Cowboys-Giants Preview & Prediction

With RB Tiki Barber retired, the Giants need QB Eli Manning to make this his offense. But Manning can only be as good as his running game and pass protection allow.

KICKOFF: Sunday, 8:15 ET

SURFACE: Artificial

TV: NBC, Al Michaels, John Madden

SERIES: 90th meeting. Cowboys lead series, 52-35-2. For the second year in a row, the teams split last year's home-and-home meetings. The Giants lost at home, 23-20, but won in Dallas, 36-22. For the first time in five seasons, the Giants won't be facing their former head coach, Bill Parcells, who resigned as the Dallas coach after the 2006 season. Over the last seven years, the Giants hold a 9-5 edge.

KEYS TO THE GAME: With RB Tiki Barber retired, the Giants need QB Eli Manning to make this his offense. But Manning can only be as good as his running game and pass protection allow. RB Brandon Jacobs takes over the feature role, while David Diehl slides from guard to tackle to protect Manning's blind side. Diehl must hold up against DE Chris Canty and OLB DeMarcus Ware if Manning is to be able to attack the Cowboys' secondary, which might be without top CB Terence Newman. ... Cowboys QB Tony Romo looked sharp during the preseason and has to be licking his chops watching film of a Giants secondary that likely will be without CB Sam Madison and lacks playmakers in general. New York must get consistent pressure from DEs Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck and Michael Strahan, who is expected to see at least a handful of snaps even if he doesn't start.

KEY INJURIES: Giants: Madison (hamstring) is not expected to play; WR David Tyree (wrist), the team's top gunner on special teams, is out. Cowboys: LB Greg Ellis (Achilles/bursitis) is unlikely to play; Newman (plantar fascia tear) said he might taking a numbing shot to play.

FAST FACTS: Eleven of the past 16 meetings have been decided by a touchdown or less. ... Strahan is tied with LB Lawrence Taylor for the all-time franchise lead with 132.5 career sacks.

GIANTS PERSONNEL NEWS: CB Sam Madison, LB Kawika Mitchell and reserve OT Guy Whimper all practiced, and of the three it seems to be Mitchell who has the best chance of starting. He was obtained during the UFA period from Kansas City and was outstanding during the preseason schedule and in practices.

--FS Gibril Wilson, who started at SS the last three years, was moved in to the starting lineup again at the expense of his friend, Will Demps, who was going to the bench but now resides on IR (dislocated elbow), which puts him out for the season. "It's part of the game," Wilson said. "We're still friends. It's just how things work out sometimes."

--There is a rumor that the Giants are negotiating with Will Demps and his agent to agree on an injury buyout that would allow them to simply release him. His tackling last season was well below par and new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo is probably used to better, having come from the Philadelphia Eagles where he was linebackers coach working under defensive guru Jim Johnson.

--K Lawrence Tynes won the job despite close pursuit from FA Josh Huston, and head coach Tom Coughlin admitted it was Tynes' experience that turned the tide. "Josh is going to be a kicker in this league," he said. "He had a very good camp and waged a very strong fight."

--DE Michael Strahan will likely be activated for Sunday's game, according to DC Steve Spagnuolo. Spagnuolo shrugged when someone asked if it would be realistic that he might get 25 to 30 snaps. "We'll just have to see," he responded. "He's ready to go. He's a veteran and it's normal for him to be behind. It's going to take a little bit (of time) but we are going to fast feed him and let him roll."

--SLB Mathias Kiwanuka, who made the transition from DE over the off-season, is still having problems with pass coverage. "He's getting there," said DC Steve Spagnuolo. There are still some things he knows he has to address, but he gets better every day with it, he really does."

COWBOYS PERSONNEL NEWS: RB Julius Jones is in the final year of his contract. The Giants game is first up on the quest to prove that he belongs in Dallas for a long time.

"No, it's not just another year," Jones said. "I want to stay here and play for the Cowboys," Jones said. "I gotta prove that I'm good enough to be here and that they don't need anybody else except who we have."

--WR Terrell Owens plans to have an explosive season. He said he is motivated to make up for what he called a down year in 2006, despite a league high 13 touchdowns.

His goals are 100 catches, 1,500 yards and 20 touchdowns.

"With the skills I have, I really felt like I let this team down. Considering some of the things I was expected to do and I could've done, I'm ready to go this season. Not any problems. I look for a big year. "I'm more focused because of some of the things that happened last year. I didn't want to be a distraction then and I don't want to be a distraction now. I think there were some things last year that were made into stories that didn't have to be stories."

--LB Anthony Spencer has had the light come on heading into the season opener. The rookie first round pick will start in place of Greg Ellis.

"I think he's doing a lot of things well," Phillips said. "He picked it up a lot this week even more so. I told him he looked like a linebacker to me. We'll find out more in a game."

--WR Patrick Crayton will return punts instead of the hobbled Terence Newman. Behind him are running back Marion Barber, cornerback Anthony Henry and safety Roy Williams. They will simply be out there to catch punts if called on for emergency duty.

INSIDE THE GIANTS CAMP: The Giants' injury list appears to have cleared up in a hurry. Cornerback Sam Madison (hamstring) and weak-side linebacker Kawika Mitchell (groin) practiced Thursday, Sept. 6, and according to head coach Tom Coughlin, "they seemed to be doing well."

The pair should probably play, if not start, when the team opens its season Sunday night in Dallas, a nationally televised NBC event. The other question looming overhead is the status of defensive end Michael Strahan, who ended a five-week holdout on Labor Day and is now practicing, trying in a real and valid sense to play "catch up ball" in time to get on the field Sunday night.

Will he make it?

"He is steady," said Coughlin. "He took a few more snaps today (Thursday). I have to assess every day when we come back together. And as I said, I have to see how he's doing. I think, for instance, he's in good running shape. But the rest of it is subject to each day to review in terms of the physical part of it. And like I said, he has day-to-day learning (assignments). It's a game plan and it is new terminology. So we'll see."

If Strahan is ruled out of the game, he won't count on the active roster or the game inactive list, either. His late arrival caused the Giants to request a two-week exemption on making a decision, and the NFL granted it. They don't have to occupy a roster spot and he won't count among the seven inactives, either.

But it would be somewhat surprising if he doesn't make it into the game, and most of the veteran observers around the team feel that he'll start. Is this unfair to Justin Tuck, who spent the full summer starting at left defensive end? A little, perhaps, but Strahan is a 15-year veteran and deserves some latitude, and it would be foolish to think that he would be able to play the full game.

He may start simply for the courtesy factor, and it is likely that Tuck will see most of the snaps during the game.

INSIDE THE COWBOYS CAMP: The Cowboys will not have all their weapons when they open the season against the Giants.

Wide receiver Terry Glenn, who has missed all the preseason following arthroscopic knee surgery, sat out Thursday's practice -- after practicing on Wednesday -- because of knee swelling.

Now, his availability for the Giants game is uncertain.

That puts him on the same page with cornerback Terence Newman, who remains sidelined with a tear in his right plantar fascia and linebacker Greg Ellis, who has yet to return from a torn left Achilles from last season.

Linebacker Kevin Burnett practiced on Thursday for the first time since having arthroscopic knee surgery but it is still not a guarantee that he will be on the field on Sunday. Cowboys coach Wade Phillips acknowledges that this is not the ideal way he wanted to start the season.

But he said nothing is going to damper the Cowboys' enthusiasm for the Giants game.

"The Dallas Cowboys are going to show up and I would expect a great effort," Phillips said.

PREDICTION: Cowboys 31-21

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