Four the Hard Way
Brett Favre should win yet another MVP because he's had less to
work with than the Raiders' Rich Gannon

Weigh the seasons of Packers quarterback Brett Favre and Raiders
quarterback Rich Gannon on one of those scales of justice, and it
will not tip in either player's favor. That's how close the race
for league MVP is.

Gannon is on pace to finish with some 1,200 more passing yards
than Favre. Gannon crushed the Titans in September with a
four-touchdown day, whipped the Bills in October with three
scoring tosses, completed 90% of his throws in routing the
Broncos in November and, entering the finale against the Chiefs,
has led Oakland to three wins over playoff contenders in
December. He's been at his best against the best, with a 99.3
passer rating against teams with winning records.

Favre entered the last week of the season two wins up on Gannon,
12-10. That's amazing when you consider the Packers are on their
third starting right tackle and their second left tackle; their
top three wideouts from 2001 left in free agency; Green Bay
trailed in the second half of each of its first three games in
December but rebounded behind Favre to win all three and stay in
the race for home field advantage in the NFC playoffs; and the
Pack has neither a receiver among the NFL's top 20 in catches nor
a back among the top 10 in rushing.

Barring extraordinary developments on the final weekend, I'll
cast my MVP vote for Favre. Although he has had better years
statistically, in no season has he done as much for his team as
he has in this one.

It's a shame, but I guess I'm penalizing Gannon for his
supporting cast, one of the best offenses in recent NFL history.
In addition to Jerry Rice and Tim Brown, he has new pass-catching
weapons in Jerry Porter and Doug Jolley. In a 28-16 win over the
Broncos on Sunday, an inspired Raiders defense enabled Gannon to
start three of his first four drives in Denver territory, and he
responded with three touchdowns. In the fourth quarter Oakland
called on the backfield trio of Charlie Garner, Tyrone Wheatley
and Zack Crockett to carry the ball all 57 yards to the clinching
touchdown. "We've got so many weapons," says tackle Lincoln
Kennedy. "We've got to find a way to get them all the ball."

Favre should have it so good. In successive December games the
Packers introduced a rookie free agent to the starting
lineup--running back Tony Fisher and then right tackle Kevin
Barry. Down by 13 in the third quarter against the Vikings on
Dec. 8, Favre rallied his team with scoring drives of 67, 54 and
85 yards. The following week, in steady rain and wind at San
Francisco, Favre directed the 79-yard, third-quarter touchdown
drive that put the Packers ahead for good.

On Sunday, a bitter day in Green Bay with winds gusting to 30
mph, Favre and the Bills' Drew Bledsoe struggled on a horrible
afternoon for passing. "First time in my life I haven't been able
to throw my ball through the wind," Favre said. Green Bay led
3-0 in the fourth quarter when wideout Donald Driver, Favre's
go-to receiver in 2002, streaked across the end zone and caught a
dart for an 11-yard touchdown and a 10-0 victory. "This team's
not as good as the '96 team," says Favre, referring to the
Packers who won the Super Bowl. "But we're playing well because
we're so cohesive." Number 4, the heart and soul of Green Bay, is
the reason for that. When the results are announced on New Year's
Day, that should be enough to win Favre his record fourth MVP.

Trophy Performances
All the King's Horses

With only a week left in one of the most unpredictable seasons
ever, handing out other awards isn't easy either. But here goes:

Coach of the Year: Andy Reid, Eagles In four years of running
the team, he has taken great pains to instill in his players the
belief that no one is a backup. So after quarterback Donovan
McNabb went down with a broken right fibula on Nov. 17, no one
panicked. In fact, replacements Koy Detmer and A.J. Feeley have
put up as good a set of numbers as McNabb did, and the Eagles
repeated as NFC East champs for the first time in franchise

Offensive Player: Priest Holmes, RB, Chiefs Two years ago the
Rams' Marshall Faulk played 14 games, totaled 2,189 yards from
scrimmage and scored 26 touchdowns. This season Holmes, felled by
a hip injury after 14 games, has totaled 2,287 yards and scored
24 touchdowns. Faulk was the league MVP in 2000; Holmes deserves
at least this honor.

Defensive Player: Jason Taylor, DE, Dolphins On two of Oakland's
first three plays against Miami on Dec. 15, Taylor blew through
the line and sacked red-hot Rich Gannon. Through 15 games Taylor
has 18 1/2 sacks. He's the Charles Haley of his day.

Offensive Rookie: LeCharles Bentley, G, Saints In the first week
of training camp, New Orleans linebacker Bryan Cox told coach Jim
Haslett, "This Bentley kid's already one of the five best guards
in football." The second-round pick out of Ohio State has lived
up to that praise.

Defensive Rookie: Julius Peppers, DE, Panthers Tough call,
because he missed four games after testing positive for a banned
stimulant. But Peppers had a tremendous impact in the 12 games he
played, collecting 12 sacks.

Comeback Player: Robert Edwards, RB, Dolphins The injury to his
left leg in an NFL-sponsored beach football game at the 1998 Pro
Bowl was so severe that doctors considered amputation. This year
Edwards has touched the ball about three times a game, mostly as
a third-down back. In my book if he had touched it only once all
season, he would deserve this award.

New Year's Wishes
Changes We'd Like To See in '03

Trades, trades and more trades

Look at how many teams improved themselves with smart deals. The Dolphins dealt a pair of low first-round picks to the Saints for
Ricky Williams, and he ended Miami's 28-year search for a franchise back. The deal also opened a spot for Deuce McAllister, who gave
the New Orleans offense a shot in the arm. Quarterback Drew Bledsoe
was revitalized by his trade from New England to Buffalo. And the Falcons and Chargers were rejuvenated by their 2001 swap primarily
of draft picks that in essence brought Michael Vick to Atlanta and LaDainian Tomlinson and Drew Brees to San Diego. Maybe that will
loosen up a league that has for too long relied only on the draft
and free agency to solve personnel problems.

A reduction in the penalty for testing positive for stimulants

The NFL believes stimulants such as ephedra give players an
unfair advantage in training, and those who test positive for a
banned stimulant are suspended for four games without pay. On the
other hand, a player who tests positive for an illegal substance
such as cocaine can enter a treatment program without missing so
much as a practice. There's not a more inequitable rule in the
league. "It would be fairer if the first offense draws a warning
and the second positive test draws a suspension," says Bills
general manager Tom Donahoe. Amen.

A new overtime format

Since overtime was introduced in 1974, one third of the tie games
have been won on the first possession. It's ridiculous for a coin
flip to be so critical to the outcome. The best fix: Give each team
one possession. If the game is still tied, then go to sudden death.

The Last Word
Honor Thy Father

Even after beating the Saints on Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium,
the 2-13 Bengals, under president Mike Brown, were guaranteed to
do no better than match the worst record in their 34-year
history. At a recent game a fan was spotted wearing a T-shirt

COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK (FAVRE) Favre has had better years statistically, but he's been on top ofhis game as a leader. COLOR PHOTO: SIMON BRUTY A disruptive force at right end, the cat-quick Taylor is in line for his first sack title.