- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 19, 2004

Brett Favre has three MVP awards, a Super Bowl victory, the longest starting streak by a quarterback in NFL history and a sure place in the Hall of Fame as soon he’s eligible.

One of the few things Favre doesn’t have is a home victory over Jacksonville. Today he gets his first chance at that feat, which also would clinch a playoff berth for NFC North leader Green Bay (8-5) for the 10th time in his 13 seasons.

After a shocking 1-4 start that included home losses to also-rans Chicago, the New York Giants and Tennessee, Favre and Co. have won seven of eight, losing only at NFC king Philadelphia. The pass defense still reeks, and the offense has scored more than 17 points in just one of the last four games. However, the Packers are 38-1 at home with Favre at quarterback and the temperature below 35 degrees.

Meanwhile, the Jaguars, who have lost four of their last six and haven’t played in cold weather this season, need an upset at Lambeau Field to keep off life support their chances of making the playoffs for the first time in five years. Only Washington, Chicago and Miami have scored fewer points than Jacksonville, so its 7-6 record is a testament to its ninth-ranked defense.

The Jaguars will focus on Favre and running back Ahman Green, but receiver Javon Walker has made the biggest strides of any Packer. After emerging as a big-play threat (nine touchdowns on 41 catches) in 2003, Walker is a Pro Bowl candidate with 70 catches and 10 touchdowns while leading the NFC in third-down catches (27) and yards (470). And the one-time butterfingers has dropped just one pass.

“Javon’s mental game has completely changed over the last couple years,” offensive coordinator Tom Rossley said. “He’s not thinking about routes. He believes he’s supposed to make plays.”

Seahawks-Jets — After surrendering 81 points in home losses to Buffalo and Dallas, Seattle went to Minnesota on a short week and held on for a 27-23 victory. The 7-6 Seahawks, who lead the weak NFC West, face an even tougher challenge today against the New York Jets (9-4) at Giants Stadium. The Jets are 5-1 at home, losing only in overtime to Baltimore when quarterback Chad Pennington was out with a strained rotator cuff.

However, a little of Pennington’s luster disappeared in last week’s 17-6 loss to Pittsburgh when he compiled a miserable 33.6 passer rating. Pennington is 2-3 against winning teams this year.

“The next three games [the Jets next play AFC East champion New England and finish at dangerous St. Louis] will be a big challenge for me to come back from a disappointing loss, play well and put my team in the playoffs,” said Pennington, whose rating has sunk from 108.9 in his first 16 starts to 84.1 in his last 15.

Both teams can wrap up playoff spots with victories and some help.

Bills-Bengals — In 2003, Jon Kitna quarterbacked Cincinnati to an 8-8 record, its best in 13 years. As thanks, coach Marvin Lewis gave Kitna’s job to benchwarming rookie Carson Palmer without even as much as a minicamp practice having transpired.

Today, with Palmer laid low by a sprained left knee after leading the Bengals (6-7) to more than 450 yards in a team-record three straight games, Lewis needs Kitna to keep the Bengals’ slim playoff dreams alive by beating the red-hot Bills (7-6) and the NFL’s third-ranked defense. That defense is led by former Bengals linebacker Takeo Spikes, who hasn’t played in Cincinnati since leaving as a free agent in 2003.

“The emotions are going to run wild, man,” Spikes said. “When I was young and greener than the grass, Cincinnati is where I started my career.”

Spikes’ defense has forced 18 turnovers during Buffalo’s current four-game winning streak. The Bengals’ 29 turnovers are the most for any team with any thought of reaching postseason.

The Bills have averaged 38.5 points during their 4-0 spurt while the Bengals allowed 37 points a game the last three weeks.

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