Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre almost certainly will win the NFL's most valuable player award for the fourth time in his career. He's had another outstanding season in leading the Packers to the NFC North title, though with Chicago, Minnesota and Detroit in the same division, that's not saying much.

He's the very easy choice, and definitely deserving, considering there were numerous injury problems on his patchwork offensive line -- the unit has used five starting tackles -- a revolving door at running back and two new starting receivers.

"We tell him right before the game that the starting right tackle is not going to play, and he doesn't even bat an eyelash," Green Bay Coach Mike Sherman said last week. "I think a lot of quarterbacks would."

And yet, there is another eminently qualified candidate who likely will not get the same consideration as Favre. That would be the quarterback of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' top-rated defense, and no, it's not that yappy Warren Sapp, one of the league's all-time great self-promoters and a decent-enough defensive tackle.

We're talking about weakside linebacker Derrick Brooks, who just made his sixth straight Pro Bowl and has been having arguably his best season since he arrived out of Florida State as a first-round pick in 1995. His numbers tell only part of the story in illuminating his impact on a Bucs defense ranked No. 1 overall and against the pass.

With two games to play, Brooks has had four touchdown returns this season -- three with interceptions (the only linebacker in NFL history to do so) and another on a fumble recovery. He's the team's second-leading tackler, leads his fellow linebackers with 13 passes defended and already has won defensive player of the week and month awards.

On the field, Brooks seems to be everywhere. Two weeks ago against Atlanta in a critical NFC South game, he set the tone for a Bucs win early on when he caught Michael Vick from behind just as the fastest quarterback in NFL history was setting off on one of his patented bolt-the-pocket improvisations. Vick gained a yard on the play, and rarely ran thereafter following Brooks's jarring hit. On Nov. 24, Brooks also had 15 tackles in a Bucs victory over the Packers.

His coach, Jon Gruden, says Brooks is one of the most remarkable players he's ever seen, "a guy who epitomizes a pro football player. He's all business, all class and a clutch performer. To have him in the middle of that defense makes us unique. We were always well aware of his abilities as a linebacker. But when you see him in the meeting room, the preparation, his attention to detail, he's the leader, and a lot of people follow him. This guy is also an unbelievable open-field tackler. When he hits you, you will go down. He's sideline to sideline and he can run with receivers. He's got a great motor, and he's tough as hell."

And a league MVP, as well.

Call for More Women in NFL

The NFL has been moving on a fast track this season to ensure the hiring of more minority head coaches and top front-office people, but it's definitely in the slow lane when it comes to promoting women to top posts in management. Perhaps they could improve in that area by taking a cue from the NFL Players Association, and particularly its Players Inc. marketing arm.

Players Inc. was started in 1995 and is now a $50 million a year enterprise involved in licensing arrangements with trading card and computer game companies, developing a line of apparel, managing union events and marketing more than 1,800 active and 3,000 retired players.

It's headed by chief operating officer Pat Allen, a 30-year veteran of the union who started her career as a secretary in the Ed Garvey days. There are 27 employees, including 17 women, one an African American vice president, and six assistant vice presidents. Four of the assistant VPs also are African American women.

"I think we're at the forefront for diversity in football," said Chartese Booty, a former Georgetown sports information director who is now assistant vice president of communications for Players Inc. "I'm optimistic more progress will be made around the league. I think what the league and the union are doing is forcing people to take a long look at their operations, and try to make them more diverse."

The league has one female owner, Georgia Frontiere in St. Louis, but she does not take an active day-to-day role. The highest ranking woman executive on an NFL team is Amy Trask, chief executive officer of the Oakland Raiders and a longtime adviser and attorney to owner Al Davis. Katie Blackburn, whose father, Mike Brown, owns the team, is the executive vice president of the Cincinnati Bengals.

Peppers's Costly Mistake

Carolina rookie defensive end Julius Peppers seemed a cinch to make the Pro Bowl as a starter in his first season until he was snared in the NFL's crackdown on the use of ephedra, a banned substance under league policy for the first time this year. Peppers said he had used a diet supplement to lose a little weight not knowing ephedra was in the mix, but now its main side effect has been to lighten the load in his wallet.

If Peppers, second in the NFC with 12 sacks, had been named a Pro Bowl starter, a $1 million bonus for reaching that incentive would have been triggered. The four-game suspension that ended his season two weeks ago also cost him about $235,000 in lost salary. Peppers wasn't even named to the squad, with Hugh Douglas of Philadelphia, Michael Strahan of the New York Giants and Simeon Rice of Tampa Bay the three defensive ends voted to the team.

Peppers's omission pales in comparison to leaving Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber off the NFC squad. Some around the league believe Barber has developed into the NFL's best cornerback, and he still could play in Hawaii if someone is injured. Bobby Taylor and Troy Vincent of the Eagles and Champ Bailey of the Redskins were the corners selected in a vote of players, coaches and fans, definitely another reason to keep ballot-box stuffing fans out of the process.

Reveiz Keeps Busy

Former Dolphins and Vikings place kicker Fuad Reveiz stopped using his right foot to make a living and now relies on his hands, his head and his mouth. Reveiz handles NFL game coverage for ESPN's international Spanish network, and he also has been named to host a home repair show, "Weekend Remodeling," on the Do It Yourself (DIY) cable network.

In 1995, Reveiz started his own custom home building company based in Tennessee, and also has a Minneapolis subsidiary that provides custom embroidery services to retailers. . . .

The NFL's Internet site (www.nfl.com) attracted 11.28 million users in November, a 48 percent increase over the previous year. In the same month, the NBA and NASCAR each had 3.05 million users, Major League Baseball 1.94 million and the NHL 1.74 million. . . .

The Pittsburgh Steelers will face the Bucs in a critical Monday night game in Tampa. Pittsburgh is 8-3-1 in its last dozen games against NFC foes, and 5-1 in its last six games with the Bucs, allowing only 13.5 points per game in that stretch. . . .

The Denver Broncos have every right to feel confident going into today's game in Oakland. Under Coach Mike Shanahan, once fired by Al Davis in 1989 as the Raiders' coach, Denver has won eight of the last 10 games in the series. Shanahan has a 12-3 career record against Oakland, including 5-2 on the road.

Picks of the Week

Best game: Pittsburgh at Tampa Bay on Monday night.

Best bet (7-7): Tennessee, a three-point favorite at Jacksonville.

Upset pick (7-7): Denver, a three-point underdog at Oakland.

Julius Peppers, suspended for the rest of the season, won't be going to the Pro Bowl despite 12 sacks.