Cowboys - Giants Preview & Prediction

The Cowboys are hot, winning four of five games behind quarterback sensation Tony Romo. The Giants on the verge of imploding.

KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:15 ET

GAMEDATE: 12/03/06

SURFACE: FieldTurf

TV: FOX, Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Pam Oliver

SERIES: 89th meeting. The Cowboys lead the series 51-35-2. New York has won four of the last five meetings, including the last three. The Cowboys have faced only two teams -- Philadelphia and Washington -- more than the Giants.

2006 RANKINGS: Cowboys: offense 4th (5th rush, 6th pass); defense 4th (4th rush, 11th pass). Giants: offense 12th (7th rush, 18th pass); defense 14th (12th rush, 18th pass)

PREDICTION: Cowboys 27-23

KEYS TO THE GAME: First, the Giants have to put last Sunday's collapse and the ensuing locker room turmoil aside. Then they have to quickly remedy their on-field woes to compete with arguably the league's hottest team. Cowboys QB Tony Romo's mobility has been a boon to the offensive line, and WRs Terrell Owens and Terry Glenn could have a field day against the Giants' depleted secondary. The Giants would receive a big boost if DE Osi Umenyiora is able to play for the first time in six games and help increase the pass rush. But none of the defensive efforts will matter if QB Eli Manning doesn't pick up his play. He has six interceptions over the past three games while completing just 50.1 percent of his passes. Expect to see plenty of RB Tiki Barber out of the gate as the Giants attempt take the spotlight off Manning in the early going.

FAST FACTS: Cowboys: RB Marion Barber, Julius Jones' backup, leads the NFC with nine touchdown runs. ... LB DeMarcus Ware has 10.0 sacks in his past 13 games. Giants: P Jeff Feagles will become just the fifth player in NFL history to play in 300 career games. ... Barber has led the Giants in rushing for 75 consecutive games, the longest streak in franchise history.

PERSONNEL NEWS
Cowboys: --RB Julius Jones is on pace for 1,200 yards despite sharing time with Marion Barber. Coach Bill Parcells said Jones is fresher, stronger and smarter this year, which has made him a better back.

"He is a much better runner," Parcells said. "He knows the games better. He has more experience. He is smarter. You come here any Monday, he is one of the first guys in the building. ... He is in there doing squats. The game may be over Sunday night at 10 p.m., and he is there Monday doing squats, doing his weight program and getting the game out of his system. That is something I have emphasized with him since he was a young player. Well, he has got it now."

--K Martin Gramatica has not missed a kick in practice since signing with the Cowboys on Monday. It doesn't guarantee success, but coach Bill Parcells said released K Mike Vanderjagt never had a perfect day in practice while with the Cowboys.

--DE Jay Ratliff has four sacks and two fumble recoveries as a nickel pass rusher.

"I think Ratliff's doing well," Cowboys coach Bill Parcells said. "He's an active player, he's got a good motor. He's pretty much the same player every day, and he helps us on the pass rush."

--FS Pat Watkins was benched six weeks ago following a dreadful performance against the Giants, this week's opponent. Cowboys coach Bill Parcells said Watkins is more ready to play now than he was at the start of the season.

"I think it's just a question of a young player knowing a little bit more about what to do, how to prepare, a little bit about the league," Parcells said. "Now this is his second time through the Giants, so he's got more awareness of the kind of players and the threat they pose, so he should be ... better off. It's not an easy transition, I promise you."

Giants: --DE Osi Umenyiora, like Michael Strahan a Pro Bowl choice last year, appears ready to resume playing after a five-game absence because of a strained left hip flexor. If he does return, it would be his second "consecutive" game against Dallas, because he got hurt on Oct. 23 in Irving, Texas.

--CB Sam Madison (hamstring) appears ready to return, which would help the secondary considerably. He has missed four of the past five games, and in the game he played, he hobbled off the field in the second quarter after re-pulling the hamstring.

--WLB Brandon Short (quad strain) appears to be a definite participant on Sunday, and likened the game-inactive status to "purgatory," adding that during his four-game layoff he "felt like I was on the team but not part of it."

--P Jeff Feagles will become the fifth player in NFL history to take part in 300 games. He'll join Morten Andersen, Gary Anderson, George Blanda and Jerry Rice, and this year he should pass Rice, who has 303.

--MLB Antonio Pierce (swollen knee) missed practice Wednesday but returned Thursday, along with SS Gibril Wilson (shoulder) and LB Carlos Emmons (groin) and is expected to play.

INSIDE THE CAMPS
Cowboys: The Cowboys are hot, winning four of five games behind quarterback sensation Tony Romo.

The Giants on the verge of imploding. Not only have they lost three of their past five games, but quarterback Eli Manning is struggling, they are injured and the players are fighting among themselves.

On paper this should be an easy win for the Cowboys, who are one game ahead in the Giants in the NFC East.

But nobody in Dallas is believing it.

They remember the Giants from six weeks ago when they blasted the Cowboys 36-22 on a Monday night.

The Giants also have won two straight against the Cowboys and six of the last seven games at Giants Stadium in the series.

"I'm expecting a tough game," Cowboys coach Bill Parcells said. "Anytime you play a team that has shown the capability of playing well, particularly with what they did to us down here and now you are playing them on the road, you've got to be concerned, and I am. I think they are going to be getting some players back, too, so they should be in better health than what they were the last couple of weeks."

The Giants' history against the Cowboys should also give them some confidence heading into the game.

Giants tight end Jeremy Shockey has already come out and guaranteed a victory.

It's also a fact that Romo's last and only bad game came against the Giants, when threw three second-half interceptions.

Romo said he was embarrassed by his performance and is looking to make amends.

Parcells said Romo would have to play better because the Giants are a desperate team looking to save their season Sunday.

"I think they'll rally up, and I think that they're still our main competition in the division, without question," Parcells said. "They beat us pretty badly down here the first time. They played well and we played poorly, and the combination of that made it very one-sided. I'm expecting a very tough game. Anytime you play a division game, in the division on the road, it's going to be tough. Just in light of what happened the first time, I know we're going to have to play a lot better or we're not going to win."

Giants: Did Michael Strahan, the Giants' veteran Pro Bowl defensive end, "call out" wide receiver Plaxico Burress as a ploy to create some turmoil in the locker room and unite the players?

He would deny that, of course, but he is an intelligent, introspective man who is one of the few acknowledged leaders on the team, and after a three-game losing streak that has seen the Giants plummet to a 6-5 record, perhaps he felt that a little dissension might be good for business. Especially after the team blew a 21-0 lead in the final 9:35 of the fourth quarter last week in Tennessee.

He picked on Burress because, well, because he probably deserved it. The 6-foot-6, 225-pound receiver with more talent than dedication -- or so he plays -- has been guilty of "dissing"

quarterback Eli Manning after an inaccurate pass, gesticulating right on the field. Last season he was late for a meeting, and coach Tom Coughlin benched him for the first quarter in San Diego, a game the Giants subsequently lost.

Burress has shown a marked disinterest in chasing after defenders who have just intercepted a pass intended for him. He has, overall, shown much more of a "me first" attitude than is healthy for a team that is struggling.

So Strahan turned to a local New York radio talk show and questioned Plaxico's drive, ambition and heart. "I just don't understand guys like that," he said. "If you quit, you're not just quitting on yourself, you're quitting on your teammates, too."

Burress was unflappable, at least outward. "I don't criticize my teammates in public," he said. "I'm not that way. If that's what Stray thinks, fine. If he decided to come out and say it, fine, that was up to him. I feel like I play hard and make plays and give good effort. But you know, at the end of the day I can still go home, smile and get ready for the next day's work."

It remains to be seen if this tempest works to the Giants' favor -- at home against Dallas in a battle for NFC East supremacy -- but if it were done on purpose, the only word to say is: brilliant.

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