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Giants vs. Cowboys: 5 storylines to follow


Week 17 is here, and for the Giants, their season may come down to Sunday's matchup against the division rival Dallas Cowboys.

Last week, the Giants came up short in Baltimore, 27-13. Daniel Jones returned to the lineup and threw for 252 yards and a touchdown, but the Giants finished with just 269 net yards of offense. On the other side of the ball, the Ravens rushed for 249 yards and a touchdown while Lamar Jackson threw for another 183 yards and two scores. The 432 total yards allowed were the second-most the Giants have allowed this season (Philadelphia gained 442 total yards in Week 7).

After sitting at 3-9 following their Week 13 loss to Baltimore, the Cowboys have won three consecutive games to keep their playoff hopes alive. Dallas welcomed the Eagles to AT&T Stadium in Week 16 and finished with 513 yards of offense while the Eagles racked up 477. But Dallas emerged with a decisive 37-17 victory.

The winner of Sunday's Giants-Cowboys matchup heads to the postseason as the No. 4 seed in the NFC if Washington falls to Philadelphia later that evening. Here are the top story lines heading into this Week 17 NFC East showdown at MetLife Stadium.

Playoffs? You kidding me? Playoffs?

The Giants are 5-10 after losing to the Ravens. Despite their record, they could find themselves hosting a game during the Wild Card round.

"I actually met with the team last night when we got back to make sure we were set on what the plan for the week was," head coach Joe Judge told reporters on Monday. "Our focus still needs to remain on the Cowboys. That's the priority this week. We remain focused on improving as a team. We have a division rival coming up ahead, it's a big game for us. Obviously, there are implications. As I've said all along, those games right now don't exist. Until I can talk about any kind of opponent coming up beyond who we're playing, there's not a conversation to be had. Our focus remains on the Cowboys."

If the Giants were to win the division, it would be the team's first playoff berth since 2016 and first division crown since 2011.

"I think you want every game you ever play to be relevant," Judge said. "That being said, this same situation in front of us, the same opportunity that's in front of us is the same opportunity that was in front of us in Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, and so on. We have to make sure we take care of our business every week along the way and improve as a team. At the end of the year, it's the collective record that matters.

"Right now, the emphasis has to be on the Cowboys. We have to play our best game. This is a good team. This is a much different football team than we played early in the season. We're a different team, too. We have to re-learn the Cowboys and really study them and get ahead on it. Our players have to understand the opportunity that's really sitting in front of us is the opportunity to play a division rival and play the last game of the season with our best football. That's the opportunity that we have to take advantage of."

DJ's rushing production

Over his last few outings, Daniel Jones rushing production has been down significantly from where it was earlier in the season. After not even registering a rush attempt against the Cardinals in Week 14, Jones carried the ball just once against the Ravens, gaining three yards on a designed passing play. Injuries have played a big role as Jones has been dealing with a sore hamstring and ankle over the last few weeks. But the second-year quarterback was able to come out of last week's game unscathed and without any setbacks.

"I think this is the first week in a while as far as Daniel goes where we can just turn around and say, 'hey, we're going to let him go out there and let him play,'" Judge said. "Obviously, we had to see him move around a little bit throughout the week coming up to it. The one good thing about Daniel is our training staff and him have done a really good job of working together and prepping him for game action. We've seen continued improvement health wise with him. He hasn't come out of any game he's played in worse off than when he was beforehand. I'd say the ankle is getting better. I don't think it's anything he really talks about or you see hindering his performance out there, and the hamstring has continued to heal as well. Physically, he's definitely moving in the right direction."

Despite recording just one rush attempt over the last four weeks, Jones has already set new career marks on the ground this season. He has rushed for 406 yards on 56 carries (7.3 avg.), well above his statistics from his rookie campaign (45 carries for 279 yards, 6.2 avg.). Heading into the regular season finale, Jones leads all quarterbacks in yards per carry on designed runs at 6.9, while the next highest YPC is Lamar Jackson's 5.8. This is the highest average YPC from a quarterback since 2015. Before suffering the hamstring injury against the Bengals in Week 12, Jones rushed for at least 20 yards in eight of the first 10 games of the season.

Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts put together a strong overall performance against the Cowboys last week. While he was intercepted twice by Dallas, Hurts finished the game with 342 passing yards and a touchdown to go with nine rush attempts for 69 yards (7.7 avg.).

Starting off strong

The Giants got off to a rather slow start against the Ravens last week, dealing with a 14-0 deficit after the first quarter.

Over their last four games, the Giants have not scored more than three points in the first half and have been outscored, 51-6, before the break. For the season, the Giants are averaging just 8.4 points in the first half. You have to go back to the team's Week 12 win over the Bengals to find the Giants' last first-half touchdown, and Week 10 for the last time they scored two touchdowns in a first half.

With the way the Cowboys have been playing over the last few weeks, the Giants cannot afford to get out to another slow start. Dallas is averaging 36 points per game over their last three outings, including an average of 18 points in the first half. The Cowboys put up 20 points in the first half of last week's win over Philadelphia.

Getting after the quarterback

After finding some pass rush success earlier in the season, the Giants have struggled to get after the quarterback in recent weeks. During the team's four-game winning streak from Weeks 9 to 13, the Giants were able to take down opposing quarterbacks a total of 12 times. But in their last three games, the Giants have been able to combine for just two sacks.

The Giants enter Week 17 tied for 15th in the league with 34 sacks, 7th with 97 quarterback hits and 12th with 65 tackles for loss. Coordinator Patrick Graham's defense could be getting a big boost this week with the potential return of Kyler Fackrell from injured reserve. Fackrell has not played since Week 12, but is third on the team with three sacks and tied for second with nine quarterback hits. In the first game against the Cowboys back in Week 5, Fackrell made a huge impact, recording three tackles (two solo), one tackle for loss, one pass defended and a 46-yard INT return for a TD.

Entering the final week of the regular season, Dallas is tied with the Jaguars for 10th in the NFL with 38 sacks allowed. But much of that came prior to their Week 10 bye. In their last six games dating to Week 11, Dallas has allowed a total of 11 sacks, including an average of two sacks per game over the last three weeks. And All-Pro offensive lineman Zack martin (calf) remains out, according to Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.

Matching up with Dallas' playmakers

Over the last three weeks, the Giants' defense has struggled to limit some of their opponents' playmakers. The Ravens, Browns and Cardinals each gained at least 390 yards of total offense against the Big Blue defense, with an average of 404.7 yards per game. Part of that may have been due to the quarterbacks the Giants were facing, as Lamar Jackson, Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray combined for 30 rush attempts during that three-game stretch.

"It definitely makes it a little easier game plan wise," linebacker Blake Martinez said about facing a team with a more traditional quarterback such as the Cowboys' Andy Dalton. "Dallas, across the board, has amazing talent once again. It's going to be a tough task for us to stop their run game, their pass game. They're starting to kind of fire on all cylinders. You kind of want to be that team that doesn't let them start the game off hot and be comfortable."

Dalton sliced Philadelphia for season highs of 377 yards and a 73.3 percent completion mark, to go with three touchdowns and an interception. He was able to get all of his playmakers involved - Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup each finished with at least 65 receiving yards. As a trio, they registered 307 receiving yards and three touchdowns on 13 catches.

Lamb was also able to add a 19-yard touchdown run last week. RB Ezekiel Elliott gained 105 yards on 19 carries (5.5 avg.) while adding four receptions for 34 yards. This came a week after Tony Pollard racked up 132 total yards and two touchdowns against the 49ers. And while he didn't put up huge numbers against Philadelphia, tight end Dalton Schultz is also quietly enjoying a solid campaign with 56 receptions for 545 yards and four touchdowns.

"Kellen's (Moore) done a really good job with this offense and adjusting with Andy (Dalton) at quarterback," Judge said on Wednesday. "I think the thing that stands out with Andy is he's extremely smart. Andy's a very smart quarterback, he puts them in the right place, he knows where to go with the ball, he does a really good job getting the ball out of his hand quickly, which really helps the protection up front and negates the pass rush. He's been throwing the ball very accurate.

"Kellen's putting him in good schemes in terms of using the weapons they have on the outside, but really staying balanced with the run game between Zeke and (Tony) Pollard. They're really finding nice ways to use those guys. They have weapons all over the field on offense, and you have to make sure you account for them. You have to not just know what they're lined up in, but who's where. We have to go ahead and play with good run defense, and you have to stop the shots down the field as well. That's definitely how they make a lot of plays."

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