At long last, football is back! The season officially kicked off Thursday night with the Lions beating the Chiefs, but the real season begins Sunday night with America’s Team. The Cowboys will head to New Jersey to take on the Giants, a foe who once seemed like an annual opponent in Week 1. In that regard, this feels familiar.
That said, these Giants are quite different from the Giants that faced the Cowboys in Week 1 six times out of eight seasons from 2012 to 2019. So, too, are the Cowboys for that matter.
In Dallas, Mike McCarthy is the boss, entering his fourth season as head coach. He got off to a rough start his first year, with a shortened offseason program due to COVID-19 and then losing Dak Prescott for the year. But McCarthy has rebounded nicely, winning 12 games in each of the last two years and making the postseason.
The change in 2023, though, is all about McCarthy. He took over offensive play-calling from Kellen Moore, who left for the same job with the Chargers. McCarthy called plays for all but one season in Green Bay, during which time he won 125 games and had his offense rank third in EPA/play and success rate. Sunday night will be McCarthy’s debut calling the plays for Prescott, who himself enters this season as the longest-tenured starting quarterback in the NFL. Expectations are sky high for both McCarthy and Prescott.
The Giants, on the other hand, are in an odd position. They welcomed in a new regime last year, plucking both head coach Brian Daboll and general manager Joe Schoen from the Bills. While both earned high marks for the staff they built that offseason, expectations were low once the season began. But Daboll surprised everyone by going 9-7-1 and making the playoffs, even upsetting the Vikings on the road in the Wild Card round.
That involved quarterback Daniel Jones putting up easily the best numbers of his career, which earned him a four-year extension in the offseason and marrying him to the Giants for the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, the explosive but oft-injured Saquon Barkley was hit with the franchise tag and, after a bit of a holdout, agreed to a one-year deal to keep playing for Big Blue. Elsewhere, the Giants focused on upgrading their pass catchers for Jones by trading for tight end Darren Waller, signing receiver Parris Campbell, and drafting receiver Jalin Hyatt.
The Giants are no longer in rebuild mode. Daboll’s overperformance last year has changed the trajectory. But both Daboll and Schoen recognized that last year’s team - which ranked 23rd in total team DVOA - got a little lucky. They need their offseason additions - on both sides of the ball - to pay off in a big way if the Giants are to make the playoffs again in 2023.
Their schedule will be harder, though, and it starts off with the Cowboys. Dallas swept this team last year with two different starting quarterbacks, and the Giants as a franchise haven’t beat Prescott since his rookie year, all the way back in 2016. Since then, Prescott has faced four different head coaches and it hasn’t made a difference for the quarterback.
On the other hand, McCarthy is 0-3 in Week 1 since arriving in Dallas. That’s not the norm, as McCarthy went 9-4 in Week 1 when he was with the Packers. But McCarthy hasn’t faced the Giants in Week 1 yet, instead facing three different teams (the Buccaneers twice, as well as the Rams) that reached the playoffs later that year.
McCarthy will be aiming for his first 1-0 start with the Cowboys, and he’ll be doing it against a team over which he boasts a career record of 9-3, not to mention having a quarterback who has more or less owned this franchise. None of that means it will be easy, as last year’s Giants had a league-best 13-4 record against the spread. In other words, they were anything but an easy out.
That said, this is the first test for the Cowboys new-look offense under McCarthy’s watch, and it comes on the road against a division rival. Getting the win means more than just being 1-0, as it gives them an early leg up in the divisional race. On paper, they have the talent to secure this win, but any Cowboys fan worth their salt knows that’s not enough.