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Thanks to a down year, Packers have a cakewalk to the Super Bowl

by | CBSSports.com National NFL Insider
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The Philadelphia Eagles were officially eliminated from the playoffs before the first quarter ended in their game against Dallas. The Dream Team is dead.

Tony Romo injured his hand and watched. It wouldn't have mattered if Romo played. The Cowboys are an average team and it would take a Christmas miracle if Dallas was a factor in the playoffs ... if they even make the playoffs.

The Eagles were supposed to win the Super Bowl, while the Cowboys were supposed to be contenders. Yet here they both were on Saturday -- the Eagles eliminated and Cowboys possibly without Romo and on the verge of missing another postseason. Well, that could happen since the Giants will be favorites against Dallas in next week's fight for the division crown.

And the Green Bay Packers sit atop this mess of an NFL, a league crammed with the pedantic and the downtrodden and the pretenders, and must feel pretty damn good about their chances.

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With the postseason taking shape this is what we know about the NFL now ...

There is one great team in football (the Packers). There is one good team (the Saints). There are three slightly above average teams (the 49ers, Patriots and Steelers). Ninety percent of the rest are spectacularly average. The remaining are pain-inducing putrid.

This is your NFL. Where the average and the ugly rule the sport which gives one team the clearest path to a championship we’ve seen in a long time.

The Packers have a cakewalk to a second straight title. An absolute, all-time cakewalk. If they lose on Sunday it's because they sit large numbers of starters or are bored. No team in the NFC can touch them. Not the quarterback-challenged 49ers. Not the mistake-prone Cowboys. Not the multiple-personality Giants. Not the Lions who average 40 personal fouls a game. Not the Saints who will likely have to play in Green Bay in late January (good luck, dome team).

A healthy Packers team would beat this Cowboys group by at least two touchdowns; They already did that last year to Atlanta.

Not counting strike years, the Packers possess the easiest road to a Super Bowl in maybe the past 20 or 30 seasons.

I know what you're going to say. The Packers just lost to the lowly Chiefs. But that was more a function of the tremendous weight that is going for an unbeaten season than anything else. (And if I see the word "blueprint" associated with that Packers loss one more time ...)

The AFC would have an even more difficult time trying to stop Green Bay. Who's going to beat them? The defenseless Patriots? They already hammered the Steelers in the Super Bowl. The Texans are down to their ninth-string quarterback, that defense is extremely overrated and they just lost to Indianapolis. The Ravens are capable but schizophrenic. The Broncos don't have enough firepower.

Joe Namath, the former Jet, summarized the Giants-Jets game -- and maybe this season -- with this sarcastic tweet: "And these two teams will probably be in the playoffs ... What do ya think of that?"

Not much.

The Packers have an easy path to the Super Bowl because, with one exception –- the Saints –- the remainder of the league has disintegrated around them. This season, the year of the lockout, will not go down as one of the best in league history. Indeed, quite the opposite.

While the NFL lockout has been blamed for everything from Sarah Palin to the budget deficit, as we look back it's clear the lockout did have a profound effect on quality of play. I believe it is a big reason why the Eagles fell apart and quite possibly the young Tampa Bay Buccaneers (coach Raheem Morris will likely be fired). Look at Saturday's games and you see the ugliness. The Jets talked and talked and then lost embarrassingly. "It's time to shut up, fat boy," Giants player Brandon Jacobs told coach Rex Ryan, according to the Newark Star-Ledger.

The Raiders tossed two interceptions and had ten penalties in the first half alone but still won at Kansas City. Running back Tim Tebow threw a pick-six against the Bills as he becomes who we thought he was. The Patriots struggled at home with the Dolphins.

Basic fundamental football was dead this season, and Saturday's games were a microcosm of that.

There was amazing athleticism but the lockout eroded any semblance of team consistency, which is why this year there was so much unpredictability and losing on teams where there shouldn't have been.

The Packers, for whatever reasons, were the exception.

There are two aforementioned teams that maybe on their best of days could put a scare in the Packers. The Patriots' defense has been ranked last in football but any team with Tom Brady can make an argument. The thing about the Patriots is something New England guard Brian Waters said after overcoming their 17-point deficit against Miami: "We never panic."

The Giants are also interesting to watch. They've beaten Goliath before.

Maybe they catch the Packers on a bad day but it's doubtful. If the Cowboys somehow beat the Giants and get in they'd only be playing for the right to lose to Green Bay down the road.

Most likely just like everyone else.

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