If he played for the Vikings a year ago, Brett Favre might have made Minnesota the NFC's top seed in the playoffs.
If Favre ends up signing with the Vikings for 2009, Minnesota would go from a probable nine- or 10-win team to an 11- or 12-win team. As Favre did with the New York Jets, he strengthens a team's offense during the regular season.
The only question would be how much he might have left by January if the Vikings make the playoffs.
Let's start with the regular season. This season, the Vikings and the rest of the NFC North have the fortune of playing the NFC West, which had only one winning team (Cardinals) in 2008, and the AFC North, which had just two (Steelers, Ravens). In 2007, the Packers went 13-3 and advanced to the NFC title game while playing the seventh-easiest schedule in the NFL, against teams with a combined .469 winning percentage. Last year, the Jets jumped to an 8-3 start on what turned out to be a .471 schedule, once again the seventh easiest. Heading into this season, the Vikings play the league's second-easiest schedule (.420). Only the Bears, who have a .414 schedule, have an easier slate.
With a favorable schedule, Favre improved the Jets' scoring from 16.8 points a game in '07 to 26.4 points a game in '08. Favre's presence in Minnesota would be worth at least three points a game. Last season with Gus Frerotte and Tarvaris Jackson at quarterback, the Vikings went 10-6 with an offense that averaged 23.7 points.
Another benefit of signing Favre is he would give a talented Vikings team -- a team more talented than the Jets -- the ability to win any type of game. Jackson, for example, is 0-6 in games in which he has been asked to throw 30 or more passes. With the Jets last year, Favre won six games in which he was asked to throw 30 or more passes. In Minnesota, Favre would have a terrific rushing attack (Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor) to take the pressure off him. But if running proves unsuccessful for Minnesota in the second half, Favre can step up and win a game with his arm and his experience. He also would give Minnesota the ability to win in the final two minutes, a specialty he perfected in Green Bay.
From Minnesota coach Brad Childress' perspective, Favre could be the final piece of his rebuilding project in Minnesota. The Vikings have a defense that is very difficult to run against. They have the game's best running back in Peterson and one of the league's best offensive lines, which improved during the draft with the addition of second-round choice Phil Loadholt. The Vikings have a deep threat in Bernard Berrian and an interesting rookie weapon in Percy Harvin.
Of course, the stakes got higher in the NFC North. The Bears acquired Jay Cutler. The Packers will be better in Aaron Rodgers' second year because he should improve in the fourth quarter, the only hole in his game during his first season as Favre's replacement. Pity the Lions, who are trying to turn around an 0-16 team in a division that features Favre, Cutler and Rodgers.
Still, the Vikings must wonder whether Favre, who turns 40 on Oct. 10, will hold up during the season. A biceps injury turned him into an average quarterback in the final five weeks of 2008. His throws weren't crisp, and he started to look like an old Brett Favre during the Jets' 1-4 finish. He has made it clear he has not trained for a return from January through May, so Childress must investigate that issue in their meeting later this week.
But a team has to make the playoffs to worry about the playoffs. That's why pursuing Favre makes sense for Childress and the Vikings.
John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.