(TSX / STATS) — In what is becoming a rite of September, the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys will face each other at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, on Sunday night to open the season for the third straight year.
They split the previous two season openers, but it’s difficult to put a value on how much winning the clash means. In 2015, the Cowboys won, but neither team went on to make the playoffs. Last season, the Giants won, then the Cowboys didn’t lose again until December, when the Giants completed the season sweep with a home victory. No matter, Dallas still won the NFC East.
Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott both started as rookies for Dallas a year ago. They made their presence felt as Prescott passed for 3,667 yards and 23 touchdowns and Elliott led the NFL with 1,631 rushing yards.
But now the usual hype that surrounds training camp has been buried under a mountain of Elliott news as he and the NFL Players Association have battled the league in court over a six-game suspension. Elliott was suspended for violating the league’s personal-conduct policy in relation to a domestic violence case.
The Elliott saga continued Tuesday as the NFL’s arbitrator upheld the suspension. But Elliott will be allowed to play against the Giants on Sunday night because he filed a temporary restraining order against the league; the deadline for that decision is 6 p.m. ET Friday.
The NFL will allow Elliott to play Sunday and, theoretically, serve his suspension from Week 2 to Week 7. That would avoid giving either team a competitive advantage in Sunday night’s Cowboys-Giants game.
“(Elliott) seems very focused, locked in on meetings, the walk-through,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett told the media on Wednesday. “We’ll have a good practice today. He’s done an excellent job in his preparation.”
In New York, there are questions about whether the Giants’ brightest star, wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., will play. Beckham has been spotted riding a stationary bike and jogging, though not participating in full practices, this week. He injured his left ankle in a preseason game against the Cleveland Browns on Aug. 21.
On Wednesday, Beckham said there’s a chance he’ll play vs. the Cowboys, despite the fact that the Giants officially listed him as “did not practice.”
“I wouldn’t count it out,” Beckham said. “My heart’s just not gonna make this easy.”
Even if Beckham doesn’t play, Giants quarterback Eli Manning has plenty of weapons to use against the Dallas defense. New York added wide receiver Brandon Marshall and drafted tight end Evan Engram, boosting an offense that averaged 330 yards per game last season.
While the Giants have been coy about Beckham’s status, coach Ben McAdoo struck a bold note as he emphasized his team’s need to stop the Cowboys on the ground.
“All backs run the same when there’s nowhere to run,” McAdoo said, referring to the Cowboys’ evolving situation at running back.
If anyone in the league can tough-talk a Cowboys team that averaged 376 yards per game last season, it’s the Giants. New York held Dallas to 260 yards in defeating the Cowboys 10-7 in December. Furthermore, Cowboys star receiver Dez Bryant caught just two passes for 18 yards in two games against the Giants in 2016.
The Giants’ secondary’s success against Bryant has been a talking point this offseason. The Cowboys’ receiver traded barbs with Giants cornerback Janoris Jenkins on Twitter, adding intrigue to Sunday night’s rematch.
All of it should make for a good show. But if the last two seasons have taught us anything, it’s that the opening act can be deceiving.