Rare does a mid-November matchup featuring two non-winning squads own the pizzazz or enticement to merit must-see theater. It’s equally infrequent to see the NFC East, historically known as one of the more puissant divisions in football, reduced to the laughingstock of the league.
Not to say it’s lacking in spirit or competiveness. As Philadelphia sits atop the standings with a 6-4 mark, even the lowly Washington ball club, they of a 3-7 record, is very much a part of the playoff conversation. This up-for-grabs environment renders this Sunday’s Giants-Cowboys affair all the more important, and serves as our FOX NFL Game of the Week.
Along with the release of terrible Vince Vaughn movies and aimless debates over the merits of the BCS, New York heating up following a stumble out of the gates has become one of my favorite holiday traditions. This year’s revival started earlier than usual, with the Giants entering as winners of their last four contests. Of course, the sooner-than-expected hot streak was needed in the worsts of ways, given New York’s six-game slump to start the season.
Yet this recent fortune begs the question: have the G-Men exhausted their strength just to reach this juncture? I know this sounds like the B.S. you often hear on sports talk radio, but considering the Giants have pontificated, and rightfully so, the importance of hitting one’s stride during their Super Bowl runs, it’s a fair debate. Keep an eye on this situation in the upcoming weeks.
Matchup Watch: Giants defense versus Tony Romo
In its past four victories, the New York D has surrendered a meager 47 points. The front seven is holding the opposition to 98 yards per contest (seventh-best in the NFL) and the secondary has been just as stout, stifling passing games to 6.5 yards per attempt (fifth-lowest in the league).
This defensive aptitude will be put to the test against an explosive Cowboys strike. Under the direction of Tony Romo, the Cowboys are posting 27.4 points per game, fifth-best in the NFL. Most of these feats can be traced back to the 33-year-old arm, who’s enjoying a career-year with 21 touchdowns (third-most in the NFL) with a modest six picks. Romo’s excelled this fall in spreading the pigskin around, as Dez Bryant, Jason Witten and Terrance Williams have each been targeted 50-plus times on the season. As the rookie Williams further assimilates into the offense, one could make the case that the aerial assault has never been better in Romo’s eight-year tenure as Dallas starter.
In this rivalry’s first bout, Romo emerged victorious, hitting 73.5 percent of his targets for 263 yards and a touchdown. For the Giants to come out on top, Romo will need to be hassled early and often.
Spotlight: Eli Manning
One development that has spurred the Giants’ turnaround involves the play of Eli Manning. The two-time Super Bowl MVP was abysmal during the six-game drought, hitting just 53.7 percent of his intended targets with 17 turnovers versus nine scores. While he hasn’t been finding the end zone at an elevated rate in the past month (three touchdowns in last four games), he’s at least curtailed his security issues, losing the rock only twice in this span. Combined with his improved rapport toward his receiving corps (63 completion percentage), Manning has gone from team detriment back to his normal role as leader of the offensive attack. Facing the league’s worst defense (Dallas is relinquishing a league-high 439.8 yards per game) should extend this prosperity; nevertheless, Manning did toss three turnovers the last time this teams met, putting Eli front and center in this battle.
Welcome back, Rudolph!
The Giants’ winning ways, coupled with an Indian summer, has put Tom Coughlin in a relatively tranquil state in the past few weeks. Look for that to change on Sunday, as this bi-annual tug-of-war always seems to elicit Coughlin going ape$#%& on officials and players. Toss in a cold, rainy forecast and that means – that’s right – the return of the Coughlin super-red nose! Truly a sign that the holidays are around the corner.
The Giants win if…
Manning keeps the turnovers to a minimum, Andre Brown gets it done on the ground, Romo throws one of those debilitating late-game interceptions that leads to a week’s worth of, “Is Romo an ELITE QUARTERBACK?!?!?!?” discussions that makes you want to scratch your face off…
Prediction: Giants 23, Cowboys 20
Joel Beall is a writer for FOXSports.com and WhatIfSports.com. He lives with a Golden Tee machine and a jump shot that’s currently broken. Reach Joel on Twitter @FOXSportsBeall