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Giants Now: NFL.com's top matchups of 2021

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Giants-Cowboys makes NFL.com's top games of 2021

We are only a few days away from finding out when exactly the Giants will play each opponent during the 2021 regular season.

The schedule will be released this Wednesday at 8 p.m., but NFL.com is already looking ahead to some of the best games of the upcoming season.

NFL Network's Around the NFL writer Nick Shook ranked the top 10 games of the 2021 season, and coming in at No. 9 is the first showdown between the Giants and Dallas Cowboys.

As Shook writes, "This meeting is all about the returns. For the Giants, it's the return of Saquon Barkley following an ACL injury that ended his 2020 season prematurely. And for the Cowboys, it's the comeback of quarterback Dak Prescott, whose close to fully recovered from the devastating leg injury he suffered in Week 5. It's about getting down to business (especially now that Dak's handled his) for two teams that have the potential to make the playoffs this season.

Which team is closer to its goal? Which returning player ends up being more important to his team's fortunes? Is this NFC East rivalry about to be renewed with full strength in 2021?"

How tough is the Giants' schedule? Click to view each team's strength of schedule for the 2021 season based on the records of their opponents from 2020.

LB Elerson Smith learned under former NFL DPOY

The Relative Athletic Score is a metric used to gauge athletic abilities relative to position. Since 1987, there have been 1,371 defensive ends measured. Of those, Elerson Smith ranks 40th all-time.

Great. But does the fourth-round pick from Northern Iowa pass the Bryce Paup test?

"Even in the NFL, there's about five percent that can get away with that," said Paup, a four-time Pro Bowl linebacker and the 1995 AP Defensive Player of the Year who now coaches defensive linemen at UNI, his alma mater. "But eventually it catches up with them, and if they don't use every aspect to get better, they're going to get passed up in a hurry."

Paup took a wholistic approach in the physical and mental transformation of the 6-foot-6, 260-pounder with a 41.5-inch vertical, the highest of any defensive end in the 2021 class. He arrived on campus in 2016 weighing only 190 pounds – "just a bean pole" – and was originally tried at tight end. Paup joined the Panthers in 2018 and they tried Smith at defensive end.

"The first time I had him run a stunt where the defensive end loops back in underneath the defensive tackle, he stopped," Paup recalled. "It was just like a calf seeing a new fence or a deer in the headlights. I was just like, 'Oh my gosh, this is going to take a while.' But he just didn't know what he didn't know. He was very raw. In high school (Smith was a first-team all-state selection as a tight end and second-team at defensive end at Minneapolis South), they just let him go, come off the edge, and he just beat most people with speed. He was so long and quick that a lot of high school kids couldn't even stay with him. The transformation has been pretty spectacular."

Daniel Jeremiah on Giants' draft haul: 'I'm all for that'

Check out the video below to watch NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah join John Schmeelk on the Giants Huddle Podcast to recap the Giants' draft haul.

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