The New York Giants enter Week 17 at 5-10, only marginally improved from their four-win record last season. And yet, they’re playing a pseudo-NFC East championship game against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday. The winner of this matchup, despite still having a losing record, will be crowned division champs if the Washington Football Team loses to the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday Night Football.
That this five-win Giants team has a chance to take the NFC East and host a playoff game is the height of absurdity. But opportunities like this, deserved or not, have been exceedingly rare for New York the last nine years. Big Blue needs to do their best to take advantage of the one that’s directly in front of them.
Just like the Giants, the Cowboys will be playing for a chance at the divison crown. Unlike the Giants, however, they’ll head into this game playing arguably their best football of the season. Dallas is currently riding a three-game winning streak, having scored at least 30 points in each game. Quarterback Andy Dalton is finally looking confident in their offense, with seven touchdown passes and just one interception over that span. After a long season of injuries and undisciplined play, the Cowboys’ superior talent, especially at the offensive skill positions, has begun to express itself.
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New York, on the other hand, is riding a three-game losing streak. Their offense has failed to score more than 13 points over that stretch. Quarterback Daniel Jones has been hobbled by multiple lower-body injuries, robbing him of his dynamic rushing ability. He played just two of the last three games, throwing only one touchdown and zero interceptions. After a season of disciplined play and hanging tough in more games than not, the Giants inferior talent at the offensive skill positions has begun to express itself, too.
Defensively, neither of these teams are coming in very hot. Dallas’ defense ranks 26th in the NFL in yards allowed per game, and 30th in points per game. This unit is undeniably one of the league’s worst. The Giants’ defense still has’t allowed a 30-point game since Week 5 (against these Cowboys), but they’re coming off two consecutive games in which their opponent moved the ball with relative ease. Their absence of pass-rushing talent has been all too obvious recently, although the probable return of Kyler Fackrell should provide a small boost in that department.
For most of the season, there appeared to be little chance these two teams would play meaningful football come Week 17. If Washington wins on Sunday Night Football, that will have proven to be true, as this game won’t have meant anything. But when the Giants and Cowboys square off on Sunday afternoon, it will be an unequivocal must-win.
Here’s everything you need to know ahead of Sunday’s game, followed by a prediction for the final score.
Where and When
MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey on Sunday at 1:00 p.m. EST/10:00 a.m. PST
Dallas: S Xavier Woods (Questionable), S Donovan Wilson (Questionable), ILB Leighton Vander Esch (Questionable), CB Rashard Robinson (Questionable), S Darian Thompson (Questionable), QB Ben DiNucci (Questionable)
Most Concerning Matchup: WR Michael Gallup vs. CB Isaac Yiadom
Gallup is coming off maybe his biggest game of the season, catching six passes for 121 yards and two touchdowns against the Philadelphia Eagles. He earned most of that production against undrafted rookie Michael Jacquet, the clear weak link in the Eagles’ secondary.
If there’s a weak link in the Giants’ secondary. it’s definitely Yiadom. New York acquired the former Denver Bronco for a seventh-round pick in training camp. Yiadom’s been at best adequate this year, but coordinator Patrick Graham has had to scheme around his limited man-coverage ability. Gallup is a downfield, vertical threat who plays bigger than his 6’1 frame would suggest. Yiadom needs to keep Gallup in front of him to suppress a potentially explosive Dallas offense.
Most Promising Matchup: TE Evan Engram vs. FS Darian Thompson
Giants fans know Thompson well, as he spent the first couple years of his career with Big Blue. He started all 16 games in 2017 at free safety for New York, and was let go after the year without much protest. He’s started seven games for Dallas this season, performing at a sub-replacement level. He’s earned a putrid 41.8 overall grade from Pro Football Focus.
Engram is perhaps the Giants’ most frustrating player. His talent is obvious, but his inconsistency and miscues keep him from being the reliable playmaker he can be. With the paucity of skill on this Giants offense, however, New York must continue to feature him. He’s their only player that can create mismatches and rip off chunks of yardage. This matchup with Thompson is one he can exploit, and the Giants can’t shy away from letting him do so.
Keys to Victory
The Cowboys rank last in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game. If there was ever a week for Big Blue to get their ground attack rolling, it’s this one. A heavy workload for Wayne Gallman and Alfred Morris is a must to control possession while keeping Dallas’ dangerous offense off the field.
On defense, the Giants need to limit big plays to force Dallas to execute long, sustained drives without making mistakes. It’s imperative that New York generate at least a couple turnovers to steal extra possessions and set up good field position for their offense. This Dallas team is the weakest competition Big Blue has faced since Week 12. Opportunistic, not perfect, football should be good enough to take this one.
Final Score Prediciton: Cowboys 27 – Giants 20
This may be a good matchup for the Giants’ offense, but it’s a bad one for their defense. Graham’s zone-heavy system has been somewhat figured out in recent weeks. Dallas’ receivers should expose New York’s shaky cornerback depth, and Big Blue doesn’t have the pass rush to take advantage of the Cowboys’ banged up offensive line.
While Dallas’ defense is about as bad as they come, the Giants’ offense hasn’t shown they can put up big numbers against anybody. With Jones’ current immobility making him a one-dimensional pocket passer, New York likely won’t be able to keep up with the Cowboys on the scoreboard.