The Houston Texans will find out in a few days if hiring Wade Phillips as their defensive coordinator will fill the missing link that has prevented them from reaching the playoffs since the franchise was added to the National Football League nearly a decade ago.

The team would be much more ready to start the 2011 season against the Indianapolis Colts if it weren’t for the 4 ½-month work stoppage when the owners locked out the players and their coaches.

But if the preseason exhibition games are any indication of things to come, it appears the Texans are ready to take that giant step that separates the real teams from the also-rans—the post-season playoffs.

And what the Texans have going for them is the fact that in the first season the last four times that Phillips has been hired as defensive coordinator, he has helped guide a losing team to the playoffs. Houston qualifies for this situation by finishing the 2010 season 6-10.

This task won’t be an easy one for Phillips, who has been in the business for 35 years, to shape up a defense that finished last season 30th in total defense and dead last against the pass.

As for the “other” Lone Star State NFL franchise, it appears the Dallas Cowboys still have quite a few question marks, with boisterous new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan leading the parade. The Pokes also are trying to rebound from a 6-10 finish last season.

They should be a bit better offensively with Tony Romo healthy again, but the Dallas defense is a far cry from the Doomsday Defense of past decades.

And Orange County’s two shining stars in the NFL—Seattle Seahawks second-year starting free safety Earl Thomas and Atlanta Falcons’ place-kicker Matt Bryant, who’s starting his 10th season in the NFL—are both expected to have big years for their respective teams.

This week’s edition of ESPN The Magazine lauds Thomas. “Seattle gave its talented rookie a ton of freedom to roam last year. Thomas used it wisely, ball-hawking (five interceptions) and hunting down runners (76 tackles). He was one of only six safeties to notch at least 60 stops and five INTs. Scary to think what he’ll do once he actually gets the hang of things.”

The 2011 NFL season gets cranked up tomorrow (Thurs.) when the former world champion New Orleans Saints visits Lambeau Field to meet the Green Bay Packers, last year’s world champs.

Without further adieu, this Korner will take a look at how we feel this NFL season will fare:


South Division
With the status of Peyton Manning’s health still a big question mark, his Indianapolis Colts, which generally lock up this division, may have to step aside for our Houston Texans. Although ESPN The Magazine and The Sporting News don’t agree with us and have the Colts on top and the Texans second, we’re giving it a “home field decision.” 1. Houston 2. Indianapolis 3. Tennessee 4. Jacksonville.

North Division
Pittsburgh and the Baltimore Ravens should battle for this division crown throughout the entire 2011 season. In fact, the competition begins Sunday when these two teams lock horns in Baltimore. 1. Pittsburgh 2. Baltimore 3. Cleveland 4. Cincinnati.

East Division
Bill Belichick rules this division as long as his superb quarterback Tom Brady remains healthy. The Jets are always a threat, losing in the AFC championship game the last two years. Perhaps the third time will be the charm when Head Coach Rex Ryan predicts a Super Bowl championship for his crew. 1. New England 2. NY Jets 3. Miami 4.Buffalo.

West Division
The San Diego Chargers had the best stats in this division, but their 9-7 record wasn’t even good enough to earn a playoff berth. Kansas City won the division in 2010 and hasn’t gotten any worse. Oakland and Denver will again fight it out for the cellar. 1. Kansas City 2. San Diego 3. Denver 4. Oakland.


East Division
Our Dallas Cowboys should play third fiddle to both the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants in this talent-laden division. The Eagles are loaded thanks to an unreal free agent haul and if Michael Vick plays up to potential, Philly could go all the way. The Giants and Cowboys will have something to say about this, but are not nearly as strong as the Eagles. 1. Philadelphia 2. New York 3. Dallas 4. Washington.

North Division
The Pack is back with a deeper, healthier roster. Their goal to repeat as world champions isn’t that far-fetched. Dom Capers runs the most creative 3-4 pass defense in the league, but their rushing defense finished 28th in the NFL last season. The aging Chicago Bears won this division last year, with the Packers coming on as the wild card. The Bears won’t be so lucky this year. Detroit is coming on strong and the Vikings are kind of a mystery. 1. Green Bay 2. Detroit 3. Chicago 4. Minnesota.

South Division
The New Orleans Saints are determined to get back on top and they must first start with the division. With Reggie Bush gone, the backfield will be relatively new. Atlanta should have a better offense than in 2010, but the defense might be worse than the one that killed them in the playoffs. Tampa Bay should play .500 ball while Carolina has a long way to go, despite having Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton at quarterback. 1. New Orleans 2. Atlanta 3. Tampa Bay 4. Carolina.

West Division
Although the Seattle Seahawks had some success in the playoffs last season, they’re still short on talent and are depending on new quarterback Tavaris Jackson to lead the offense, who has been around the NFL for several years but has started only a handful of games. The St. Louis Rams will go as quarterback Sam Bradford goes, and in this weak division, he should lead them to the title. 1. St. Louis 2. Seattle 3. San Francisco 4. Arizona.

KWICKIES…The results of the rain-shortened 52nd annual Labor Day Invitational Golf Tournament held last weekend at Sunset Grove Country Club in Orange are as follows: Professional Flight– 1. Greg Sonnier 2. Corbin King 3. Matt Bryant 4. Jeff Cooper; Championship Flight—1. Hunter Cooper 2. Zane Caillier 3. Tom Toal; First Flight—1. Rick Keszeg 2. Ernie Dyer 3. Jeremy Green; Second Flight—1. Mark Magnuson 2. Dwayne Mims 3. Randy Harrison; Third Flight—1. Todd McLane 2. Donnie Mires 3. Dale Peddy; Fourth Flight—1. Justin Babcock 2. Matt Purgahn 3. Chad Decker; Fifth Flight—1. John Young 2. Jimmy Sims 3. Joel Robbins; Sixth Flight—1. John Prince 2. Brent Williams 3. Eddie Hudson; Senior Flight—1. Larry Prince 2. (Three-way tie) Willie Bednar, Cimron Campbell, Bob Hoepner.

Congrats are in order to former West Orange-Stark Mustang and Navarro College star running back DePauldrick Garrett who has taken his talent to the next level and in his first game at Lamar University set school records for touchdowns (4) and points (24) in a single game. The Cards opened the 2011 season Saturday night with a 58-0 rout over Texas College, an NAIA school.

The Houston Astros have a real good shot at chalking up their 100th loss before Sept. 15. The Central Division-leading Milwaukee Brewers visited Minute Maid Park last weekend and really put some fattening on the Astros’ heads by sweeping Houston 8-2, 8-2 and 4-0. Their record going into Monday’s game at Pittsburgh stood at 47-93, with 22 games remaining.

JUST BETWEEN US…West Orange-Stark Mustangs’ new head coach Cornel Thompson must be feeling snake-bit about posting his first victory at the helm of the Mustangs. For the second week in a row the Mustangs were defeated on a two-point conversion at the end of the game. The first time Nederland got credited with a 21-20 victory when a game official, who was either biased or blind, ruled a successful two-point conversion when the Nederland player made a diving catch and then rolled across the goal line. Last Friday the ‘Stangs lost 32-31 to a good Friendswood team in the second overtime on a two-point conversion that was tipped by a Mustang defender right into the hands of a Friendswood receiver. In both cases the Mustangs’ opponents went for the victory instead of kicking the PAT for the tie.