For the Cowboys...
A lot of this is just conventional wisdom and nothing new to most here, but here's some of the keys for the Cowboys that I'll be looking for in the game.
- O-line. As noted by Dr. Z, Flo completely shut down Osi in both earlier games. If he does the same again and Colombo can handle Strahan, or Flo's work allows extra help on that side, then Romo should be in good shape. And can they open holes for the ground game? This is the key upon which all others depend.
- Romo's mind. Is he in rhythm with his receivers, and accurate? Is he making his reads and seeing the coverage? Does he avoid mistakes? Having good protection, as above, will help a lot. But it will come down to his focus and execution. Also, how early he gets his rhythm; through much of the season he started slow and then found the rhythm in the second or third quarter, and really turned it on in the second half. Can he turn it on right out of the gate? Or, if he does get behind, can he maintain his composure and come back like he has so many times this year? (A certain girlfriend whose name I think I have yet to type into a comment is, I believe, a complete non-factor in this.)
- Passing Game: T.O./Glenn/Crayton/Witten & Co. Having T.O. even close to full health changes the entire dimension of the game, opening up the run and other receivers, and we saw what he did against the Giants previously. But for me, the big x-factor of this game is Glenn - the Giants don't have game tape to see how he works in this offense this year, and if he is performing anywhere near his potential, especially with his vertical speed, that is one huge weapon that the Cowboys didn't have in the previous meetings (when we put a combined 76 points on the board without him), opening up the run even more, opening up other receivers even more, and/or making some big plays of his own. Crayton and Witten were both also big in previous meetings, and with Glenn in the mix should have big days as well, finding the open spots in the middle and underneath that are forced open by T.O. and Glenn and play-action. On top of all that, Dockery is out and Madison and injured; the Giants' secondary is not nearly at full capacity.
- Running game: Barber, especially now that he's starting, but also Jones. One of the things I think the Cowboys lost in the last quarter of the season was the balance with the run. With all the weapons for Romo to throw to, they should be able to pick up some good yards on the ground, which will in turn loosen up the play-action even more. And of course the checkdowns and screens to the backs could also be key. Then once they get a lead, they can pound it out and control the clock, like they did during the first half of the season. Finally, the emotional factor of Barber's enthusiasm and intense and physical style can be a real spark for the team.
- Defense. I think the Boys will put up a lot of points again, in the range of what they did previously. Obviously, we just have to keep the Giants to less. Can we get pressure on Eli and make him lose his composure, and force mistakes? Can T-New or A-Hen or K-Ham take advantage of mistakes? Can Reeves cover Burress effectively when he gets matched up, and especially avoid giving up long plays? Shockey is out, but Boss is huge and can use his size to get position on the ball; Williams had trouble with Shockey, can he handle Boss? Can the secondary make effective tackles and minimize the RAC. Can the front seven shut down Jacobs up the middle and Bradshaw around the ends or cutting back against the grain?
- Special Teams. Can Folk be his usual clutch self? Can McBriar pin the Giants deep when needed? Might Miles run for miles and miles?
- Play Calling/Game Plan. Having met each other twice already this year, and knowing each other so well, both teams will surely put in some new wrinkles on their play calling on both sides of the ball, bring out some new plays, try to hide their intentions and do some unexpected things to create confusion and get advantageous matchups. To see what Garrett especially pulls out of the bag will be interesting to watch.
Those are some of the things I'll be looking for.