FOX Sports Exclusive
Giants, Cowboys ready to roll
The preliminary rounds are over. The long, arduous journey toward opening night has almost been completed. You’ve watched countless hours of preseason football featuring players who may never step foot inside the white lines again. You just couldn’t get enough. Your thirst for the NFL cannot be quenched.
It’s time for the main event and the start of another glorious NFL season. The fantasy football draft season is in its final throes, as owners race to get one last shot at “the perfect draft” or the consummate quip to silence the members of their league. The countdown clock rapidly winds toward zero, and a kicker will take center stage.
Do you like how I worked a kicker into the mix?
Let’s get down to the heart of the matter. The return of regular season games means that it’s time to get back into the huddle with “Lineup Calls.” Each week, I’ll call out the good, bad and potential breakthroughs on the board, and we leave the obvious decisions by the wayside.
I’ll be back with a look at the balance of the Week 1 schedule later this week. For now, let’s concentrate our attention on the Wednesday night opener.
Play whoever is playing except for the defenses. I wouldn’t start either of these would-be top-10 units in Week 1.
How does that sound?
Seriously, the magnitude of this NFC East battle is overshadowed by two factors. First, we continue to watch the negotiation in the media between the referees and the NFL. Second, the injury list is extensive, something that the new CBA was supposed to curtail to a degree.
The Giants offense will seek to attack the retooled Dallas defensive secondary. The aggressive nature of Rob Ryan’s scheme is enticing, but we watched opponents pass the ball up and down the field, seemingly at will, often in 2011. Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr will try to stave off a huge Eli Manning performance. However, the absence of Jay Ratliff on the defensive front looms large.
As a result, I’m optimistic that Manning will be able to open things up downfield, even with Hakeem Nicks listed as “questionable.” Victor Cruz, Domenik Hixon and man-crush candidates Reuben Randle, Ramses Barden (6-foot-6) and tight end Martellus Bennett give Manning adequate depth if Nicks is slowed. Bennett is a sneaky spot start this week against this Dallas defense. As much as I like Randle, I need to see how many targets he logs before endorsing him in a standard league.
As for Manning, I hope he invokes his SNL performance following his first touchdown pass (he’ll have three) with a head lean and a wink while sticking out his tongue.
New York deploys a two-headed backfield once again. Ahmad Bradshaw has been cleared despite a hand injury, and rookie David Wilson turned heads in the preseason. Bradshaw runs well between the tackles (no Ratliff) and can do his own dirty work in the red zone, so he’s firmly entrenched in a second RB slot. Wilson’s speed and probable double-digit touch count makes him a sleeper in the Flex slot this week.
For the Cowboys, you have to be enamored by the downfield potential in the opener. Prince Amukamara and Terrell Thomas are both OUT, thereby causing owners of Tony Romo, Miles Austin and Dez Bryant to salivate at the prospect of running free and clear in the secondary. Of course, that would presume that Tony Romo avoids the ferocious New York pass rush. Romo averaged 305 passing yards with six touchdowns, two turnovers and nine sacks against the Giants last year.
Alas, owners of Jason Witten will be hard-pressed to join the celebration. Witten is headed to New Jersey for the game, but his status is still up in the air. Might he play and produce at a high level? It’s possible, but unlikely. There are plenty of tight end options to plug in this week.
You may want to get cute and pick a third Dallas receiver against this secondary (even those playing aren’t 100%). Don’t over-think it (Ogletree).
Finally, there’s DeMarco Murray. The Giants allowed 4.5 yards per carry last season, and defensive tackle Marvin Austin will be unavailable to the rotation. Murray’s big-play potential will be on display in what could be a wide-open contest.
Enjoy the shootout, everyone. You’ve waited long enough.
More Stories From Michael Harmon