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Cowboys host rival Giants Sunday night
By: Staff Writer - StatFox
Published: 9/7/2017  at  2:14:00 PM
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Kickoff: Sunday, 8:30 p.m. ET
Line: Dallas -3.5, Total: 47

For the third-straight season, Week 1 features the Giants and Cowboys renewing their rivalry in Dallas.

In 2016, the Giants spent big in free agency to bolster their defense. The investment paid off, and the NFC’s top scoring defense led the way to an 11-win season. QB Eli Manning had a lackluster year and needs to make fewer mistakes under pressure if New York is to contend for a Super Bowl trip. His offensive line is weak, but superstar WR Odell Beckham has a significantly better supporting cast than he did last year. The Giants defense wasn’t up to the task against the Packers in the Wild Card Round of the playoffs, but more often than not was the reason why the Giants won. The defensive line and secondary are full of Pro Bowl talent. When QB Tony Romo fractured his back in the preseason, the 2016 Cowboys playoff hopes took a major blow. Developmental rookie QB Dak Prescott took the reins and unexpectedly led Dallas to a 13-2 record, clinching homefield advantage (and allowing starters to rest in Week 17). Dallas lost a 34-31 heartbreaker to the Packers in the Divisional Round of the playoffs, and enter 2017 without the services of All-Pro RB Ezekiel Elliott. Prescott’s ability to improve from a steady game-manager to a star playmaker may determine the Cowboys’ 2017 fate. Dallas’ defense excelled last season, led by invaluable LB Sean Lee, but lost a ton of secondary talent and still lacks a consistent pass-rush. Dallas has hosted New York in Week 1 each of the past two seasons, with the Giants covering the spread both times. The Giants won both meetings with the Cowboys in 2016 despite being underdogs in both games. The Giants have a 17-8-2 ATS advantage in this rivalry since 2004 (Manning’s rookie year), though New York is 4-12 SU & 4-11-1 ATS as a road underdog of 5 points or fewer since 2012. Dallas is 18-11 SU & 10-19 ATS as a home favorite of 7 points or fewer since the start of 2011, and 6-6 SU & 4-8 ATS against division opponents over the past two years. For New York, WR Odell Beckham (ankle) and CB Eli Apple (ankle) are questionable. Because of suspensions, Dallas will be without DEs David Irving and Damontre Moore, while middle LB Anthony Hitchens (knee) is out for at least the first half of the season.

Giants QB Eli Manning (4,027 yards, 26 TD, 16 INT) is entering his fourth year in head coach Ben McAdoo’s West Coast passing system. He wasn’t sharp most of last season, often wilting in the face of pressure. While the offensive line remains suspect, Manning will have better weapons at his disposal in 2017. WR Brandon Marshall (59 receptions for 788 with NYJ) is the new No. 2 passing option, while first-round draft pick TE Evan Engram should contribute as a rookie. They should relieve some of the pressure on WR Odell Beckham (101 receptions, 1,367 yards, 10 TD), who faced relentless defensive attention last year when he was by far the best player on the offense. After injuring his ankle in the preseason, Beckham is questionable for this game - if he’s out of the lineup, it’s hard to imagine New York consistently moving the ball. The running game is an afterthought (88 rushing yards per game, 29th in the NFL), likely to be led by second-year RB Paul Perkins (618 yards from scrimmage). The Giants held opponents to 15 points per game in the second half of last season, thanks in part to coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s expert game-planning. S Landon Collins (100 tackles, 5 INT, 4 sacks) is a playmaker whose coverage deficiencies are masked by the excellent CB combo of Janoris Jenkins and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. 350-pound DT Damon "Snacks" Harrison and stout edge-setting DE Olivier Vernon were key components to a run defense that held opponents to 3.6 yards per rush (2nd in NFL). Vernon (8.5 sacks) and DE Jason Pierre-Paul (7 sacks) are a potent edge-rushing duo, but the linebacking group is short on athleticism.

The story of Dallas’ offseason was RB Ezekiel Elliott’s (1,994 yards from scrimmage, 16 TD) suspension after an All-Pro rookie season. The ground game will obviously drop off without him, but RBs Darren McFadden and Alfred Morris (both of whom have 1,000-yard seasons in their past) should have some success behind the league’s most dominant offensive line. Thrown into the fire as a fourth-round draft pick, QB Dak Prescott (3,667 yards, 23 TD,4 INT, 6 rushing TD) exceeded all expectations as a rookie. Whereas Prescott could be conservative and thrive off the attention paid to Elliott last year, he may need to take more chances and make plays in tougher spots than he did last season. WR Dez Bryant (50 receptions, 796 yards, 8 TD) looks to bounce back from a personal down year in which the Cowboys used his downfield skills less often, while slot WR Cole Beasley (75, 833, 5) and TE Jason Witten (69, 673, 3) provide steady options on short passes. Dallas' defense was the NFL's best against the run last year (83.5 yards per game) with All-Pro LB Sean Lee (93 tackles) plugging the middle. The Cowboys lost three key contributors from the secondary this offseason (S Barry Church and CBs Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne), leading them to draft four DBs in April and sign backup-level free agents CB Nolan Carroll (formerly with Philadelphia) and S Robert Blanton (Buffalo). Top CB Orlando Scandrick self-reports as fully healthy after tearing an ACL in 2015 and dealing with injuries to both hamstrings last season, and athletic S Byron Jones (67 tackles, 10 passes defended) is a moveable chess piece. The pass-rush lacks star power but has depth, including first-round draft pick DE Taco Charlton.

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