'Boys Catch a Break?

The Cowboys are 13-3 and the front-runners to make a Super Bowl run for the first time since 1995.

They are coming off a bye during the first weekend of the playoffs and will face the Giants in the divisional playoffs.

All is good right?

Well actually yes, especially considering Dallas got a break on Saturday when the red-hot Redskins lost to the Seahawks.

The Redskins came into the playoffs riding a four-game winning streak and the emotional wave of safety Sean Taylor's death. They also were the last team the Cowboys wanted to face after the 27-6 blowout loss to the Redskins in the season finale.

So now, the Cowboys get a Giants team that is also feeling good about itself following a strong performance in the season-closing loss to the Patriots and a wild-card playoff win over the Buccaneers.

Still, the only reason any of this is in question is because the Cowboys are not right. They have not been the juggernaut that opened with 12 wins in their first 13 games in over a month. They ended the season losers of two of their last three.

If the Cowboys can recapture that early-season swagger they will be in the Super Bowl. There is no team in the NFC better. But the question is, can they?

To do so, the Cowboys must get game-breaking receiver Terrell Owens healthy and back on the field. Owens missed the season finale with a high ankle sprain. And while there is no doubt he will try to play against the Giants, it remains to be seen how effective he will be.

High ankle sprains are tricky and usually take four weeks to heal. The game against the Giants comes three weeks after the injury.

The Cowboys must also overcome several bye-week distractions. Offensive line coach Tony Sparano and offensive coordinator Jason Garrett went on a whirlwind interviewing tour this past weekend. Both interviewed for the vacant head coaching job in Atlanta on Friday.

Sparano interviewed in Dallas for the vacant head coaching job in Miami on Saturday. Then, both flew to Baltimore to interview for the vacant head coaching job there on Saturday. Several reports have Dolphins director of football operations Bill Parcells already offering Sparano the head coaching job in Miami.

Of course, that would be against the league rules because coaches from playoff teams can't be offered jobs until the season is over. It also is in violation of the Rooney Rule, which states teams must interview at least one minority candidate before offering a job.

There is no question Sparano is the front-runner and that the reports may be true. But the ensuing controversy could be another distraction to the Cowboys' preparations.

Then there is the little matter of quarterback Tony Romo spending the bye weekend vacationing in Mexico with celebrity girlfriend Jessica Simpson. He has not had a good game in a month and the pressure on him to perform just got that much greater.

If you think fans and teammates questioned his focus following a poor performance when Simpson showed up Texas Stadium, wait until the reaction that will occur if Romo doesn't perform well in the divisional playoffs next Sunday.

Also remember this will be Romo's first playoff game since the infamous bobble in the Seattle game during last year's wild-card playoff loss.

MONDAY NOTES: WR Terrell Owens (high ankle sprain) is expected to practice Wednesday or Thursday in hopes of playing in Sunday's divisional playoff game. "I like where he is," owner Jerry Jones said on his Friday radio show. "Our trainers are really satisfied with the progress that he's making. He's got his boot off. The swelling, (there is) none detectable or relatively little. And when you compare that and the nature of his injury with the rehab of other players in similar situations, then we (should) be optimistic."

--FS Ken Hamlin is one of the few Cowboys who have tasted playoff success as a former member of the Seahawks. But Hamlin said it will have no bearing on how the Cowboys do in the playoffs this season. "Has nothing to do with this year," Hamlin said. "As a team, we have to play good. That's what I expect. There's nothing new about it. We're still going to be on the football field and still playing in front of people with an opponent on the other side. We have to get ready and be prepared just like any other game and play well."

--SS Roy Williams will switch from No. 31 to No. 38 next season. Williams wore 38 in college and wanted it as a rookie. But former Cowboys cornerback Duane Hawthorne had the number and wanted Williams to pay him $20,000 to make the switch. Williams refused so he took 31. He has been wanting to switch back for a couple of years now but it would have cost owner Jerry Jones money because of all the 31 jersey's in production. Now that the current distribution is about to run out, Williams is ready to make the switch.

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