The best Giants teams have been built around defense, and last year they found their swagger on the defensive end once again on their way to an 11-5 record and a wild card berth. Second-year safety Landon Collins was the spearhead for a much-improved secondary that helped the Giants defense finish second in the league in points allowed at under 18 points per game.
The defense was so stout that the Giants were able to overcome an unusually pedestrian offense, which was hampered by a sputtering running game and only truly came to life when the ball was in the hands of superstar receiver Odell Beckham Jr. In their playoff appearance, New York’s defense finally gave way to the heroics of Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers in a 38-13 defeat in the wild card round.
When veteran quarterback Tony Romo was injured in the preseason, many thought that the Cowboys season was lost. But fourth-round rookie Dak Prescott stepped in and never faltered, throwing 23 touchdowns to just four interceptions. Fellow rookie Ezekiel Elliott took care of the running game, leading the NFL in rushing with 1,631 yards behind Dallas’ decorated offensive line.
With the offense scoring in bunches and controlling the clock, the Dallas D quietly ended up fifth in the NFL in scoring defense with a bend-but-don’t break approach. The end result was a 13-3 season (with two of the losses coming to the Giants) and a division crown. In a classic divisional playoff game, the Cowboys staged a furious comeback only to see Aaron Rodgers guide the Packers to a last-second field goal and a 34-31 victory.
The big offseason news in Dallas was the NFL’s six-game suspension of Ezekiel Elliott due to a domestic violence incident. The Giants defense is tough enough to crack, but if an opponent comes in one-dimensional, they can be downright nasty. Luckily for the Cowboys, it now appears like Elliott will be at least able to play in this game while the legal issues surrounding the suspension are decided. He can go a long way to helping the Cowboys move the chains and take the pressure off Dak Prescott and the passing game.
Now 36 years old, Eli Manning likely wouldn’t have to endure questions about his age if it weren’t for the lackluster season he put up in 2016. With only five more touchdowns than interceptions on his ledger a year ago, Manning suffered through one of his weakest overall seasons. The Giants attempted to rectify the situation by providing him with more receiving weapons, including veteran wideout Brandon Marshall and rookie tight end Evan Engram. A strong opening game against the division rival Cowboys by Manning would silence a lot of doubters.
Cowboys line changes
One of the main reasons for the Cowboys offensive dominance a year ago was the play of the offensive line, an area where they’ve invested a lot of draft capital in recent years. But there was some turnover in the offseason with the retirement of right tackle Doug Free and the free agent departure of left guard Ron Leary. La’el Collins and Jonathan Cooper seem like capable replacements at those spots, but if the line suffers any early chemistry issues, the Giants rugged defensive line, led by Jason Pierre-Paul, Damon Harrison and Olivier Vernon, will take advantage.
Matchup to watch – Giants WRs Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandon Marshall vs. Cowboys CBs Anthony Brown and Orlando Scandrick
The main weakness for Dallas a year ago was the secondary. Last season, they could at least focus their efforts on Beckham when they played New York. But the addition of Marshall, an All-Pro in his own right, means that their corners might be on an island. Beckham, whose status is up in the air following a preseason ankle injury, put up 101 catches and 1,367 yards a year ago, numbers which might actually go up in 2017 with the other weapons taking attention away from him. Marshall’s 6’4” height will also present problems for Brown and Scandrick, who are both under six feet. Perhaps the best chance for the two Cowboy cornerbacks is if their front seven can produce some pressure. Otherwise, the Giants might be able to light them up.
Fantasy football tip – Cowboys WR Cole Beasley
The Giants corners can hang with Cowboys wideouts Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams. But Beasley operates out of the slot, where he could provide a safety valve for Dak Prescott all night long. The diminutive receiver led the team in receptions a year ago with 75, making him an especially effective play in PPR leagues.
Prediction: New York Giants 24-17 Dallas Cowboys
Remember that the Giants swept the Cowboys a year ago, and that was when Dallas didn’t have the distraction of the Elliott suspension hanging over their heads. Add in the fact that New York seems to have improved in the offseason, and it looks like they might spoil the Cowboys plans for a winning home opener.
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