Today is the day. The NFL is back. And as is the tradition, the Super Bowl Champs open at home, as the New York Giants host the Dallas Cowboys. For the Cowboys, they return to the scene of the crime from last year, where their season ended in heartbreak, getting manhandled 31-14 by the eventual champions, and missing out on the playoffs. I am glad to finally see the Cowboys in the opener, but I think I speak for all Cowboys fans when I say that I wish they were the home team. Because that would mean that the Cowboys would be defending champs.
But let’s not put the cart before the horse. There have been interesting developements during the past week that will greatly affect the outcome of this game. From injuries to history to offseason upgrades (or downgrades) to replacement refs, tonight’s game will have so many subplots, that it would take a week to address them all. So here we will just key in on the main points.
First, let’s examine the injuries. The Cowboys know they will be without NT Jay Ratliff, who is still nursing a high ankle sprain. Jason Witten, the primary offensive weapon for the ‘Boys, is also expected to miss tonight’s game, as is Mike Jenkins. Miles Austin and Dez Bryant are both expected to play.
The good news for the Cowboys is that the Giants might even be worse off. Hakeem Nicks is slated to play, but Prince Amukamara, Michael Boley, and Will Beatty are all expected to miss the game. That affects the secondary, the front seven, and the O-line of the Giants. That could bode well for a porous offensive line that the Cowboys will be putting out there, and the absence of Amukamara miught open a few things in the passing game.
Let’s not ignore history though, especially recent history. The Giants are heavily favored, and with good reason. They have beaten the Cowboys in 7 of their last 9 games, with the general trend being that the first meeting is a close game, followed by a blowout in the second meeting. The Giants also have won all 3 games in Cowboys Stadium since its opening in 2009, but since the game is in the Meadowlands, this statement is only relevant in showing how dominant the Giants have been against the Cowboys. Since 2000, the Cowboys are 4-8 in season openers. For half of those 8 losses, the Cowboys had a losing record that year, and never had a winning record when losing those 8 openers. Contrarily, when the Cowboys have won the opener since 2000, they have finished with a winning record.
The Cowboys are 5-0 against the Giants in openers, with the most recent being a 45-35 victory in the 13-3 2007 season. The Giants also have sacked Tony Romo 22 times in 13 games. With a banged up O-line for the Cowboys, it will come as no shock if that number goes up even more.
Offseason moves will also factor into this game. It is no secret that the Cowboys have upgraded their secondary, and with the performance of the defense in the offseason, the ‘Boys have a reason to be optimistic. The Giants also have upgraded their offense, adding David Wilson in the draft. There is no Brandon Jacobs in NY either, which is a good thing for the Cowboys. And with Demarco Murray finally healthy, maybe the Cowboys can have some semblance of a run game and take pressure off of Romo.
Finally, there is the issue of replacement refs. Granted, ESPN’s Adam Schefter revealed that the best of the replacement refs will work tonight’s game, but that just means it’s the best of the worst that will be out there. It’s still not quality referreeing. And if anyone has been paying attention to the preseason, we have seen some pretty bad calls already.
Overall, for every point I made about the Cowboys, I was able to make one for the Giants. There is no reason, with the teams as presently constituted, to believe that the Cowboys can win this game. Sure they can make it close, and I would like to see them win it, but until the Cowboys can prove they are the better team, I can’t pick them. I also think the absence of Jason Witten will be a bigger deal than everyone wants to admit. This game will just be a bump though to what I think will be a great season for Dallas.
Prediction: Giants, 27-24.