Phillips: 'Competing' Starts Before Playoffs

IRVING, Texas -- Jerry Jones, as expected, is getting blasted this week for saying -- with qualifiers -- that he thinks the Cowboys can compete for a Super Bowl next season. What seems to be getting left out in his statement was a pretty realistic possibility for this team: 9-7.

As flawed as the 2011 Cowboys were, they were a game away from nine wins in final week of the regular season. The week before that, they might have gotten to nine -- though the Eagles' offense was a sheer mismatch -- if Tony Romo hadn't slammed his hand on a helmet in the first half.

A 9-7 record isn't out of the question for a team that again will play a third-place schedule and has a top-10 quarterback still in his prime. Does that mean the Cowboys could realistically pull a 2010 Packers or a 2011 Giants -- get into the playoffs as a wild card team and get to the Super Bowl?

Well, there's a big difference between the 2011 Cowboys and those teams. The Packers and Giants began peaking in December; the Cowboys regressed from mid-November on.

One can argue they didn't really play complete, consistent football after their 44-7 win over Buffalo on Nov. 13. We're seeing that this parity-filled NFL isn't much different from upcoming March Madness in the NCAAs: the hot teams usually get to the title game.

Jones did acknowledge momentum as a factor, saying, "I think our talent level will allow us to be a nine-win team and be the one that got hot at the end and have a chance at the Super Bowl. I hope we do better.

"Do we have a team that can, in my mind, do what Green Bay did this year and win, what, 13 straight? I don't think we do, no, I don't think we have that caliber of team, when I say that much talent."

He's right. Right now, the Cowboys are what they were in 2011: good enough to play a bunch of close games and win about half of them.

When you listen to Jones and executive vice president Stephen Jones discuss next year's team, they don't sound delusional about the state of the roster. They acknowledged holes in the same areas that the fans are screaming about -- the offensive line and defense -- and plan to address both in the draft and free agency.

But even if this is a nine-win-or-better playoff team next year, they've got to find a way to peak before the postseason. The Packers and Giants didn't just flip a switch once they got there.

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