It's finally here: After a month-long training camp in Oxnard and four preseason games, the Cowboys open the season at home on Sunday Night Football against NFC East rival the Giants – the eighth Week 1 meeting between these teams with the Cowboys a perfect 7-0.
The Cowboys always expect a challenge from the Giants, however, and quarterback Eli Manning is 4-2 all-time at AT&T Stadium.
Here are the gut feelings from staff writers Bryan Broaddus, David Helman, Nick Eatman and Rob Phillips.
Bryan Broaddus: It was actually a blessing that Dez Bryant hurt his hamstring this year during training camp. I know that sounds strange to say being that Jason Garrett preaches how important it is for the players to practice, but in this case it allowed Bryant to focus on getting in shape. Bryant never had the opportunity to fully work with the team during his time away while dealing with his contract extension. Bryant, after working with associate athletic trainer Britt Brown the majority of camp, I feel like is in the best shape of his career. My gut feeling is that Bryant's most productive plays will come from opportunities where they use him out of the slot in order to put him in the best matchups. Dez Bryant ends up with eight receptions for 117 yards and two touchdowns in a Cowboys victory, 28-17.
David Helman: I'm almost always the pessimistic member of the staff when it comes to these predictions – I'm a glass-half-empty kind of guy, sue me. But I think that makes it pretty telling that I am all-in on the Cowboys in this season opener. I'm certainly not always going to feel so confident, given the difficulty of this schedule, but I think the Cowboys should win this one fairly easily. The Giants have a make-shift offensive line. Their best pass rusher and their most experienced receiver are both missing, and they're short on playmakers in the secondary. The Cowboys, meanwhile, are at full strength and will be playing in front of a playoff-caliber crowd. I think Dez Bryant is going to find the end zone, and the running backs – I don't care who starts -- will combine to rush for 130 yards. Eli Manning will have a nice night throwing the ball, but Dallas will win the turnover battle and post three sacks. The Cowboys win relatively comfortably – something like 38-24.
Nick Eatman: Wow, I can't believe it's that time again. My gut for this game has changed somewhat, just from the start of Friday morning to later in the day. On the "Cowboys Break" I predicted a 27-26 win for the Cowboys but I'm starting to see more of a controlled win for this team. Something about their Friday walkthrough gave more confidence in this team. I can see Joseph Randle getting the start and rushing for 122 yards with a score. Darren McFadden will have some nice plays but I think Randle will be the top back for this game. Look for Jason Witten to make a few nice plays as always and defensively, I'm predicting Sean Lee to get the first sack of the season. My crazy prediction is a missed extra point at some point in the game, and look for Dwayne Harris to hurt the Giants more than the Cowboys. Let me expand on that original prediction and say the Cowboys win this game by 11, instead of 1.
Rob Phillips: On paper, the Cowboys have more boxes checked than the Giants, meaning more returning players from 2014, fewer injuries, just overall fewer unknowns. The Giants are starting rookies at left tackle and in the secondary out of necessity. But having covered 10 of the 16 previous games between Tony Romo and Eli Manning, the Giants' quarterback usually brings it. He'll likely face pressure at times, but he has a knack of getting the ball of quickly or buying himself an extra second by stepping out of the way. Manning will make his share of plays in the game against a talented and prepared Cowboys defense, but I just have a feeling the Cowboys' running game will benefit from two things it didn't have in preseason: the entire starting offensive line and Dez Bryant on the field. Romo should look much more comfortable in this game than last year's opener when he showed rust coming off back surgery; he'll be turnover-free and approach the 300-yard passing mark. This could be the game the offense puts it all together now that they're at full strength, and if they do, they can outscore New York in an entertaining one. I'll take the home team Sunday night, 24-20.