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Fact or Fiction: Keys & predictions for Week 15


The Cowboys' defense is a bigger challenge than their offense

John Schmeelk: Fact - This would have been crazy to say when the Giants traveled to Dallas in Week 5, but the Cowboys' defense has become more dangerous while their offense isn't quite as explosive as it was earlier in the season. The Dallas defense has created the second-most takeaways in the league and is healthy with DeMarcus Lawrence, Randy Gregory and Micah Parson all on the field. Meanwhile, their offense is missing starting left tackle Tyron Smith, could be without running back Tony Pollard, Ezekiel Elliott is playing hurt, and Dak Prescott has not played as well since returning from calf injury in November.

Dan Salomone: Fact – And that's saying something, considering the offense ranks near the top in most major categories. The defense, though, has been the game-changer for Dallas this year. The Cowboys lead the league in interceptions and rank second in total takeaways, giving their potent offense extra opportunities.

Lance Medow: Fiction - Dallas' defense has been impressive this season as that group is opportunistic (27 takeaways, including 20 interceptions) and has received reinforcements DeMarcus Lawrence, Randy Gregory and Neville Gallimore over the past few weeks. But it's hard to put that group ahead of an offense that is more than capable of lighting up the scoreboard. The Cowboys are second in the NFL in scoring offense (averaging 29 points) and total yards (409) and fourth in passing (281 yards) despite the fact that Dak Prescott and Co. have been a bit inconsistent over the last few games. Nonetheless, this offense puts a great deal of stress on opposing defenses because you need to account for several different players, given Prescott won't hesitate to spread the wealth.

Matt Citak: Fiction – The Cowboys' defense is undoubtedly a lot better than last year, as the addition of Micah Parsons and the rise of Trevon Diggs has helped give the unit a significant boost. But let's not get it twisted, the Cowboys rise and fall with the play of their offense. Dak Prescott has led Dallas to becoming the league's second-highest scoring offense, with the unit gaining the second-most yards on the year, as well. Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard offer perhaps the best 1-2 punch out of the backfield in the NFL, while you'd be hard-pressed to find a WR group better than CeeDee Lamb, Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup. The defense deserves its recognition for having the best-third down unit in the league, but dealing with the Dallas offense is a bigger task.

Micah Parsons is the Cowboys' best player on either side of the ball

John Schmeelk: Fiction – He's not quite there … yet – that title should be reserved for either Tyron Smith or Zach Martin, two perennial All-Pro offensive linemen. And Dak Prescott is a Pro Bowl quarterback with three legitimately dangerous wide receivers who can consistently beat 1-on-1 coverage. It's also important not to forget edge rushers Randy Gregory and DeMarcus Lawrence or defensive back Treveon Diggs, who leads the NFL with nine interceptions.

Dan Salomone: Fiction – Although he has fallen a bit off the pace of Night Train Lane's record 14 interceptions in 1952 (in just 12 games), cornerback Trevon Diggs is still putting up historic numbers. He has nine interceptions – two of which he returned for touchdowns – with four games to go. Remember, defense is a two-way street. What Diggs is doing in the back helps Parsons up front.

Lance Medow: Fact - Parsons has certainly distinguished himself on the defensive side of the ball. He already broke the franchise's single-season rookie sack record and is a very strong candidate to win NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and Player of the Year for the first time since Lawrence Taylor accomplished that feat in 1981. Parsons is an extremely disruptive player, who can impact the game in several different ways. He leads the team in sacks (12), quarterback hits (27), tackles for loss (17) and is tied for the lead in forced fumbles (3). No surprise, in Week 5 against the Giants, he topped the team with eight tackles (six solo) and three QB hits. The Giants need to be aware of Parsons at all times because defensive coordinator Dan Quinn constantly moves him around to maximize Parsons' value.

Matt Citak: Fact – The Cowboys have some very talented playmakers on their offense. But what Micah Parsons has done in his rookie season indicates he's easily the team's best player on either side of the ball. In 13 games, he has 12 sacks, 17 tackles for loss, 27 quarterback hits and three forced fumbles to go with his 75 total tackles. As if that wasn't enough, his 83.9 overall grade and 92.7 pass rush grade are both the highest among NFL linebackers. Parsons has not only locked up NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, but he is also one of the favorites to win Defensive Player of the Year. The only player in NFL history to win DPOY as a rookie? Pro Football Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor – and this should tell you everything you need to know.

View photos from practice as the Giants prepare for their NFC East matchup against the Cowboys.

Saquon Barkley is the X-factor for Sunday

John Schmeelk: Fiction - Let's go with Micah Parsons. The way the Cowboys can deploy him all over their defensive front allows them to dictate how their opponents set up their pass protection and could change this game. If they can manufacture 1-on-1 matchups for him against the Giants' interior offensive linemen and running backs, it could be a long day in pass protection. Barkley will be an X-factor in pass protection, and in the run game to keep the Cowboys and Parsons out of obvious blitz situations.

Dan Salomone: Fact – With Daniel Jones still sidelined, the playmakers need to help out backup Mike Glennon and possible third-stringer Jake Fromm.

Lance Medow: Fiction - The bigger X-factor is the entire Giants' secondary. With the status of several players up in the air due to COVID-19 protocols, how that group performs will tell an awful lot as to how the game plays out. The Cowboys rank fourth in the NFL in passing yards per game and Dak Prescott has three wide receivers that can easily take over. Moreover, both running backs are threats to catch the ball out of the backfield. The Giants were plagued by missed tackles in their first matchup this season against Dallas in Week 5, the secondary is the position group to watch.

Matt Citak: Fiction – Barkley had his second-best game of the season last week against the Chargers. He averaged 4.0 yards per carry, gaining 64 yards on the ground, while adding 31 receiving yards and a receiving touchdown. Yet the Giants still fell to the Chargers by 16, and that was after they added two late touchdowns with the game already out of reach. This might seem like an obvious pick, but Mike Glennon has got to be the X-factor on Sunday. When filling in for the injured Daniel Jones back in Week 5 against the Cowboys, Glennon completed 64.0 percent of his passes for 196 yards, one touchdown and two picks. In order to keep up with the Dallas offense this weekend, Glennon is going to have to step up and have one of his strongest games. If he can move the ball down the field efficiently and not turn over the ball, the Giants have a chance to pull off the upset.

If the Giants hold the Cowboys to under 100 yards rushing, they will win the game

John Schmeelk: Fiction - The Cowboys have lost four out of their last five games in which they failed to rush for 100 yards. With that said, are there scenarios where the Cowboys rush for 80 yards and Dak Prescott throws for 300+ where they win the game? Absolutely.

Dan Salomone: Fiction – It certainly helps. In their nine wins this season, the Cowboys averaged 32.9 carries for 154 yards with 10 touchdowns. In their four losses, they averaged 17.5 rushing attempts for 71 yards with just one touchdown. But it's not the be-all-end-all. The Cowboys can beat you a lot of ways, and the Giants have struggled to score points. 

Lance Medow: Fiction - In Week 8, the Cowboys beat the Vikings without Dak Prescott and only ran for 78 yards. In Week 13, the Giants held the Dolphins to just 68 rushing yards yet still lost. Those are just two examples as to why that one statistic alone won't necessarily dictate the outcome. Although the Cowboys ran for 201 yards against the Giants in Week 5, Prescott still threw for 302 yards and three touchdowns. Dallas has proven this season it can win in a variety of ways so the run game alone won't tell the whole story, regardless of the outcome.

Matt Citak: Fact – The Cowboys have one of the best rushing attacks in the NFL this season. Their 128.5 rushing yards per game ranks sixth, along with their 4.6 yards per carry. Dallas has failed to top 100 yards on the ground in five games this season, including all four of their losses. Tony Pollard missed last week's win over Washington, and although he was limited at practice on Thursday, it's clear the young back is not 100 percent healthy. The Giants have held five opponents to under 100 rushing yards this season, and if they can make it six on Sunday, they will have a good chance at securing the win over their division rival.


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