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Packers-Cowboys a prelude to NFC title game

The Nov. 29 clash between the Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers is as much about NFL superiority as it is about determining the best team in the NFC.

In fact, when the final gun sounds, the bigger question than "Which team is better?" is "Which team has a better chance of beating the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII?"

Sure, we're making a lot of presumptions here, but that's what we do.

The Cowboys already have had one crack at the Patriots, and it didn't work out so well. Their 48-27 loss to New England on Oct. 14 certainly offered no indication that they would make a worthy NFC representative in the Super Bowl … presuming the Pats are the opponent.

However, if they were to beat the Packers, many of us would likely be quick to declare that the Cowboys might actually have what it takes to at least be competitive with the Patriots after all.

What exactly will have changed in the six games that will have been played since New England's thumping of the Cowboys?

Not much, although the perception of the Cowboys will be vastly different. They will have gone on a six-game winning streak. And they will have knocked off the next-best team on their schedule.

The Cowboys also would be viewed as a team capable of keeping its focus. They demonstrated as much by not allowing themselves to drop their collective guard against the lowly Jets on Thanksgiving Day. And to do so on a short week of preparation is even more impressive.

With 29 touchdown passes, Tony Romo has enhanced his standing as one of the very best quarterbacks in the league. Terrell Owens has reinvented himself as a team-oriented player who, with his mind on football rather than issues that once made him a perpetual distraction, is a consistent playmaker. Wade Phillips is proving that, not only is his defensive expertise making the Cowboys a better team on that side of the ball, but he has every bit of what it takes to be a successful head coach in the NFL.

The Packers didn't drop their guard on Thanksgiving Day, either. They had an easier time against the Detroit Lions than the 37-26 victory indicated. When the Lions did stage a late surge, the Packers were quick to deliver a knockout blow.

A Green Bay win over Dallas would, of course, establish the Packers as a formidable NFC representative in the Super Bowl.

And the perception would be that the Packers are more dangerous because they present the element of being somewhat of an unknown. That's because they do not face the Patriots this season, and because they have surprised the entire NFL with their dominance. They are the feel-good story of 2007, with the ever-popular Brett Favre surrounded by plenty of youth and with a bright, up-and-coming coach in Mike McCarthy.

Both teams seemingly have enough offense to hang with the No. 1 offense in the NFL, even if it clearly didn't help the Cowboys in October. Both teams seemingly have a good enough defense to at least contain (okay, maybe that's a reach) New England's unstoppable passing attack, even if it clearly didn't help Dallas in Week 6.

The Cowboys no longer have the perceived edge over Green Bay in the running game. The Packers have found an excellent ground attack with Ryan Grant, whose explosiveness in the open field gives opposing defenses something else to think about other than Favre's arm.

I think the Dallas-Green Bay game, like the Week 9 showdown between the Patriots and Colts, will live up to every bit of the hype. But unlike Game of the Century I, Game of the Century II will be a shootout. This will be a game largely determined by the respective arms of Romo and Favre because both defenses have holes that can and will be exploited through the air.

The bottom line: On talent and coaching, the Cowboys and Packers both have all that we could possibly want in a Super Bowl team.

After Nov. 29, most of us will be talking about only one of them as the likely opponent for the Patriots.

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