With Super Bowl XLVI only a few days away, which of the 30 teams sitting at home Sunday appear to have a chance to perhaps being playing at this time next year?

Most Southeast Texas National Football League fans figure the Houston Texans will have a good shot at going much farther in the playoffs next season than getting to the second round like they did earlier last month. And most of the football writers agree with that presumption.

But what about the other Lone Star State franchise? Believe it or not there are more than just Idiot Owner Jerry Jones saying that this year may be when the Dallas Cowboys break out of their doldrums and become a legitimate playoff contender.

After all, if the Cowboys could have defeated the New York Giants only one time during the regular 2011 season, they wouldn’t have even made the playoffs let alone be competing for the world championship against the New England Patriots Sunday evening.

This Korner certainly is not implying that the Cowboys would be playing against the Patriots instead of New York, but stranger things have happened.

But the truth is that when crunch time rolled around for the Cowboys at the end of the season in their winner-take-all game against the Giants, Dallas showed how inept it really was and folded like a tent in a windstorm.

The last thing Head Coach Jason Garrett said to his players as they cleaned out their lockers the day after the 31-14 loss to the Giants was to remember how they felt as they watch the playoffs.

“You have to make that palpable as you go forward and use it to get better individually and collectively as a football team,” the first year head coach said.

The Cowboys should have been driven by what they failed to accomplish and buoyed by statistical comparisons to where they rank in relation to the 12 teams that did make the playoffs.

The last world championship the Cowboys won was a 27-17 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers Jan. 28, 1996 in Super Bowl XXX. Dallas followed that title with a 26-17 wild-card win over Minnesota the next season.

And then the downward slide began with a division-round loss to Carolina on Jan. 5, 1997. The Cowboys have a 1-7 post-season record since that day to rank among the NFL’s most ineffective teams. There are 25 teams with more playoff wins than the Cowboys over the last 15 years.

It appeared that the worm had turned three years ago when the Pokes defeated Philadelphia 34-14 in the wild-card game for their lone victory during this long dry spell. However, the thrill got doused real quickly eight days later when the Minnesota Vikings walloped Dallas 34-3.

The Cowboys have responded the last two seasons with a coaching change, a 14-18 record, but no playoff appearances. Dallas has missed the playoffs in three of the last four years.

Tampa Bay, St. Louis and Washington are the only teams in the NFC not to make a playoff appearance in those four seasons. But only four teams that made it to the second week of this year’s playoffs ranked ahead of the Cowboys in overall offense during the regular season.

Most Cowboys fans believe that defensive deficiencies were a sore spot last season. But only three teams in the playoffs—Houston, Baltimore and San Francisco—ranked ahead of the Cowboys during the regular season.

Believe it or not, the Cowboys were in the statistical middle of the 12 teams that entered the playoffs last month. The only playoff team that ranked ahead of the Cowboys on offense and defense was Atlanta. And the Falcons were booted from the playoffs with a dismal 24-2 loss to the Giants.

The statistics reveal that this team is in a position to compete, according to a recent article in the Dallas Morning News. “What the Cowboys must do is make significant strides on either the offensive or defensive side of the ball. It can’t remain in the tepid middle and expect a different result. The Cowboys must learn to rise to the occasion,” the article concluded.

Former Cowboy coach and NFL television analyst Jimmy Johnson has said from Day One that the team could use an offensive coordinator to take some of the burden off Garrett, who has too much on his game-day mind. A perfect example was his bungled management of the clock that cost the Cowboys a victory last season.

Another thought is to simply bring in a Garrett confidant, with NFL skins on the wall, to simply tweak the coach’s game plans.

And with veteran backup quarterback Jon Kitna quietly announcing his retirement last week to take the head football coaching job at Lincoln High School in Tacoma, WA.—his alma mater—the Cowboys need to make a deal for his replacement.

Dallas has former Texas A&M quarterback Stephen McGee, who was drafted in the fourth-round in 2009. But he has started only one of the three NFL games in which he’s played and doesn’t have the experience needed for a backup quarterback.

There’s a nice list of quarterbacks set to become free agents Mar. 13 that includes former Texas Longhorn starter Vince Young, former Jacksonville starter David Garrard and Rex Grossman, who led the Chicago to the 2007 Super Bowl and spent the last two seasons with the Washington Redskins.

From this Korner’s viewpoint, it appears the Dallas Cowboys have what it takes to at least to become a playoff contender, IF Jerry Jones will quit meddling and let it happen.

KWICKIES…Orange’s Earl Thomas played the entire Pro Bowl game at free safety for the NFC Sunday night and would have had an interception if it weren’t for an over-exuberant teammate who crashed into Thomas causing the football to fly right into the hands of intended AFC receiver Brandon Marshall, for his Pro Bowl record-setting fourth touchdown of the game. The AFC rallied in the second half to down the NFC 59-41. The 59 points scored by the AFC also is a Pro Bowl record.

Despite having three players dismissed from the team for inadequate grades in the classroom and two more suspended three games for breaking team rules, the Lamar men’s basketball team stands at 4-3 and in third place in the East Zone of the Southland Conference and play tonight against Southeastern Louisiana in Hammond. The Cards have already matched last year’s total of 13 wins under first-year head coach Pat Knight still with 10 games left to play. Their goal is to be among the top eight teams that will play in the SLC Tournament at the end of the season.

Houston Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips was voted coordinator of the year by the Sporting News last weekend. The Orange native received 15 votes by the 32 NFL coaches and executives for the annual award. In his first season with the Texans, Phillips helped his defense improve from 30th in the NFL to second, including from last (32nd) to third against the pass. The defense helped the Texans finish 11-7, win the AFC South title and their first playoff game.

Let’s hope plenty of Orange County high school football players sign letters-of-intent today (Wednesday) and make it big at the next level in the next few years. And we also are confident the University Interscholastic League announces sensible realignment plans for our area high schools tomorrow. One of the rumors is that Buna will move up to the Class 3A ranks and join the present six members of District 21-3A, creating a seven team district. Another scenario has Liberty and Huffman joining District 21-3A creating an eight-team league. We’ll just have to wait and see.

JUST BETWEEN US…For some reason the New York Giants seem to have the New England Patriots’ number. Not only did the Giants beat the Patriots 17-14 in Super Bowl XLII, but New York beat them two times this season, including the preseason. In the last preseason game the Giants won 18-17, New England quarterback Tom Brady played but Giants’ quarterback Eli Manning didn’t. In November the Giants traveled to Gillette Stadium and won again 24-20, as Manning threw the winning touchdown pass on the last drive. Even though New England is favored in Super Bowl XLVI by a field goal, this Korner is sticking with the Giants in a shootout, 41-38.