For many sports fans across the nation, tonight will mark a new year of sorts. Yes, the National Football League makes its return with what has become tradition of late: a rousing, over-the-top kickoff jamboree, all jam-packed into one Thursday night. I mean, what can compete with seeing Green Day and Randy Moss on the same field?Yes, that is a twinge of sarcasm. Give the League credit, though. It halted opening orgies like the absurd pre-game Britney Spears concert resembling a 15-year-old boy’s wet dream from several years ago. But, in all seriousness, the NFL opens its season once again as the unquestioned kingpin of sports leagues. Somehow, somewhere, on the timeline of American history, professional football mutated from an athletic competition into some sort of warped religion and elevated itself above any challengers. Baseball may be America’s pastime, but football is its true love.Need proof? Take a drive a couple of hours north, where the Kool-Aid is served green and gold and any sort of clothing item can be made from Styrofoam cheese (or whatever that material is). The ultimate fan-to-team love affair can only be found in or around the city of Green Bay. Yes, Packers fans truly are hooked on their franchise more than life itself. And it is truly amazing. Sometimes strange and almost perverse? That too.The Packers have captivated followers with a mix of small-town fan appeal and a winning tradition over the last 10-plus years. It appears, however, the strategies used to maintain those winning ways over the past several seasons may be catching up with the green and gold.After a downright pathetic-looking preseason (granted, it is the preseason) in which the team somehow bumbled its way to two wins, 2005 looks much less promising for the Packers. Yes, Brett Favre is still under center for Mike Sherman’s team. But over the course of the last couple of years, Favre has seen the talent around him deteriorate.The Green Bay defense is in shambles, and the offense took two large hits with the losses (via free agency) of guards Mike Wahle and Marco Rivera. Maybe it truly is impossible to stay on top. But, when viewing some of the Packers’ decisions in the relatively recent past, it’s not that hard to see why lean years could be on the horizon.Joe Johnson. Hardy Nickerson. Cletidus Hunt. That’s just to name a few. Want more? How about signing backup fullback Nick Luchey to a seven-year contract. While teams such as the Patriots and Eagles avoid overspending for the most part, the Packers have carelessly thrown money around. The team allowed overpaid veterans such as Lawyer Milloy and Jeremiah Trotter to leave, relying on their systems and player development to take over. More accurately, former general manager and current head coach Mike Sherman has spent that cash in numerous quick-fix attempts. That shortsightedness has left the cupboard around Favre somewhat bare. After giving up a third-round pick to acquire troubled receiver Terry Glenn and seeing him battle nagging injuries, Sherman sent him packing for relatively nothing (a sixth-round choice). Oddly enough, Glenn had over 800 yards receiving in his one year at Lambeau. Not a very good turnaround value. However, Glenn’s story is just one example of Sherman and the organization’s failure to take a down-the-road approach. Trading away draft picks to reach for needs is another example (B.J. Sander, anyone?). Moves like these show a lack of patience and foresight.Now, that’s not to say Sherman has done everything wrong and the team is doomed. New general manager Ted Thompson has shown a refreshing, patient approach in his first half-year on the job. And Sherman draft picks Nick Barnett and Javon Walker have developed into fine players.Walker, Favre, Ahman Green and the Packers offense carried the franchise to another division title and a 10-6 record a season ago. And, if things go just right, Favre could lead the team to another winning campaign in 2005. Great players elevate those around them, and Favre is most certainly a great player.However, improved competition within the NFC North and Green Bay’s abysmal defense certainly cloud those optimistic hopes. If Sherman’s offense plays like it did a year ago (which is a lot to ask), the Packers could stay afloat for at least another season. But if Favre shows his age the slightest bit, the past several years of ineptitude in personnel management may step to the forefront.