Game of the Week: Dallas 24 @ New York Giants 22
The Dallas Cowboys could be playing for the NFC East. The New York Giants could be playing for their playoff lives. Or they could just find themselves in a bigger cluster with five weeks to go.
With two games and one team – the Philadelphia Eagles – separating the Giants and Cowboys in the NFC East standings, playoff lives and seedings are certainly in the picture this weekend at the Meadowlands where two teams that have been on very different paths will collide for the second time this season.
The first time these teams met in Week 2, the G-Men won a classic division rivalry game 33-31 thanks to a late, game-winning field goal from Lawrence Tynes. New York’s passing attack proved to be the difference as Eli Manning threw for more than 300 yards and two touchdowns while Dallas’ aerial assault provided just 127 yards with a touchdown and three interceptions from Tony Romo.
Might a passing attack – perhaps the opposite one – take control again this time?
The Cowboys have put together one of the best offenses in the league, but it’s built on balance. Romo’s first game against the Giants was almost certainly his worst as he threw nearly half his interceptions on the season in that one game. He should go over the 3,000-yard mark in the second meeting with the Giants, especially if the Cowboys continue to maintain an average of 8.2 yards per pass attempt. But it’s the running game that often opens up the passing game. Dallas has a trio of running backs — Marion Barber, Felix Jones and Tashard Choice – who together help the Cowboys average more than five yards per carry.
But can the Cowboys stop Manning and the Giants this time around? Dallas’ defense, especially in stopping the pass, leaves a bit to be desired in terms of yards per game, but it’s taking teams a lot of passes to get to that point. Dallas is giving up just 6.7 yards per attempt, but is forcing teams into the passing game by stopping the run just as well. Opponents are averaging just 4.2 yards per carry and are averaging less than two touchdowns per game this season. Surprisingly, despite numbers like that, the Cowboys are still -3 in the turnover department and may need a key takeaway or two to stop Manning.
The Giants also look for a balanced offensive attack that hangs right around the top 10 in most statistical categories. Manning, battling through foot injury, has actually been more inconsistent than his counterpart though Romo seems to take more heat. The Giants average 7.6 yards per pass attempt but Manning failed to find the end zone in a game for the first time this season last Thursday in a loss to the Denver Broncos. But it’s New York’s running game that has been the true disappointment. Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs were supposed to be a two-headed monster, but have been scary in other reasons as neither of them averages above 4.8 yards per carry for a ground game that averaged just 4.3 yards per touch. And now, with Bradshaw out, the Giants are relying on Danny Ware.
While the Cowboys enjoy a +10 margin in terms of touchdowns, the Giants actually have a deficit when it comes to finding the end zone. Their defense had a hot start to the season, but has since slowed and fewer units have been more scrutinized than New York’s secondary, specifically its safeties. Yet after all that, the Giants actually boast one of the NFL’s top passing offenses when it comes to yards per game and they yield less than seven yards per pass attempt. And on the ground, they might even be better as they yield just 4.2 yards per carry.
With a two-point scoring margin in the first meeting this season, it’s easy to see why we could be in for another barn-burner this time around. Vegas has set the line at one-point with host New York being the favorite, but in 10,001 simulations, it’s Romo and the Cowboys that prevail 62.6% of the time by less than a field goal. With the total set at 45, the teams make the over better than 53% of the time.
In the end, it’s actually not either passing attack that makes the difference, it’s Dallas’ three-headed monster at running back taking care of New York’s less-than-fearsome twosome. The Cowboys rush for just 24 more yards on average, but average nearly a full yard more per carry. And while Dallas hadn’t found a consistent receiving threat at the time of the teams’ first meeting, Miles Austin has stepped up to be that guy as the Cowboys look to solidify their playoff chances.
Each Tuesday morning, WhatIfSports will preview every NFL game of the upcoming week. All of our NFL content, including our most recent power rankings are located here. The inputs to the 10,001 simulations of each upcoming game are based on a rigorous analysis of each team that considers strength-of-schedule-adjusted team and player ratings and then makes modifications for injuries and depth at each position. Check out WhatIfSports for the rest of the NFL picks for Week 13.