should eventually be a solid addition at tackle. If Green Bay can find a running back to replace Ahman Green (second-round pick Brandon Jackson or third-year back Vernand Morency, who has had only one season of more than 140 carries since his arrival at Oklahoma State) and survive a tough early schedule (four 2006 playoff teams in the first 29 days), this season won't be only the Brett Favre Race for the Records; it will be a playoff-contending year as well.
WHERE THEY'RE HEADED
> The biggest question around the Packers this summer: Was�the 4-0 finish a mirage, with three wins over teams going nowhere and a fourth coming against the Bears, a team coasting into the postseason? Or was it an important jump on 2007, something that would carry over from December to September?
Of course, the players and coaches are going to say the momentum is still there, and it may well be. The most important game of the four was the 26-7 night-game win over Chicago on Dec. 31, and we'll never really know how much effort the Bears, having clinched home�field advantage in the NFC, put into it. Chicago's starters played into the third quarter, except for Rex Grossman, who was pulled at halftime after throwing three interceptions that helped the Pack build a 23-0 lead. ( Grossman later admitted his focus was off because "it's the last game, it's New Year's Eve.")
"That was a huge game," says wide receiver Donald Driver. "They made the Super Bowl last year, but that day we beat them in all phases. We proved we were a better team than them that day." Asked if he thinks the Packers are better than the Bears today, Driver says yes: "Remember--we owned that division for three years, before ."
Now there's some bulletin-board fodder for their first meeting this year, a Sunday-nighter at Lambeau on Oct.�7. For the Packers to have a prayer, though, they'd better keep Favre upright and safe from the fearsome Bears front. In the three games against Chicago before last year's finale, the Bears chased Favre all over the field, sacked him seven times and picked off eight passes; he didn't throw a touchdown.
Favre, meanwhile, has put behind him an off-season in which he was at odds with the Packers' front office, and, at 37, he feels a bona fide hope that this can be a playoff year. "I came back to win," he said during training camp. "I was never worried about the records before, and I certainly didn't come back to break them. I would be absolutely miserable if I ever played for records or anything other than to win ball games. I hope I don't need any records for people to remember me as a pretty good quarterback."
In the off-season he felt general manager Ted Thompson didn't move quickly enough to trade for Randy Moss. The quarterback believed that teaming Moss with Driver, second-year wideout Greg Jennings and glue-handed rookie James Jones could have made the Packers' receiving corps among the best in football. When Thompson dawdled, �trying to get a better deal from the Raiders, the Patriots jumped in and sent a fourth-round pick to Oakland for Moss. "I was pretty upset about that for a while," Favre said. "I'm still not sure why we didn't do it." Thompson admitted this summer that he might have been "a little too conservative."
At least this year, unlike the past several, Favre doesn't come in thinking he has to throw four touchdown passes in every game to win. In their 4-0 season-ending run, the Packers got terrific play from five cornerstone defenders--ends Jenkins and Kampman, cornerbacks Charles Woodson and Al Harris, and linebacker A.J. Hawk. (Hawk had a Nitschke-like three-game stretch in November in which he made 39 tackles.) "I feel so good about our first unit on defense," says coach Mike McCarthy. "That'll be the catalyst of our team."