WHAT: New York Giants (6-6) at Dallas Cowboys (7-5)
*WHEN: Sunday, December 11, 7:30 p.m. (CT) WHERE: Cowboys Stadium, Arlington, Texas
TELEVISION: NBC (Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth and Michele Tafoya)*
Josh: Let's see what second-year backup New York center Kevin Boothe has for Jay Ratliff. The Giants' starter, David Baas, is out, and Boothe has been filling in while he deals with intense headaches. Ratliff has been very disruptive this year, and can probably handle Boothe most snaps, but it's likely the Giants will try to help out their sixth-year fill-in as much as possible.
Nick: Even without injured pass-rusher Osi Umenyiora, the Giants are tied for fifth in sacks and one of the reasons is Jason Pierre-Paul, who ranks third in the NFL with 10.5 sacks. The former first-round draft pick has been quite a fill-in and offsets Justin Tuck on the other side rather nicely. Left tackle Doug Free has had a few troubles this year, and obviously expectations with a new contract have raised the bar. Free didn't play his best game Sunday in Arizona and it will be interesting to see how he responds against a speed rusher like Pierre-Paul.
Rob: The Giants' receivers are as good as any group the Cowboys have faced all year. Cornerback Mike Jenkins paid Hakeem Nicks a high compliment by comparing his physical skills to Dez Bryant. Nicks' combination of size, speed and strength makes him the toughest cover for Jenkins and the Cowboys' corners, who must limit the Giants' big plays downfield. Pressure on quarterback Eli Manning will help.
- Don't Forget...
Rob: The Giants' secondary just can't catch a break. Having already lost Terrell Thomas and Bruce Johnson for the season and having played without first-round cornerback Prince Amukamara for much of the year, starting safety Kenny Phillips is doubtful this week with a knee injury. New York is leaking passing yardage (260.3 per game, fourth-most in the league) and are simply running out of healthy bodies back there.
Josh: The Giants are ranked a measly 32nd in rushing, dead last in both yards per carry and yards per game. But as Rob Ryan said on Friday, they're better than that. The offensive line has been beat up a bit, and the running game has especially been missing Ahmad Bradshaw. While his rushing average is a career-low 3.9 yards per carry, it's well above the overall team average of 3.3. He's missed four games this year, but is back this week.
Nick: This one sounds silly, but don't forget the Giants haven't won a football game since Nov. 6. They've lost four straight games for a reason. Sure, the division games are always close. Not predicating a blowout here and not trying to overlook the quality teams New York has played of late, but they haven't won. They are playing losing football. I say this because there is a feeling around here that the Cowboys just can't beat these guys, even though they handled them pretty nicely with a 1-7 record last year. Sure, the Giants can be scary good at times, but they've been scary awful of late.
- Cowboys Win If:
Nick: Pretty simple "IF" on this one. If the Cowboys can run the ball, they'll win. The Giants really don't have a great defense, but they can get after the quarterback. One way to offset that is to hand the ball off. If Murray and Jones can get even a decent running attack going against the Giants, it will force the safeties up in the box and that's really all that Miles Austin and Dez Bryant need.
Rob: The offense has pretty much proven it can move the ball week in, week out. Blame clock management or the defense for the Arizona loss if you want, but to me, the biggest problem was getting only 13 points despite reaching Cardinals territory eight times out of 11 possessions. Can't waste chances. These Giants can score.
Josh: New York is pretty good about getting after quarterbacks with only four guys rushing, and I think the key for the Cowboys this week will be whether or not they can protect Tony Romo. They couldn't against Arizona, and Romo was forced to make some miracle plays with his feet against Washington and Miami. If he can make guys miss and create plays downfield, they'll be in good shape, or even better, if the tackles win their battles with New York's great edge rushers.
- Giants Win If:
Josh: For three weeks we've seen the Cowboys secondary look suspect against average-or-worse quarterbacks, but this week they're running into the real deal in Eli Manning, and he has some very good receiving options with Hakeem Nicks and the emergent Victor Cruz. If Manning and his pass-catchers are able to do what they please against the Cowboys' cornerbacks, the Giants quarterback will go to 3-0 in Arlington.
Nick: If the Cowboys can't get consistent pressure on Eli Manning, he has the ability to pick the defense apart. Rob Ryan's style of play generally gets pressure, but at what cost? If Manning gets on a roll, then it could be a shootout and he's proven to be tough in those situations.
Rob: This won't be the only factor, but the Giants can protect their depleted secondary if they get pressure from Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck and Co. without having to sell out blitzing. Lost in all those passing yards New York allows is the defense's 33 sacks this season. They get after quarterbacks.
- Gut Feeling
Rob: Success hasn't come very easily for the Cowboys all season. Is it really possible that they essentially wrap up the NFC East with three games left? I've had this feeling for weeks that the division would be decided Jan. 1 in New York, and the Giants likely must win Sunday to make that game relevant. All that being said, this is no throwaway game for Dallas, either, and they've got a great opportunity on offense with Miles Austin and Tony Fiammetta getting healthy. Just can't let Eli Manning beat them deep.
Josh: With two teams that appear to be pretty even and within the division, we tend to pencil in a home win for both of them, but it's never that simple. I think you have to look at the way both teams have played recently. The Cowboys were extremely fortunate to beat Washington and Miami, and couldn't get away with their mediocrity at Arizona. The Giants have been losing, but were impressive in pushing the Packers to the brink last week. That has to remind you of their Week 17 thriller against the undefeated Patriots in 2007, when they went on to beat the Cowboys at Texas Stadium in the playoffs, and then win the Super Bowl. I don't think they're a Super Bowl team, but I do think it's easy to see they're playing better than the Cowboys right now.
Nick: I know the Giants have had success here the last two seasons and I also know they've played some pretty tough teams in the last four games. But to me, there are other reasons why they aren't winning games and the defense hasn't been so hot. With Austin and Fiammetta returning for the Cowboys, I think it makes them more balanced. And being at home, I see the Cowboys doing just enough to pull this one out.