The New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys kick off the 2012 NFL season in exciting –and abnormal—fashion on Wednesday night at MetLife Stadium. For the Giants, the opener is the start of a title defense sure to captivate fans as they strive to be the first team to repeat as NFL champions since the New England Patriots in 2003 and 2004. For the Cowboys, the game marks an opportunity to open their season with a statement victory against the champs.
After two late-season matchups changed the landscape of both teams’ seasons dramatically in 2011, these two teams clash in the NFL’s opening game with an opportunity to set the tone for their entire season. Recent history tells us that this game will be a high-scoring fireworks show, where the minimal defense that is seen will be game changing.
Both teams are battered by injuries and scrambling for answers. The Giants are without cornerback Prince Amukamara (leg, questionable), and linebacker Michael Boley (hamstring, probable) is unlikely to see the field either. Meanwhile, the Cowboys will play without nose tackle Jay Ratliff and Jason Witten is a good bet to sit out as well due to a ruptured spleen suffered during the preseason that has kept him sidelined.
Both sides boast hampered wide receivers—the Giants with Hakeem Nicks and the Cowboys with Dez Bryant and Miles Austin—but they are expected to be available and contributing.
The Giants should be concerned as they enter this game with six-year veteran Michael Coe manning the cornerback spot opposite Corey Webster. Coe has never started an NFL game and will have a target on his chest from the first whistle blown. It’s no accident it took three injured players ahead of him (Terrell Thomas, Amukamara and Bruce Johnson) to thrust him into this role and there is no question Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo will look to expose him in the passing game.
To alleviate much of the pressure Coe is faced with, the Giants will need to showcase that amazing pass rush that has been so highly touted this offseason and disrupt the flow of the Cowboys’ offense. Fortunately, the Cowboys’ offensive line is a major concern heading into this season.
Can that questionable offensive line handle the Giants’ feisty three-headed monster of Jason Pierre-Paul, Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck? Much to Romo’s dismay, the Giants have had substantial success in the past getting after him. In 13 games since Romo took over as the starting quarterback for Dallas in 2006, the Giants have sacked him 22 times.
On offense, the Giants could have their hands full.
DeMarcus Ware continues to be one of the most dominant pass rushers in the NFL. He would like nothing more than to rip through that Giants offensive line and start his season off on the right foot with a dominant performance driving Eli Manning into the turf all night long. With an improved Cowboys secondary, he could find his night a little easier than usual, but it will not be easy for that secondary unit to account for the likes of Nicks, Victor Cruz, Domenik Hixon, Martellus Bennett and anyone else Manning chooses to shuffle into the mix.
Manning has had some of his best days against the Cowboys in recent years and last season was no exception. In two games against the Cowboys, Manning passed for 746 yards, five touchdowns and just one interception while guiding Big Blue to two big victories—one of which was a fourth-quarter comeback that left Dallas stunned.
The running game for both teams is a question mark. Neither team was fantastic rushing the football last season—the Giants finished dead-last—but they have solid backs that could impact the game dramatically. The youngsters—David Wilson for the Giants and DeMarco Murray for the Cowboys—are certainly two players to keep an eye on this game.
Meanwhile, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has been stirring the pot for a month, doing his best to hype the media while making himself look like a bit of an idiot in the process. Nonetheless, you can’t fault the beloved owner for wanting to “beat the Giants’ ass.” The Giants have taken five of the last six from America’s Team and—what likely burns Jones to the core most—have made three Super Bowl appearances with two victories since the Cowboys last won during the 1995 season.
Like most meetings between these two teams, the NFL opener has the makings of an instant classic. Both teams are so evenly matched, it’d be easy to call this one either way. The Giants are riding high off their Super Bowl win, but there’s nothing more the Cowboys would love than to knock Big Blue right off their precious pedestal. Unfortunately, that fearsome pass rush could prove to be a bit too much to handle for the suspect Cowboys offensive line.
Prediction: Giants 33, Cowboys 31