Just like in 2016, the New York Giants once again open up their season in Arlington, Texas. Jerry World. The Sunday night showdown features two teams looking to open their season account and start a charge at the NFC East title…and anything else that lies beyond that. The Giants had the advantage in the opening fixture last year, but it was ultimately the Cowboys who prevailed as NFC East champions, with a 14-2 record. The Giants managed to muster a wildcard berth with an 11-5 record, with 2 wins over their bitter rivals from Dallas to boot.
The Cowboys will look to once again ride high on the play of quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott, both having outstanding rookie years in 2016. Veteran Eli Manning leads the Giants, along with their young and impressive defense. Below are the key match ups:
Giants D-Line vs Zeke
Yes Ezekiel Elliott will play. And yes he will serve a 6 game ban, well maybe. I won’t go into all that here. To be honest, I’m delighted Elliott is playing, he is one of the most electrifying running backs in the game and the match up against the formidable Giants run defense is well worth a watch. Damon Harrison leads the line, with Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon being more than competent run stoppers at the end position. Jay Bromley will look to step into the void left by Jonathan Hankins alongside Harrison, with rookie Dalvin Tomlinson looking to take any opportunity he can grab. Elliott only managed a total 158 yards from 44 carries in 2 games vs the Giants, pretty much the only team who were able to slow down the hungry running back. Can the impressive Giants D-line stand up against the powerful and talented O-line of the Cowboys?
Eli vs Cowboys secondary
During the off-season, the Cowboys lost several key figures to their secondary, with Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne, Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox all leaving for other ventures in the league. 2016 was hardly one to boast about for the Cowboys defense, giving up an average 260 passing yards per game, 7th worst in the league. Added to this, the Cowboys only had 9 interceptions all season, nearly half of what the Giants achieved (17). In 2017, cornerbacks Anthony Brown and Orlando Scrandrick are joined by rookies Chidobe Awuzie (60th overall pick), Marquez White and Jourdan Lewis. Along with these rookies, the Cowboys added veteran Nolan Carroll, from division rivals the Eagles.
The Giants upgraded Eli Manning’s weapons in the off-season, with the signing of Brandon Marshall and the drafting of mismatch tight end Evan Engram. Manning should feel he holds the upper hand over the new look Dallas secondary, especially if Odell Beckham Jr is 100% healthy. (at this moment in time, he is down as a ‘game day decision’).
Jason Witten vs Landon Collins
Prolific pass-catcher Jason Witten is still going strong, entering his 15th season in the NFL. 2016 was a ‘poor’ year by Witten’s standards, but he should be a huge threat on Sunday against a defense that struggled to slow down tight ends last season. I expect safety Landon Collins to handle much of the workload vs Witten, mainly because the Giants linebackers struggled to contain tight ends and with the inexperienced B.J.Goodson making his first start, I don’t expect that to change in 2017. Collins had a breakout year in 2016 and confidence is high in the young hard-hitter, so this matchup should be an entertaining one. If the Cowboys struggle to run the ball or get Dez Bryant going, they will look to old faithful Witten to make some big plays.
Cowboys pass rush vs Giants O-Line
1st round pick, Taco Charlton, adds power and athleticism, but more importantly, depth, to the Cowboys pass rush. Charlton joins starting defensive ends, DeMarcus Lawrence and Tyrone Crawford, both of who had a unproductive 2016 in terms of getting after the quarterback. Defensive tackle, Maelik Collins had an impressive rookie season, finishing with 5 sacks in 2o16. With no premier pass rusher on the roster, the Cowboys will be replying on a combined effort from multiple players, with the hope that Taco Charlton can make a huge impact early.
It’s no secret that the Giants offensive line struggled in 2o16. Although they statistically didn’t give up many sacks on Eli Manning, it was more the passer’s ability to get the ball out quickly, than the pass protection in front of him. The Giants O-line has been handed a real confidence booster early. They should be more than able to handle the pressure put on by Crawford, Charlton and Co. Although if they struggle, it puts an early question mark on why the unit was not upgraded in the off-season.
Like last season’s encounter, which went right down to the very last seconds, I expect Sunday night should be an entertaining one. I’ll even go as far as to say this could be the game of the weekend. The availability of Ezekiel Elliott adds a flame to the offensive firepower of the Cowboys. If Odell Beckham Jr plays (and is 100% healthy!!!) then I feel the Giants have the X-factor that might just be enough to see them over the line. Of course I’m backing the Giants!
Score: Giants 28 – 24 Cowboys