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Fact or Fiction: Cowboys' biggest threat on Sunday? 

1) Wide receiver Amari Cooper is more of a threat than running back Ezekiel Elliott on Sunday.

John Schmeelk: Fact – With Elliott’s snaps and touches likely limited after missing all of training camp, Cooper will be the bigger threat. He is Prescott’s go-to receiver and run-after-the-catch target. Prescott’s play improved after Cooper arrived mid-season last year. In his 11 games with Cooper (including two playoff games), Prescott threw for 272 yards per game, completed 66.7% of his passes, and threw 16 touchdowns to only five interceptions. In last year’s Week 17 matchup against the Giants, Cooper caught only five passes on eleven targets for 31 yards. He was matched up primarily with Janoris Jenkins, who held Cooper to no yards after the catch. On the other side of the field, Michael Gallup is emerging as a deep threat, but Cooper is still the one player the Giants will need to control if they want to win.

Dan Salomone: Fact – Dak Prescott averaged 274 passing yards per game over the final nine weeks of the 2018 regular season with Amari Cooper on the team. In his career, Prescott is 9-0 in the regular season when throwing for at least 274 yards, including road wins at the Giants in 2017 and 2018. He is 23-16 otherwise as a starter.

Lance Medow: Fiction – Amari Cooper is capable of going off and having a big game as he showed in the second half of last season after he was acquired from the Raiders, but Ezekiel Elliott is the key component of the Cowboys’ offense because so much they do is set up off the run game and the offensive line. Zeke has led the NFL in rushing in two of the last three seasons, and he led the Cowboys in receptions (77) in 2018, so he’s just as much a threat in the passing game. If Elliott gains momentum and rhythm, he can single-handedly wear down an opposing defense thanks to his physical style of running. That’s why he’s a bigger threat than Cooper.

2) How the Giants’ offensive line performs is what you are most interested to see in live action for the first time.

Schmeelk: Fiction – This is very, very close, but I am going to go with the Giants pass defense. I am anxious to see how the offensive line holds up against an athletic, fast and aggressive Cowboys pass rush, but I am more interested in seeing how the pass defense performs. It starts up front, where the pass rush will be matched up against one of the best offensive lines in football. Either Markus Golden or one of their first- or second-year players need to emerge as consistent pass rushers this season. In the secondary, the Giants will play young defensive backs. Antonio Hamilton has only 67 defensive snaps over the course of his career. DeAndre Baker, Julian Love and Corey Ballentine are rookies. Grant Haley has 10 games on his NFL resume. They will need to limit the number of mistakes that young defensive backs often make.

Salomone: Fact – This is what general manager Dave Gettleman has worked towards since his first day on the job. Building a roster, particularly an offensive line, is an ongoing process, but this figures to be the strongest unit Giants fans have seen in years. That’s on paper, of course. Now they have to go out and prove it for 60 minutes against a live defense. 

Medow: Fiction – Don’t get me wrong, the play of the offensive line is critical, but I’m more interested in seeing how the defense performs. The Giants made several changes on that side of the ball this offseason and are now relying on a few new veterans and several young players. Who’s going to do the heavy lifting in the pass rush department? How effective will this group be in stopping the run? And will a young group of corners rise to the occasion on a consistent basis? Those answers will start to emerge starting Sunday.

3) Tight end Evan Engram will lead the Giants in receiving yards for the first month of the season.

Schmeelk: Fact – The Giants play some good defenses in the first month, including the Bills and Cowboys, both of whom have talented cornerback corps. It might be difficult for Sterling Shepard to have big games, which means Engram will have to be the focus. While the Cowboys might have the best and fastest set of linebackers in the league, they still shouldn’t be able to cover Engram down the field. He has the chance to be a breakout star this year, and I think he takes advantage of it early in the season.

Salomone: Fiction – I think it will be close between him, Sterling Shepard and even Saquon Barkley, but I’ll go with the wide receiver of the bunch. Shepard has been “groomed,” as he has said, to be a No. 1 target. The Giants certainly believed in him enough to give him a contract extension this offseason. Pat Shurmur has preached the need to start fast, and I think Shepard does that in the first month. The opportunities will be there.

Medow: Fact – There’s a good chance he will lead the team in receiving yards the entire season. Engram is entering his third year in the league, a potential breakout campaign for many receivers and tight ends. With Golden Tate suspended for the first four games of the season, the Giants will be leaning heavily on their former first-round pick, and if the last four games of the 2018 season are any indication, Engram could wind up leading the team in several receiving categories across the board.

4) The newcomer who will make the biggest impact this season is versatile safety Jabrill Peppers.

Schmeelk: Fiction – Peppers is an excellent player and his impact will be felt, but it is Kevin Zeitler who will have the biggest impact. A guard? Yes. Zeitler is so consistent that he will positively impact both center Jon Halapio and right tackle Mike Remmers. There were far too many free-runners and fast pressure from the right side of the line early last season, and Zeitler will prevent that in 2019. Barkley should also have far more room in the backfield and less penetration behind the line of scrimmage. It will have a domino effect on the entire offense.

Salomone: Fact – The mix of established veterans and young up-and-comers has brought a good energy to this roster, especially on defense. At one safety spot, you have a three-time Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champion who has played more than 200 games in Antoine Bethea. At the other, there is Peppers, a New Jersey prep legend and former first-round draft pick about to make his Giants debut. The stability that Bethea brings to the back end of the defense will allow Peppers to roam around and make plays all over the field. Additionally, he looks to make an impact as a punt returner.

Medow: Fiction – In our most recent Cover 3 feature, we were asked to make bold predictions, and I focused on newcomer Antoine Bethea, who I think will lead the team in tackles and opportunistic plays. There’s no reason for me to start singing a different tune now. While Peppers’ versatility adds a lot to the roster, between Bethea’s consistency over the course of his career, leadership in the locker room, and knowledge of the defense, he’ll be the newcomer that has the most significant impact this season. A lot of what Bethea brings to the table doesn’t just show up on the field but, most importantly, behind the scenes.

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