The NFL season is finally here, and the 2012 campaign will begin in grand fashion tonight (8:30 p.m. ET) with the Super Bowl champion New York Giants hosting the Dallas Cowboys. The G-men have won five out of the last six meetings over their NFC East rivals, and last year’s December win against Dallas launched a 6-6 team toward the postseason that magically ended with the Lombardi Trophy. The Cowboys have missed the playoffs the last two seasons, and they have only won one postseason game over the last 15 years. Owner Jerry Jones feels the pressure to win now in Big D, and his team will face a New York bunch that has claimed two of the last five Super Bowl titles.
When New York has the ball:
The Giants were all about the passing game last year, with Eli Manning throwing for over 4,900 yards and 29 touchdowns. Receiver Victor Cruz was a breakout sensation in 2011, and Hakeem Nicks is also a force on the outside. New York’s running game ranked last in the NFL a year ago, which led to the first-round selection of tailback David Wilson in the draft. If he and Ahmad Bradshaw can generate a solid rushing attack, the Giants offense will be scary.
The Cowboys were decent on defense last season, but Manning torched them through the air in two losses. Dallas has the ability to get to opposing quarterbacks (42 sacks in 2011), but the play in the secondary must improve. Jones signed free agent cornerback Brandon Carr this offseason and also traded up to draft top college corner Morris Claiborne of LSU. The two new defensive backs will have their work cut out trying to match up with the elusive Cruz and Nicks.
When Dallas has the ball:
Quarterback Tony Romo has the playmaking ability to lead Dallas to the postseason, but the players around him must stay healthy. Running back DeMarco Murray showed flashes of stardom in his rookie season, totaling 135 rushing yards or more in three games. If he can play 16 games this year, the Cowboys should have a formidable attack. Receiver Miles Austin and tight end Jason Witten provide solid pass-catching options but are currently battling injuries, while Dallas hopes this is the season that talented but inconsistent wideout Dez Bryant fulfills his potential.
The Giants struggled on defense for much of the 2011 season but were able to put it together late on their way to a championship. New York is known for its ferocious pass rush, and defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul (16.5 sacks last year) has become a star. He will team with Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora and Mathias Kiwanuka to try and wreak havoc on the Cowboys passing game. If the reworked Dallas offense line can contain the NYG pass rush, Romo should have success down the field against a depleted Giants secondary.
There are plenty of top players on the injury report for the opener, and each team’s depth will be critical in this game. Dallas will be without key defensive tackle Jay Ratliff, and Witten is doubtful. New York’s defense will miss corner Prince Amukamara, while offensive tackle Will Beatty and Nicks are listed as questionable. The team that can handle its personnel attrition and get contributions from its new players will have a major advantage in this heated NFC East battle.
Giants 27 Cowboys 20
by Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
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