I’m getting a serious case of deja vu because the New York Giants travel to Dallas to take on the Cowboys to start off the NFL regular season.
Or maybe we’re in the football version of Groundhog Day.
Once again we have to ask whether or not the Giants will open the season with a win against division rival Cowboys. This game has a number of layers and storylines attached to it, from the state of the Giants’ offensive line, to whether the offense has changed now that it will run through Saquon Barkley and Evan Engram, to how Sterling Shepard will deal with being the team’s “number one” wide receiver, to how the the Giants’ young and revamped defense will deal with the Cowboys’ offense.
I believe this game will ultimately come down to which team is able to win the line of scrimmage and effectively move the ball. A year ago the Giants’ pass rush was one of the worst in the league until Olivier Vernon returned from injury, and even then struggled to capitalize on pressure. The Cowboys’ offensive line is back to full strength while the Giants have a reworked defensive front seven and questions at pass rusher. If those questions are going to be answered positively, it would be a resounding success for it to happen against Dallas’ offensive line.
There is also the question of how the Giants’ young and almost completely rebuilt defensive secondary will hold up. They face a tough test in Amari Cooper, who’s addition to the Cowboys’ roster half-way through 2018 helped Dak Prescott play like a top-10 quarterback. We should look to see if the Cowboys try to force DeAndre Baker to cover Cooper -- the savvy and athletic veteran receiver would be a very difficult first match-up for the rookie cornerback.
Ultimately the Giants have a fair number of moving pieces that have to mesh and young players who have to deal with a learning curve as they enter the NFL. They might get traction sooner rather than later, but I don’t think it happens in the first game of the season.
Pick: Cowboys 27, Giants 21
For 2019, the Cowboys are a reoccurring favorite to win the NFC East, for very good reasoning. Dallas owns one of the best defenses in the league that features a tandem of the best young linebackers in Jaylon Smith and Leighton VanderEsch. With Ezekiel Elliot and Travis Frederick back, their run game will be very hard to slow down.
The Giants are in a very difficult position to win their first football game. They have an offensive line with two new faces and a defense painted with first and second year players. A team this young will take some time to get its feet underneath it, and the Cowboys are not an opponent they can work out the kinks against.
Pick: Cowboys 24, Giants 13
Yeah, yeah, it’s another regular-season opener on the road against Dallas, a place where the Giants haven’t won since September 2016.
The Giants, who are looking to snap a five-game losing streak to the Cowboys, have rebuilt their defense with a mixture of former Cardinals veterans and draft picks.
While there is promise with this unit, it also didn’t get many live game reps during the summer together and, as we saw at least in the beginning, there were some communication issues that needed to be worked out to prevent opponents from marching up and down the field.
While I have every ounce of confidence that this defense is going to be just fine, I think it’s going to take a couple of games for it to come together. Meanwhile, the Cowboys have Zeke Elliott in the fold (and yes, he’s going to play despite Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett’s attempt to be coy about his snaps), and long-time Giants thorn Jason Witten will be back as well.
My biggest concern is going to be left cornerback where the Giants say they’ll start either Antonio Hamilton, he of 25 NFL games and no starts (and of an adductor injury), or rookie DeAndre Baker, who continues to work his way back from a knee injury. (My guess, by the way, is Hamilton will get the start).
Put it all together, and I can’t honestly sit here and say I feel good about the Giants chances this week.
Pick: Cowboys 24, Giants 17
I still don’t think the Giants will win, but some good things will come from this loss. I think the Giants will mildly surprise with some offensive success outside of Saquon Barkley, while the defence will frustrate Kellen Moore’s offense at times. While the Cowboys are expected to produce big yardage with the likes of Zeke, Dak, Amari Cooper and the rest, I don’t see that happening during the first game against the Giants.
What I do see is James Bettcher’s defense holding the Cowboys in check in the passing game. Zeke will still get his yards though, and that should be the difference.
Pick: Cowboys 16, Giants 10
There are some reasons for optimism about the New York Giants as they enter the 2019 campaign. Rookie quarterback Daniel Jones had a strong preseason and is perhaps on his way towards proving doubters wrong. The team is entering its second year under Pat Shurmur and with familiarity brings success. Additions on the offensive line will help the offensive effort. New faces on the defensive side of the ball are bringing youth and energy to aid a unit that needed some new talent.
Yet the bulk of those reasons for optimism suggest future success, not immediate success.
Traveling to a stadium where they have not won since 2016, to face a team returning their star running back to the lineup, does not suggest immediate success.
Pick: Cowboys 24, Giants 14
Even if Ezekiel Elliott is on a pitch count, the Cowboys look very strong on both sides of the ball and could be a dark horse Super Bowl contender this year. In Dallas, they will quickly prove to be more than the Giants can handle even though several of New York’s young building blocks look to show up and perform well despite these adverse Week 1 conditions.
Pick: Cowboys 28, Giants 17
The Giants think they have improved, that they are on the right path. I think they might be right. A victory on Sunday would begin to validate those thoughts.
That, however, does not mean I’m ready to pick them to go into Arlington on Sunday and beat the defending NFC East champion Dallas Cowboys. I’m not ready to go there.
The Giants are going to have to prove to me that they are a good team before I start picking them to beat other good teams, especially on the road.
Pick: Cowboys 27, Giants 20