The big joke going around National Football League fans in the Lone Star State: “What do the Houston Texans and Dallas Cowboys have in common?” Answer: They both know how to lose big games with third-string quarterbacks.

The answer these fans would really like to give is: “They both are headed for the NFL playoffs.” But that statement today is only true for one team—the Houston Texans.

When the Dallas Cowboys found out at kickoff time Saturday that the New York Giants defeated the New York Jets, they knew a victory over the Philadelphia Eagles would not clinch the NFC East Division championship. The game for all the marbles will occur Sunday night in New Jersey between the Cowboys and the Giants. The loser stays home and watches the playoffs on TV.

So Head Coach Jason Garrett, who has been coming under fire lately for some boneheaded decisions, may have committed another one when he decided to yank ailing running back Felix Jones and quarterback Tony Romo from the game in the first period, right after Romo bruised his hand when it hit an opponent’s helmet on a pass attempt.

That’s when the Cowboys had to call upon third-string quarterback Stephen McGee because Romo’s back-up, Jon Kitna, was out for the season with a back injury. And that’s when the Dallas Cowboys’ offense stalled until the final seconds of the game when they scored a “garbage touchdown” to avoid being shut out by the Eagles’ defense.

The Cowboys’ defense played well enough to win, surrendering two first-half touchdowns and a pair of field goals and losing 20-7. But without Romo and Jones, the Dallas offense was pretty much null-and-void.
Although the Houston Texans earned their first-ever trip to the playoffs nearly three weeks ago, their destiny in the playoffs is not nearly as cut-and-dried as the Cowboys’ fate.
Ever since their clinching victory over the Cincinnati Bengals back on Dec. 11, the Texans have lost to two foes they should have defeated—the Carolina Panthers and the hapless Indianapolis Colts.

In fact, the Texans re-wrote the NFL history books with their 19-16 loss to the Colts last Thursday, becoming the ONLY 10-win franchise in league history to lose to a one-win team.

Houston really needs to beat the 2 ½-point-favored Tennessee Titans Sunday at Reliant Stadium so they would have some momentum going into the playoffs. Because it’s a sure-bet whomever the Texans are matched up against in the first-round of the playoffs will be a lot more talented than Carolina, Indianapolis or Tennessee.

Houston failed to take care of business last week against Indianapolis and wasted an opportunity for a first-round bye while New England, Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati all emerged victorious. The Texans now will have to settle for hosting a wild-card game the weekend of Jan. 7-8.

According to Sunday’s edition of the Houston Chronicle, if the playoffs started Sunday, New England and Baltimore would have first-round byes. The Texans would host Cincinnati and Denver would host Pittsburgh in AFC wild card games.

The Titans also will need a lot of help, but they remain in the playoff race. But the last thing the Texans want is to lose to the Titans and finish the season with three consecutive losses with two of those occurring at Reliant Field.

It will be Houston’s first playoff game since the Oilers lost to Kansas City in the divisional round after the 1993 season.

If the Bengals defeat the Baltimore Ravens Sunday in Cincinnati, they will secure the final AFC wild-card spot and will play at Reliant Stadium.

But if Cincinnati loses, it could open the door for the New York Jets, Oakland Raiders or the Titans to play the first round of the playoffs in Houston. However, unless everyone in the AFC wild card race loses, the Jets can forget about being in the playoffs.

With one week remaining in the 2011 NFL season, nine AFC teams and eight NFC teams have either clinched a playoff spot or have a chance of making the playoffs.

If Baltimore wins at Cincinnati, the Ravens secure one of the two top seeds and a first-round bye. If they lose and Pittsburgh beats Cleveland, the Steelers win the AFC North Division with a 12-4 record and the Ravens would be the wild-card team that would play at Denver or Oakland.

Although the Broncos lost two in a row, they will win the AFC West if they defeat Kansas City at home Sunday. If Denver loses and Oakland wins at home over San Diego, the Raiders win the AFC West Division.

If New England wins at home Sunday over Buffalo, the Pats will have the home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. When the NY Jets lost to the Giants Sunday, they lost control of the last wild-card spot. Now they have to win at Miami and get some help from other teams to make the playoffs for the third straight season.

Green Bay’s big 35-21 win over Chicago Sunday night gave the Packers (14-1) the home-field through the playoffs. The wild cards will be Detroit and Atlanta, which secured a playoff spot Sunday night when the Packers beat Chicago and eliminated the Bears in the process.

The New Orleans Saints beat Atlanta 45-16 in the Superdome Monday night to win the NFC South Division. As quarterback Drew Brees broke Dan Marino’s record of 5,087 yards passing in a single season with still one game to play. Brees also is the first quarterback to pass for more than 5,000 twice–he had 5,069 in 2008.

The Saints are competing with San Francisco for a first-round bye. If both teams win Sunday the 49ers get the bye and New Orleans would host the wild-card game.

KWICKIES…For those hoop fans who may be interested, the NBA began its abbreviated 2011-12 season Christmas Day with the featured game between the two teams involved in last year’s championship finals—the World Champion Dallas Mavericks and the Miami Heat—in which the Heat avenged losing to the Mavs with an impressive 105-94 win that wasn’t even as close as the final score indicated. The Houston Rockets, under the guidance of new head coach Kevin McHale began their season Monday night at Orlando.

The Seattle Seahawks’ playoff chances vanished when they were nipped Saturday by San Francisco 19-17. Orange’s Earl Thomas is still having a great season being second on the team to rookie David Hawthorne in tackles with 92, second in solo tackles to Cam Chancellor with 66, and having 26 assisted tackles and two interceptions going into Sunday’s final game against the Arizona Cardinals.

Look for the television ratings to skyrocket if stellar quarterback Tim Tebow can lead his Denver Broncos into the NFL playoffs. In the recent CBS game between Denver and the New England Patriots in which Tebow had a pretty good co-star in Pats’ quarterback Tom Brady, the game drew a whopping 19.5 overnight rating. That means that 19.5 per cent of all households in the 56 urban markets watched at least part of that game, which was not even close (New England won 41-23).

In a recent poll conducted by USA Today Sports Weekly, only 23 % of the 3,878 people polled would consider drafting Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III of Baylor over Stanford’s Andrew Luck who garnered 67 % with 10% saying they needed to see more.

JUST BETWEEN US…The bowl games will be coming fast and furiously in the next week or so with two games (Military and Holiday bowls) set today (Wed.), the Champs Bowl tomorrow, four bowls on Friday (Armed Forces, Pinstripe, Music City and Insight bowls) five on Saturday (Meineke, Sun, Liberty, Fight Hunger and Chick-Fil-A bowls), six on Monday (Ticket City, Capital One, Outback, Gator, Rose and Fiesta bowls) and the Sugar Bowl on Tuesday. In addition, the NFL concludes its regular season on Sunday.