Roster cuts have been made. Meaningless preseason games have been played. To warm us up for Sunday’s game at Tennessee the NFL season kicks off tonight with a rivalry game, Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants on NBC. Just as if it was the Super Bowl the NFL and NBC are intent on attracting casual viewers with past-their-prime musical acts: Mariah Carey and No Doubt will perform.
There seem to be two recurring themes I keep hearing. One is that the Cowboys have no chance in this game without TE Jason Witten, and the other is that many are not expecting the Giants to win the division this year.
The loss of Witten is indeed problematic for Dallas. Over the last three years he has caught 70% of the passes thrown his way; he’s Tony Romo‘s favorite and most reliable target. A complete tight end, Witten is also a very effective blocker in the running game for DeMarco Murray. However Dallas still has Romo, Murray, Miles Austin and Dez Bryant. The Giants have been able to effectively pressure Romo in their last few meetings but their secondary is vulnerable. Terrell Thomas is out for the year, Prince Amukamara is out for this game and rookie Jayron Hosely will play but is slowed by a toe injury. Dallas is counting on Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau to provide more time for Romo than he has had against the Giants’ pass rush last year. Doug Free is still on the OL but is now on the right side, playing a less critical role to which he is better suited. Together with new fullback Lawrence Vickers they should be able to open up some holes for Murray to run through – an ideal way to slow down any pass rush.
Dallas has also added free agent Brandon Carr and rookie Morris Claiborne to upgrade their defensive secondary. Victor Cruz will likely still get his share of receptions tonight but I wouldn’t expect Hakeem Nicks to be out there as an every down player tonight; he’s still not 100%, recovering from his broken foot. Last year Cruz and Nicks combined for 491 yards in two games against the Cowboys last year. Eli Manning will still throw plenty to those two but I would expect the number of times he is able to exploit blown coverages to go down.
The biggest problem for Dallas is that while their offensive line has improved, it’s still probably not going to be enough to hold off the Giants’ pass rush. New York does an excellent job of rating their defensive lineman so that they stay fresh and effective. Jason Pierre-Paul, Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck are going to win individual battles more often than not; double team one of them and the others will burn you.
Back to the top: a lot of people are writing the defending champs off, pointing to what happened the last time they won the Super Bowl (one and done). What they are overlooking is that the Giants started 11-1 in 2008 before Plaxico Burress infamously shot himself in the leg and their season spiraled out of control. I don’t see any reason to predict that they will not do well this year. As for tonight’s game, I think the team will have so much adrenaline running from seeing the championship banner raised that they find a way to win – but it won’t be easy. I’ll say Giants 27, Cowboys 21.
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