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Dallas Cowboys vs. New York Giants Preview and Prediction

Eli Manning

Eli Manning

The Cowboys (11-1) have proved all season long they’re for real. Sunday marks a chance for the Giants (8-4) to do the same.

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Ben McAdoo’s club has clung to its best win, a 20-19 squeaker over the Cowboys in the season opener. Back then, Cowboys rookies Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott were making their NFL debut; and a mistake by Terrance Williams prevented a 57-yard field goal try as time expired. The Giants got the Cowboys raw, got a great game by Eli Manning and benefitted from Victor Cruz’s stellar game in his return.

Now, the Giants will need that effort all over again... and then some. Dallas hasn’t lost since that opening encounter, an 11-game winning streak that has trampled the competition and established the Cowboys as Super Bowl favorites. Their struggles in the opening game have faded; they’re eager to enact revenge and show how much they’ve grown.

The Giants have played well since but one could make the argument they’ve beaten up inferior competition. Only one of their other victories, against the Ravens in Week 6, was against a team with a winning record. Only one of their wins, Week 12 against the Browns, has been by more than seven points.

Instead, the Giants have been fighting for victories against teams like the Rams, Bears and Bengals, a trio who won’t be hosting playoff games anytime soon. And while the Giants’ wild-card position seems secure, the schedule after the Cowboys is daunting: the NFC North-leading Lions, facing the Eagles at Lincoln Financial (where they’re 4-1 entering Week 14) and a closing date with the Redskins on the road. A stumbling, 9-7 or 8-8 finish seems just as possible as challenging the Cowboys for the NFC East title.

The Giants have been underrated before; just ask the Patriots, twice in games that led to Super Bowl wins. That’s why Sunday night’s premier matchup puts the focus squarely on them. Yes, the Cowboys have much to gain; clinching the overall No. 1 seed with a victory and some help, but the Giants also have just as much to lose.

Series History: Cowboys lead series 62-45-2, but Giants have won past two meetings.

Dallas at New York

Kickoff: Sunday, Dec. 11 at 8:30 p.m. ET

TV Channel: NBC

Spread: Cowboys -2.5

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Three Things to Watch

1. Which Eli Manning will show up?
In the season opener, Manning had his second-best game of the year on paper (tops if you choose not to count the Browns). Three touchdown passes, just one interception and a QB Rating of 110.3 combined with crisp, sharp decision-making that crested with the key hook up with Victor Cruz in the fourth quarter.

With 3,097 passing yards this season, Manning is on pace for a third straight year with more than 4,000 yards. His 88.3 QB rating as a whole makes this one of his better seasons but the 35-year-old finds himself prone to total stinkers. His interception in the second quarter of the Steelers game last week shifted momentum and was part of a pitiful performance – just 195 passing yards, two picks and zero traction generated during a forgettable second half.

If that Manning shows up the Cowboys beat the Giants by 30. The Manning of old? The one that can play like an MVP at times? That quarterback will keep it close.

2. Can the Giants run The ball?
We certainly know the Cowboys can; rookie Ezekiel Elliott leads the league with 1,285 yards and 12 touchdowns. But the Giants, despite boasting weapons like Odell Beckham Jr. in the passing game, have fallen flat when they try and stay grounded. They are second to last in the NFL with just 77.5 rushing yards per game and are still looking for their first 100-yard performance. How bad has it been?  Beckham has 1,015 receiving yards. The entire Giants team has combined for 930 yards on the ground.

Week 1, however, was an important exception to the rule. Rashad Jennings and Shane Vereen combined for 113 rushing yards in Dallas, enough to open up the field as Manning threw for 201, three touchdowns while completing 68 percent of his passes. It’s much easier, of course for a guy like Beckham to beat off the double-team when defenses have to worry about the run. The Giants need a repeat performance, badly to stay competitive Sunday night.

3. Will the Cowboys’ superstars break out?
The Cowboys’ Week 1 loss featured awful performances by their key offensive leaders. Elliott rushed for a season-low 51 yards; Dez Bryant caught just one ball. Dak Prescott produced a dismal QB rating of 69.4; the only game in which it was more than 100.

You get the picture. The 19 points scored against the Giants were the second-fewest of the season for Dallas. Last week against Minnesota was the first time the Cowboys didn’t score as many as 20 since Week 1. The past three months have found this team nearly unstoppable.

Keep that pattern up tonight and they’ll be fine. Revert back to Week 1 behavior? Then we’ve got a problem. It’s notable that Minnesota was able to make Prescott and Elliott look and play like rookies. They fumbled the ball three times collectively; Prescott got sacked three times and produced a career-low 139 passing yards. Turns out he’s human after all.

Final Analysis

Expect a hard-fought game with a wild card hard to gauge: the weather. Conditions are calling for temperatures in the mid-30s with a band of snow that could accumulate. It’s a December freeze the Cowboys aren’t used to, the type of road game that could throw a wrench into things. But every time there’s a bump in the road, Dak Prescott and company seem to figure out a way to keep the train from running off the tracks.

NFL Power Rankings: Cowboys

Sunday night, they’ll do it again.

Prediction: Cowboys 17, Giants 13

— Written by Tom Bowles, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @NASCARBowles.