|Eli Manning and the Giants will try to continue their run of success against the Cowboys when the teams meet Wednesday night. (AP Images)|
Giants vs. Cowboys -- Week 1
Where: MetLife Stadium (turf, outdoors)
When: Wednesday, 8:30 p.m. ET (NBC)
Spread: Giants by 4
Forecast: Rain likely; projected kickoff temperature in the mid-70s.
2011 records -- Giants (9-7), Cowboys (8-8)
Past results: Two most recent meetings -- Jan. 1, 2012: Giants 31, Cowboys 14; Dec. 11, 2011: Giants 37, Cowboys 34. Series record: Cowboys hold a 56-42-2 edge.
What matters: Cowboys QB Tony Romo was sacked six times by the Giants on New Year’s Day -- the regular season finale ended Dallas’ playoff hopes and gave the eventual champions an NFC East Division Title -- so some major adjustments were made along the offensive line. Tyron Smith moved from right to left tackle and Dallas added Gs Mackenzy Bernadeau and Nate Livings. Center Phil Costa is dealing with a back injury, so the Cowboys' line might be at a disadvantage against a Giants pass rush that finished third in the NFL in sacks last season. Exacerbating Dallas’ pass protection issues: DEs Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora and Jason Pierre-Paul are as healthy as they’ve ever been together.
Who matters: Left tackle Sean Locklear will probably start for Will Beatty (back, questionable), but that doesn’t mean Cowboys LB DeMarcus Ware has a free pass to Eli Manning. Locklear, now in his ninth year, has experience against Ware and Anthony Spencer. Offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride acknowledged that the Giants thought about moving right tackle David Diehl back to the blind side until Beatty returned but said Locklear has played too well in the preseason to force a switch. Also, keep an eye on CB Michael Coe, who is starting for Prince Amukamara (ankle). Coe has never started an NFL game, but S Kenny Phillips said Coe had the best preseason of anyone in the secondary. Coe said he expects Romo to target him.
Key matchups: They may not be the biggest names on Wednesday, but Giants' C David Baas and Cowboys' NT Josh Brent will both be pivotal. New York ranked dead last in the NFL in rushing last season -- Baas’ first with the team -- but now the hulking center is familiar with the offense and is expected to lead the way for RBs Ahmad Bradshaw and rookie David Wilson. Brent is playing for the injured Jay Ratliff, who Baas ranks among the best in football. Dallas’ 3-4 defense will look very different without Ratliff.
Injuries of note: Giants WR Hakeem Nicks (foot, questionable) insists he’ll be playing on Wednesday. He saw 10 snaps in the final preseason game, making one catch, but he missed two practices in the week that followed. Nicks said his surgically repaired right foot isn’t perfect, but it won’t limit him. The other major injury belongs to Cowboys TE Jason Witten (spleen, doubtful). Dallas receivers Dez Bryant (knee, probable) and Miles Austin (hamstring, probable) will be relied upon more if the former All-Pro can’t play, which puts more pressure on Coe. Giants rookie CB Jayron Hosley (toe, probable) -- who had a 77-yard interception return for a touchdown in the preseason -- is expected to start at nickelback and should be a factor.
Inside stuff: Nicks and Victor Cruz combined for 11 catches, 256 yards and two touchdowns in their last game against the Cowboys, but FB Henry Hynoski (four catches, 31 yards) and TE Bear Pascoe (two catches, 14 yards) were formidable “check down” options for Manning. The Giants captain is great at hitting his wide receivers for deep gains, but pay attention to how the Cowboys’ revamped secondary defends the pass, because Manning is just as happy eating up yards underneath the coverage.
Connections: Giants TE Martellus Bennett never found a role in Dallas’ offense, but that’s not necessarily because he played behind Witten. Had the Cowboys felt he could offer something, coach Jason Garrett could have used more two-tight end formations. After signing with New York in the offseason, Bennett had seven catches for 49 yards in the preseason, and he was routinely complimented by coach Tom Coughlin for his blocking.
Stat you should know: Eli Manning will be starting his 120th consecutive regular season game on Wednesday, which is the longest active streak in the NFL. He’s closing in on No. 2 on the all-time list, which is a spot currently held by his brother Peyton (208 consecutive starts).
Bulletin board quote: Cowboys owner Jerry Jones got things started by telling fans at training camp to come and watch his team “beat the New York Giants’ asses” in 2012. Giants LB Mathias Kiwanuka (groin, probable) responded by telling WFAN’s “Boomer and Carton” show that “it’s gotta be tough on the outside looking in on all these championships lately.” As combative as Jones is known to be, he did admit this in an interview with USA Today, “I agree with him."
Looking ahead: The first half of the Giants' season is considerably easier than the second half, so home games against the Cowboys, Buccaneers (Week 2) and Browns (Week 5) as well as a road game against the Panthers (Week 3) are really must-win games. And, of course, it’s the Cowboys -- and the Giants always have a reason to beat them.
Prediction: Giants 34, Cowboys 21