Under 3 hours to kickoff. We don't know if Jason Witten is in or out. All the hype (outside Eric Mangini) is in favor of the Giants. Giants are at home, confident in their abilities, and ready to get amped up from the unveiling of their Super Bowl banner. Super Bowl champs are 8-0 in this new prime time format, and I think undefeated this century. It doesn't matter.
I believe the Cowboys can and will win for several reasons.
1. This is not an end of the season game. At the end of the season, the Cowboys are typically in melt-down mode. Last year, Kyle Kosier was finished. Montrae Holland tore a tendon in his arm. Doug Free was whupped. DeMarco Murray was on the shelf. The Giants were just getting started. So you can throw out the end of the season game when assessing the comparables for this game. In the other game, it would have gone to OT but for the blocked re-kick at the end of regulation.
2. In the offseason, the Cowboys got a lot better. Cowboys added two new cornerbacks, a new safety, a much faster interior linebacker, and more depth to the front 7. This new defense, which had time to learn from not only Rob Ryan but Jerome Henderson, is not going to let Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz torch them the way they did last year. And the front 7 isn't likely to let the Giants gash us on the ground.
The Cowboys also switched out 4 of the O-line positions that caused those problems at the end of last year, and added Bill Callahan to make the unit work. Bernadeau is much younger, bigger, stronger and more agile than Kyle Kosier. Livings is also bigger and younger than Montrae Holland. Tyron Smith is on the left side, where the Giants had such success, and Free is on the right side where he's likely to get more TE help and Romo can see what's coming. As much as I've ragged on the Cowboys for not doing more to address this critical area of the team, the line will be much better than the Week 17 line that let Romo get sacked 6 times. If we can keep it to 3 sacks (or less), which is what it was in the first game last year, the Cowboys offense can function.
Murray will also play in this game. One of the reasons the Giants could key on Romo in Week 17 was Murray was on the bench. We also have Lawrence Vickers leading the way on many plays. (Is he our best FB since Moose?) The Cowboys will be able to run the ball tonight. It doesn't hurt that the Giants interior D-line is basically all backups.
The Cowboys are not better everywhere. Laurent Robinson will be missed. Bennett's blocking could be missed. But, overall, the Cowboys are vastly better, mostly because of their defense. Sure there will be first game jitters and mistakes, but expect the game to settle down early enough so that's not a huge factor.
3. The Giants didn't make nearly the same improvements. Their best addition is probably David Wilson, the RB from VT. He could be dangerous. If we don't tackle, he could break a long run. But otherwise, the Giants are not better in any area. Their defensive front is thinned out without Canty and Rogers and another D-tackle I can't name. So they are weaker up the middle. One of their CBs is a 5th year guy making his first start. They are missing their starting LT. Mario Manningham is gone as third WR. Brandon Jacobs is gone. I think this team will run the ball better than last year with the faster Wilson, but I don't see a stronger team. It's not the team that went on a Super Bowl run last Winter.
4. Dez Bryant is ready. In the Jets game last season, Dez Bryant basically took us down the field for an opening TD. The Jets had no answer. The problem was, he disappeared after that. This season, Dez Bryant is not going to disappear. I expect Bryant to be the kind of difference maker for us that Nicks and Cruz were for the Giants last year. Even if the Giants swing safety help to his side, I expect him to be a huge part of our offense. Bryant is my X factor in this game.
5. Turnovers should favor us. It is very hard to predict turnovers. But with Brandon Carr and Mo Claiborne, the Cowboys have two CBs who can pick the ball. And because they are likely to press the receivers, there is likely to be more opportunities for picks as Manning tries to fit passes into tighter windows. Bruce Carter also gives us much more speed inside, which also should lend itself to tighter coverage. I expect the Cowboys to win the turnover battle tonight by at least one. This is my Y factor.
Just under two hours to kickoff.
Cowboys 27, Giants 20.