The Cowboys and Giants have spent the entire offseason making headlines. Dallas decided to make questionable moves in free agency and in the draft. Free agent defensive end Greg Hardy was brought in from Carolina, to help take the Cowboy defense to another level, despite his incredibly controversial past. If that wasn't enough, the Cowboys backed that up with an equally questionable draft pick in defensive end Randy Gregory. If these two players produce what their talent says they can produce, then the Cowboys' defense will be one of the nastiest in the league. The Cowboys also avoided having to deal with the challenge of a holdout from star wide receiver Dez Bryant. With a healthy Tony Romo, and possibly the most dominant offensive line in the NFL, the Dallas is poised to make a deep run into the playoffs toward Super Bowl 50.
The Giants also were positioned to get back to their contending ways, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Then they their star defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul was seriously injured in a July 4 fireworks accident, and everything changed. Now, the Giants' defense, despite bringing back defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, is very much in question. The offense, however, seems ready for a breakout season, as the Giants are expected to get back productive wide receiver Victor Cruz, who should form quite the duo with the dynamic Odell Beckham Jr. The Giants also added a third-down specialist, running back Shane Vereen, fresh off his Super Bowl season with the Patriots. There are weapons everywhere and Eli Manning, who was also able to cash in big right before the season, seems ready to spread the ball around to all of his new teammates.
Sunday night should be very fun.
New York at Dallas
Kickoff: 8:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: NBC
Spread: Dallas -6
Three Things to Watch
1. Defense Wins Championships
The Giants understand this better than anyone, which explains why they brought back Spagnuolo, the defensive coordinator on for the 2007 team that won Super Bowl XLII. Personnel-wise, the team parted ways with older players and decided to opt for a youth movement, which included drafting safety Landon Collins, and going with second-year defensive end Kerry Wynn, in replacement of the injured JPP. However, the Giants need JPP to return and be the force he has been to help this unit rediscover its nasty defensive swagger. If the Giants can get key stops and get the ball back into the hands off its offense, they will be a tough team to beat. The Cowboys' defense also is counting on being able to fill key positions with young players, in the absence of its veterans. The rookie Gregory will be asked to fulfill his potential early in the absence of the suspended Hardy, who will miss the first four games. Cornerback Morris Claiborne also will be tasked with the tough assignment of covering Beckham in the absence of Orlando Scandrick, who is out for the season. The defense that can slow the opposing offense down will win.
2. Romo vs. Manning
Tony Romo had a monster season last year, putting himself in the MVP conversation. If it were not for a back injury, many feel like he would have won it. Romo also made tremendous leaps in the postseason, playing at an elite level, and putting the Cowboys in position to make the plays needed to win. Coming up short last year has seemed to motivate Romo and he looks anxious to finish what the Cowboys started last year. Manning spent the first part of the year running for his life behind a make-shift offensive line that was decimated by injuries. In addition, Manning also was forced to learn a brand new offense and was without Cruz, his previous go-to target, and only had Beckham for 12 games. The Giants redeemed last year and made lemonade out of its lemons, developing an electric playmaker in Beckham as well as tight end Larry Donnell. Now Manning should get Cruz back, and adds Vereen, who is one of the better pass-catching running backs in the league. Manning has all kinds of weapons now, and it should be interesting to see what he does with them.
3. Dez vs. ODB
Arguably, the best wide receiver in the NFL will be on the field Sunday night. The question is will that be Bryant or Beckham? Bryant is older, more established, and his coming off of a season in which he recorded 1,320 yards receiving, averaged 15 yards per catch and led the NFL with 16 TD catches. Beckham also went over 1,300 yards and scored 12 TDs, but he did all of his damage in just 12 games after a lingering hamstring injury delayed his debut by a month. He also was responsible for quite possibly the greatest catch ever in a professional football game, which happened to come against the Cowboys the last time these two teams met. How these two receivers dominate will be in direct result to how their counterparts play. If Bryant has a great game, it will be in equal parts due to the complementary play of Terrance Williams and Jason Witten. For Beckham to have a great game, Cruz (if he plays) or Rueben Randle must become threats as well. I predict we will see a show from both No. 1 receivers on Sunday night.
This game will be a track meet. With so many defensive components missing from both teams, The Cowboys and Giants should put up huge points on Sunday night. I expect huge games from Bryant and Beckham, with significant contributions from the receiver role players as well. This game will come down to the running game. If the young Giants team can take big steps forward and add running depth to their offense, they will win this game. However, it seems more likely that the Cowboys' offensive line is ready to continue its dominating ways and do just enough to push Dallas over the top. But this won't be a blowout. This one will come down to a field goal and home-field advantage.
Prediction: Cowboys 34, Giants 31
— 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.