THE GAME: The Giants (0-0) at the Dallas Cowboys (0-0) at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas on Sunday, Sept. 11 at 4:25 p.m. ET
THE WEATHER: Warm and humid with temperatures around 90s, or perhaps a lot nicer inside if Jerry Jones closes the roof.
WHAT IT MEANS: The Giants have lost five straight season openers, including three against the Cowboys. Of course, one of those season-opening losses (at Washington) was in 2011 and they won the Super Bowl that year, so who knows what that means? A fast start against a division opponent would be a real nice way to kick-start the Ben McAdoo Era, though, and calm the nerves of their playoff-starved fans.
PLAYER TO WATCH: WR Victor Cruz. He may not be the most significant player in this game, but it will be his first game in 23 months and the first real chance to see how far he's come from the knee and calf injuries that ruined his last two seasons. It will be emotional for him, even though it seems most likely his action will be at least a little limited. Odell Beckham is the man in the Giants' offense and Sterling Shepard is the No. 2. But if Cruz is really back, look out.
MATCHUP TO WATCH: Olivier Vernon and Jason Pierre-Paul vs. the Cowboys' offensive line. I know, everyone is more worried about the Giants' offensive line, but the Dallas line might be the best in football and the Giants' strategy will surely be to find a way to put big-time pressure on Cowboys rookie quarterback Dak Prescott. Vernon was given a mint by the Giants to do that, and to draw some attention so JPP can get through on the other side. Maybe this isn't a fair test, but it's a big one for the Giants' new-look defense. If defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo can find a way to get pressure through this offensive line, maybe the golden coaching touch he once had will really be back.
THE PICK: The Cowboys have a great offensive line, a top receiver in Dez Bryant, the best rookie running back in Ezekiel Elliott and that would normally be enough for Tony Romo to light up the scoreboard. But of course, there is no Romo. There is the rookie Prescott. Granted, he's had an outstanding summer, but he's still a rookie forced into his first start and facing perhaps the best defense and pass rush the Giants have put on the field in four years. Spagnuolo is clever enough to keep mixing things up to keep the pressure on the kid and keep him confused. Worse for the Cowboys is the fact that their defense has no pass rush, and several of their top defenders are suspended (see below), so they can't take advantage of the Giants' biggest weakness - the offensive line. It all points to a big advantage for the Giants and a tough spot for the Cowboys' rookie. I know the Giants' offense looked terrible this summer, but don't buy that. Eli Manning and Beckham will be hard to stop and the Giants will score. … Giants 27, Cowboys 17.
BEHIND ENEMY LINES
Here's a quick look at the Cowboys through my three-question interview Charean Williams, the NFL columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. You can follow her on Twitter at @NFLCharean, and read her coverage of the Cowboys and the NFL at star-telegram.com/sports:
1. Dak Prescott has looked fantastic this summer, but he's still a rookie. Is there reason to believe he can avoid rookie struggles and really fill Tony Romo's shoes?
Charean Williams: The Cowboys have a belief and a confidence in their locker room that they didn't have last season when Tony Romo was injured. Sure, they said all the right things last season, but they lacked confidence in Brandon Weeden, Matt Cassel and Kellen Moore. The Cowboys were only 1-11 without Romo last year. Prescott acts older than his age and his experience. He has taken a command in the huddle. Yes, he is going to have rookie struggles. They all do. But the Cowboys believe with their running game, their offensive line and their receivers, including security blanket Jason Witten and a healthy Dez Bryant, that they can win without Romo. If they start out with two division losses, though, expect that confidence to disappear. It will be, "Here we go again!"
2. How badly is the Dallas defense hurt with Demarcus Lawrence, Randy Gregory and Rolando McClain on suspension?
CW: The Cowboys defense wasn't good to begin with, and it's even worse without three starters. McClain likely never plays for this team again, but the Cowboys expect Lawrence and Gregory to contribute this season. Until then, where does the pass rush come from? They had only 29 sacks two years ago, and 31 last year. They could have less this season. I dare you to name a defensive end on the Cowboys' active roster. What they did in 2014 that they didn't do in 2015 was produce turnovers. That will be key for this unit.
3. Even with that great offensive line, the Cowboys' rushing attack took a big tumble last year without DeMarco Murray. Will it rebound behind Ezekiel Elliott?
CW: The funny thing is the players still voted Darren McFadden their offensive MVP last year. But you're right: The Cowboys running game with McFadden was not the same as with Murray the previous season. They had an almost perfect 50-50 balance in 2014 when they went 12-4. They hope for that same balance this season, which is why they drafted Elliott. Whether it's Tony Romo or Dak Prescott under center, the Cowboys will attempt to establish the run and control the clock, keeping their defense off the field.