The Giants.com staff debates Big Blue topics as the Giants get set top face the Cowboys:
Janoris Jenkins vs. Dez Bryant is the matchup to watch this week.
JOHN SCHMEELK: Fact: I thought about doing something like, "The Cowboys offensive line vs. the Giants defensive line," but I thought it was a bit of a cop-out because it isn't an individual matchup. If the Giants do win that battle up front, however, they should win the game. Jenkins did an excellent job against Bryant in their two matchups last year. Bryant, however, had a completely healthy offseason for the first time in a couple years and he should be at his best on Sunday night. He came on strong at the end of last season once his foot got healthy. Bryant is the Cowboys' big play threat through the air, and if Jenkins can handle him man-to-man with limited help, it will allow the Giants to assign a safety to help against the run.
DAN SALOMONE: Fact. On Sunday night, like it does every game, the game plan starts with stopping the run. But the Giants were so effective last year, particularly against the Cowboys, because they also shut down one of the biggest playmakers in the NFL. Jenkins helped limit Bryant to just two catches for 18 yards, one of which he forced Bryant to fumble.
LANCE MEDOW: Fiction: Last season, Janoris Jenkins was very effective against Dez Bryant as he had just two catches for 18 yards in both games combined. Despite Jenkins containing Bryant, both contests were decided by a total of four points, and that's a reflection of both teams having numerous weapons on both sides of the field. How the Giants' linebackers and safeties defend running back Ezekiel Elliott and tight end Jason Witten is worth watching, but that involves a variety of personnel as opposed to one specific matchup, so the most intriguing head-to-head battle will be Jason Pierre-Paul against Dallas right tackle La'el Collins, who has moved from left guard to take the place of the retired Doug Free. Collins has started 14 games over his first two seasons with the Cowboys and played tackle at LSU, but this will be his first campaign at that position on the NFL level. Given how effective the Cowboys' offensive line has been over the last few seasons, it's a matchup worth keeping an eye on throughout the game.
Shane Vereen is the X-factor for the Giants on Sunday night.
JOHN SCHMEELK: Fiction: I'm going to go with Evan Engram. Given the Cowboys' issues in the secondary, I would guess they are going to try to avoid putting their corners into man-to-man situations without help over the top. That means that their safeties will be less apt to patrol the middle of the field against Engram. In man-to-man situations, I would expect Engram to be matched up with Cowboys safety (and converted cornerback) Byron Jones. Jones is an excellent cover safety against tight ends, and his matchup with Engram will be the first of many between the two over the next decade.
DAN SALOMONE: Fact. I think he's an X-factor for the season. Look at the effect of him not being on the field last year because of injuries. There were a lot of reasons the Giants' offense didn't kick into gear in 2016, and Vereen's absence is near the top of the list. He's a mismatch, a safety valve for Eli Manning, and a huge part of the two-minute offense.
LANCE MEDOW: Fiction: Shane Vereen played in both games against the Cowboys last season and compiled six carries for 38 yards and four receptions for 33 yards. He actually did not run the ball the second matchup. While Vereen's return from injury will provide the Giants with another option out of the backfield, I think tight ends Rhett Ellison and Shane Smith will serve more as potential x-factors than Vereen. After Will Johnson was placed on injured reserve before last year's 53-man roster was finalized, the Giants didn't carry a fullback on the roster. If you recall, Brett Jones filled that role on the Giants' final drive of the game against the Cowboys in Week 1 and helped the team put together a seven-play, 40-yard drive that ate up nearly three minutes and was highlighted by several key Rashad Jennings' runs. Ellison or Smith could very well provide the same type of impact on a handful of plays in Sunday's game.
Dak Prescott is the best opposing quarterback in the NFC East.
A look at the expected starters for the Giants' opener in Dallas
JOHN SCHMEELK: Fiction: By the end of this season, this might turn into a "Fact" but for now, Kirk Cousins is the correct answer. Cousins has had seasons like Prescott had last year a couple years in a row, and does not have the running game to help him move the ball the way Prescott does. I am not a believer in the sophomore slump, and I think Prescott will have a good season (although I do think it is natural to expect his interception total to increase). Giants fans should be prepared to play against him for a long time.
DAN SALOMONE: Fact: There seems to be an expectation that Prescott, a Pro Bowler and the 2016 AP Offensive Rookie of the Year, is going to drop off this year. But I don't really get that. He still has three All-Pros blocking for him, and as a rookie, he trailed only Matt Ryan and Tom Brady in passer rating. He threw just four interceptions last year – four.
LANCE MEDOW:: Fiction: The Redskins' Kirk Cousins deserves the label of best opposing quarterback in the NFC East, but he essentially wins the debate by default. Dak Prescott and Carson Wentz both have a lot of upside, but it's a bit of a stretch to argue either one of them is the best opposing quarterback in the division when they both have played just one season in the NFL. Cousins is far more polished and proven. Since taking over as the full-time starter in 2015, he's thrown for 54 touchdowns with 23 interceptions, at least 4,100 yards in each campaign and has completed nearly 70 percent of his passes. Cousins has been one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the NFL during that span.
The Giants will have more sacks than touchdowns against the Cowboys.
JOHN SCHMEELK: Fiction: The Giants scored just four touchdowns in their two games against the Cowboys last season. Three of those came in the season opener, with their only score in the December matchup being the 61-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown by Odell Beckham Jr. The Giants were just 2-of-14 on third down and missed a bunch of opportunities for more big plays (as I detailed here that they failed to convert. If the Giants can run the ball with some success and get into third-and-reasonable down-and-distance again, they should score more touchdowns than they get sacks. Getting sacks against the Cowboys is tough, too, by the way, given their offensive line and Dak Prescott's mobility. The matchup to watch there is Jason Pierre-Paul against La'el Collins, who is getting his first start at right tackle as a pro. Left guard is also a position on the Cowboys' offensive line the Giants might be able to take advantage.
DAN SALOMONE: Fact: All football norms go out the window when you're trying to predict Giants-Cowboys. I could see this game turn out to be 41-35 just as easily as 10-7. So I'm just going to hedge my bet and stay with the defense on this one. Jason Pierre-Paul and company already look like they're in midseason form, and the unit has emphasized starting faster this season. Then again, the statement didn't specify "offensive" touchdowns. Maybe the defense gets one, like it did three times in the preseason.
LANCE MEDOW:: Fiction: I'm going for the fiction sweep this week, as I disagree with all four statements. Last season, the Giants sacked Dak Prescott three times in two games with all three coming in the second meeting. The Cowboys have one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, and last season, it finished tied for seventh in the league in fewest sacks allowed (28). While there have been some changes to that unit, Dallas still showcases three Pro-Bowlers on the line and Prescott is a mobile quarterback. I think there's a much better chance the Giants find the end zone more often than they sack Prescott.
Keep an eye on these five players in the Giants' regular season opener Sunday night