The New York Giants (3-3) have been in a foul mood since the opening game of the 2015 season. That was when they gave up a fourth quarter TD in the final 1:34 to open the season at 0-1 against division rival and hated foe the Dallas Cowboys (2-3). That loss was followed up by another in which the Giants led by 10 in the final quarter. They were able to turn things around after that winning their next three in a row, but then fell apart last week on the road against another division rival, the Philadelphia Eagles. Tom Coughlin's team is now poised to avenge their opening loss this Sunday afternoon in a pivotal NFC East game at home at MetLife Stadium.
The Cowboys started the season in the way that everyone thought they would, winning their home opener in dramatic fashion. Since then, however, Jason Garrett's team has been spiraling down the NFC East rabbit hole. The Cowboys defeated the Eagles to take an early two-game lead in the division, but the victory was costly. After Dez Bryant left in the opening game against the Giants with a foot injury, Tony Romo broke his left clavicle in Week 2. Dallas has had a difficult time replacing its most important offensive weapons, as the poor performance of backup Brandon Weeden, coupled with spotty defensive play, has ultimately eliminated the Cowboys' early cushion. Now, coming out of their bye, the Cowboys are searching for answers on how to stop the bleeding and get back on track. They have made a change at QB, benching Weeden for veteran Matt Cassel. The Cowboys enter today's game three-game losing streak, 2-0 in the division, but a half game back for the NFC East lead. They NEED this win to keep pace with Philadelphia and New York.
Dallas at New York
Kickoff: 4:25 p.m. ET (Sunday)
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: New York -3
Three Things to Watch
1. How Will the Cowboys Score?
The Cowboys were able to come from behind in their opener because they had Tony Romo and his fourth-quarter heroics. Since losing Romo, the offense has been efficient, but far from explosive. And it is that missing explosiveness that has kept them from winning games. With no Romo, no Dez Bryant, and no Lance Dunbar (who was leading the team in yards per carry, and was third in receptions when he tore his ACL in Week 4), Dallas enters this game with huge question marks on offense. The hope is that a QB change to a capable veteran like Matt Cassel will be enough to spark some offensive production. However, a quarterback change will not be enough to bring a victory. Cassel will need someone to step up and make plays. Chances are, it won't be tight end Jason Witten, who is likely to find himself in double coverage all day long. So the real question is, who will step up and make plays for the Cowboys?
2. How Will the Giants Stop the Cowboys From Passing?
The Giants are giving up passing yards in massive chunks. Based on the numbers, It appears that their secondary, which is missing injured CB Prince Amukamara, is the reason for the big plays allowed. After a closer examination, it looks like it is the lack of defensive pressure that is the real culprit. The Giants are allowing QBs way too much time in the pocket scan the field and find an open target, and they are paying the cost. The Giants' secondary is having to cover for 4-5 seconds each play because the defensive line can't get to the quarterback, and the challenge is a bit more than this unit has been able to handle. It won't matter who it is at QB for the Cowboys if the Giants can't get to him and disrupt his timing.
3. Third Down
This entire game will come down to third down conversions. The team that can convert its third downs, while defensively getting off the field, will win the game. The Cowboys are at 32 percent on third down, while allowing their opponents to be successful 41 percent of the time. The Giants are converting their own third downs a 42 percent clip, but opponents have fared even better (44 percent). Both teams have had defensive mental lapses that have cost them, dearly. Both teams have struggled to get off the field on drives where they have put their opponents in third-and-long situations. The team that can correct those trends this afternoon will win.
The Cowboys team that will play Sunday is far different from the one that opened the season. Although they are coming off a bye week, they are hoping for a lot to happen in a short amount of time. A QB change may not be enough to make the Cowboys' offensive woes go away. The Cowboys will need a strong defensive performance to keep this game close and to give their offense a chance to put something together. The Giants, coming off a bad loss to Philadelphia, need to get back to Giants football and correct a ton of defensive mistakes. The Giants had 12 penalties for 94 very costly yards. But the real problem was that the Giants could not get off the field on third and long because of those penalties, which allowed the Eagles sustain drives. The Giants are not likely to make those same mistakes this week against the Cowboys.
It seems as though it will be easier for the Giants to correct their small mistakes, then for the Cowboys to overcome so many changes in such a small amount of time. Look for the Giants, to capitalize on just enough opportunities to hold off their divisional rivals at home.
Prediction: Giants 24, Cowboys 20
— Written by Lloyd H. Spence, Jr., who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Spence also has written for the Dallas Morning News, Yahoo!'s Rivals.com, and ESPN Louisville. He can be heard on the radio of "Talkin NOIZ" and "The Football Show of Collin County." Follow him on Twitter @TalkinNOIZ.