WHAT: Dallas Cowboys (8-7) at New York Giants (8-7)
*WHEN:Sunday, 7:30 p.m. (CT) WHERE:MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J. TELEVISION: NBC (Al Michaels, Chris Collinsworth)
Josh: For the Cowboys, I think one has to really wonder about Terence Newman against Hakeem Nicks. Newman has had his problems over the last month or so, with Nicks definitely getting the better of him when they were matched up in Week 14, going off for a 163-yard day. The Cowboys have rarely done this over the years, but I think it might be worthwhile to move Mike Jenkins, the corner who is playing the best this year, wherever Nicks goes. Of course, Victor Cruz and Mario Manningham can beat you, too.
Nick: I'll take the obvious one. The Cowboys were crushed by Giants' pass-rusher and kick-blocker extraordinaire Jason Pierre-Paul in the first game. So obviously, all eyes will be fixed on him, especially when he's facing left tackle Doug Free, who didn't have his best game in the last meeting. Free has been one to battle against some of the best rushers in the game. He'll be challenged in a huge way this week and how well Romo's blind side is protected should be a big storyline.
Rob: Quarterback Eli Manning wants to get down the field, and he'll have a much better opportunity if the Giants can run effectively and get in favorable down and distance. Call the matchup Brandon Jacobs vs. Sean Lee, but really it'll take the entire Cowboys front seven against Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw, who returned from a broken foot Dec. 11 at Cowboys Stadium and has looked better each week since.
- Don't Forget ...
Josh: Ahmad Bradshaw had almost no impact on the game for the Giants three weeks ago, as he was coming off an injury and saw his playing time slashed by a curfew violation. It didn't end up hurting New York, because Brandon Jacobs had a nice outing, but their backfield is more loaded than the one the Cowboys were exposed to in Week 14. Bradshaw had only 19 total yards in that game.
Nick: While the most talked about injury has been the right hand bruise of quarterback Tony Romo, let us not forget the quarterback of the defense has been rather ill the last two days. While a flu-bug might sound minor compared to ACL tears or broken collarbones, it'll likely affect Sean Lee's stamina for this game, especially if he's not 100 percent. Lee did practice on Friday but it won't be surprising if he's not at full strength.
Rob: Lot of talk about the Cowboys' mental toughness this week, specifically how much grace they show under pressure. They're 8-7 overall and 4-5 in games decided by a touchdown or less. The Giants? They're 8-7 and 5-3 in games decided by a touchdown or less. Both teams have won and lost some close ones. They're essentially coin flips in this league, and that's why both teams are in this do-or-die situation.
- Cowboys Win If...
Josh: Their quarterback has to outplay New York's quarterback. That simple. Of course, there's more to it than a simple one-on-one, because the two defenses have an effect on how well the quarterbacks play, along with the respective offensive lines, running games and receiving corps. But big games are where quarterbacks make their reputation. If Romo can outgun Eli Manning, the Cowboys have a great chance. I don't see any chance to win if he isn't better than Manning.
Nick: If the Cowboys can hold Eli Manning to an average-at-best game, they've got a good shot. Not saying they have to pick off Manning four times and sack him six or seven more, resulting in a poor game for the Giants' QB. But just prevent him from going completely off on the secondary. If that happens, it forces other weapons, especially the ground game, to try and beat them. That should be enough to offset what the Cowboys do offensively.
Rob: Tony Romo has time and Eli Manning doesn't. It's really that simple. Both quarterbacks were really, really good last time around, and the one with the cleaner pocket probably will make more plays. An extra possession created by the defense might mitigate whatever home-field advantage the Giants have Sunday.
- Giants Win If...
Josh: It's hard not to think back and compare this game to 2008, the last time the Cowboys and a division opponent faced off in a win-and-you're-in scenario. That matchup was against the Eagles, and of course things sort of snowballed on the Cowboys in the first half of that one. It emphasizes to me the importance of the Cowboys getting off to a good start. If New York is able to get a lead early, maybe go up a touchdown that the Cowboys can't answer, I think things could spiral out of control again. The crowd, I'm sure, will be in a frenzy at the beginning.
Nick: If Brandon Jacobs is running more than just his mouth. If his play backs up his motor-mouth, then it will be a long day for the Cowboys, who allowed 101 yards to Jacobs in the first game. While having Ahmad Bradshaw helps the Giants on offense, Jacobs is the guy who seems to hurt the Cowboys more than any other back. If Jacobs is a big factor again, it means the Giants are keeping the ball, grinding the clock and punishing the Cowboys' defense in the process.
Rob: These teams have a lot of the same strengths and weaknesses. The keys are similar for New York. Can they run the ball, as mentioned before, and keep Eli Manning away from DeMarcus Ware and Jay Ratliff? The noise factor gives the Giants a better chance to rush the quarterback and take pressure off their secondary, which has allowed too many yards all year long.
- Gut Feeling
Josh: I picked the Cowboys to win nine games at the beginning of the year, so I guess I'm sort of obligated to go with them this week. That's fine. This is a coin flip game, I think. I haven't had a great feel for who will win, one way or the other. But I do believe in the message Jason Garrett has had for his players all along, and I think it'll serve the team well in a game like this. Should be a good one.
Nick: Based off Josh's logic, I guess I should stick with my preseason pick, too. I had the Cowboys going 8-8 and missing the playoffs. But, that was my gut feeling back in late August. This is my gut feeling now. And for some reason, over the course of the season, I just see this team making the playoffs. Not saying they're overly deserving to be there, but when I see them play and what they've done this year, I just vision them in the playoffs for some odd reason. And I say "odd" because the Cowboys have only beaten one team with a winning record all year and if they knock off the Giants, it will knock them to just 8-8. But my gut says the Cowboys play better when they're counted out and the Giants falter when expectations rise again. Give me Dallas with no fingernails to spare.
Rob: In August I picked Dallas to go 9-7 and be in the playoff mix. Gotta stick to that. This team has competed hard enough all year long and played well enough at times to be NFC East champions. If they can outlast the Giants in a hostile environment, in a must-win situation, then they're well deserving of a playoff berth. If they don't, then their inconsistency at points throughout the year will have come back to haunt them. Finally, we'll have some clarity about a topsy-turvy and highly entertaining season.