The 2012 season ended in Week 17 for the Dallas Cowboys, on Sunday night, in the last game of the regular season. Dallas had a chance to earn a ninth win, the NFC East title and a ticket to the playoffs. It wasn't even close. The Giants handled them, a speed bump on the way to another Super Bowl win.
The last time the Cowboys played postseason football was the 2009 season. This year, Jason Garrett's second full season as head coach, is supposed to be different than the last. It started off well enough with an opening weekend win over the Giants. After that, Dallas lost three of its next four, finally squeezing out a win last week in Carolina. The Giants have lost once in five games since then, looking every bit like the defending champion.
Meet the Cowboys
Sure, there are 52 other players on the Cowboys' roster, but how do you talk about this team without first mentioning Tony Romo. This season, we've seen good Romo and bad Romo. He threw for 307 yards and three touchdowns in that Week 1 win over the Giants, on the road no less. In Week 4, he did more to help the Chicago Bears scores with five interceptions, than his own team. Last week against the Panthers was his first game this season without an interception. The quarterback America just doesn't understand has five games in a row versus the Giants with a 100-plus quarterback rating.
The defense will be a different group without linebacker Sean Lee, who led the team with 36 tackles and had emerged as the pivot point for the entire unit. DeMarcus Ware continues to terrorize opposing quarterbacks with 6.5 sacks this season, including two against the Giants in Week 1. Dallas signed cornerback Brandon Carr to a mammoth free agent deal and traded up to the sixth spot in this year's draft to nab LSU corner Morris Claiborne. Carr has been mismatched against most No. 1 receivers with the rookie encountering the usual hurdles that come with being a first-year corner.
Meet the Giants
This is the same Giants team that won the last Super Bowl, a group that somehow seems to find ways to win no matter the circumstances. Eli Manning leads the league with 2,109 passing yards. Even with super stars succumbing to injuries on and off through the season, the Giants have been able to get big contributions from their role players. Former Dallas tight end Martellus Bennett is getting the break he never got behind Jason Witten, already setting a new career best with 305 receiving yards.
Established stars and unlikely heroes are also making a big difference on the other side of the ball. Safety Stevie Brown has three interceptions, two since taking over for the injured Kenny Phillips. Jason Pierre-Paul is off his pace from last year, but leads the team with 4.5 sacks. Three of those sacks have come over the last two games, and the entire team found its sack groove over that same stretch with a total of nine.
Also worth noting, the Giants are 3-0 at the new Cowboys Stadium.
Local Takes: Cowboys
The folks over at Blogging the Boys lay out the stakes in no uncertain terms:
Romo has faced an uphill battle in terms of poor protection, an often non-existent run game and frequent botches by his receivers, but he still hasn't approached the overall level of play that defined most of his 2011 campaign. If he doesn't play at that level on Sunday, we lose.
Local Takes: Giants
Big Blue View identifies the key matchup for the Giants in this one:
Ware is the Dallas defender the Giants have to control, and Dallas will move him from side to side, challenging both Beatty and Locklear. The Giants have surrendered just one sack in four games, and keeping Ware out of Eli Manning's face will be critical on Sunday.
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@Blogging the Boys – SB Nation Cowboys blog
@BigBlueView – SB Nation Giants blog
@JennyVrentas – Giants beat writer for the Star-Ledger
@Clarencehilljr – Cowboys beat writer
Dallas is the picture of mediocrity this season, barely getting by Carolina last week. Nevertheless, the intensity of this rivalry makes it likely that this game will be a much tighter contest than it should be. Tony Romo went all last week without an interception. Historically, he has played well against the Giants, too, with a rating north of 100 in his last six against Big Blue. Dallas is 34-8 when Romo finishes a game with a QB rating of 100 or better.
The pick: 30-27, Cowboys
The spread is about as tight as it gets for this one, with the Giants favored by a point. More odds and lines information is available at Oddsshark.
Dallas packs up for a trip to Atlanta, the middle of a tough three-game stretch that will reveal plenty about the Cowboys' postseason worthiness. The Giants open the second half of the season hosting the Pittsburgh Steelers.