KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:30 ET
SURFACE: Sportfield Realgrass
TV: FOX, Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Pam Oliver
SERIES: 92nd meeting. Dallas leads series, 54-35-2. This is the first time the two teams have met in the playoffs. The Cowboys swept the Giants during the regular season and are looking for their first three-game season sweep of any team in franchise history.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Giants rookie RB Ahmad Bradshaw didn't get a carry in either regular-season meeting, but could be the Giants' secret weapon this time around. RB Brandon Jacobs has been doing a good job of wearing defenses down with his bruising style, with Bradshaw then using his explosiveness to rip off good yardage in the second half. But the Giants' production still comes down to QB Eli Manning continuing to play with increased poise. ... A lot of what the Cowboys do will depend on how hard WR Terrell Owens is able to go. Owens burned the Giants for 212 yards and four touchdowns in the regular season, but if he's far less than 100 percent the game plan will likely be geared more toward RBs Julius Jones and Marion Barber. CB Corey Webster had a strong game against the Bucs, but if he again starts in place of Sam Madison, he'll certainly be targeted by QB Tony Romo.
KEY INJURIES: Giants: Madison (abdomen) and C Shaun O'Hara (knee) are uncertain; RT Kareem McKenzie (ankle) is expected to play. Cowboys: Owens (high ankle sprain) could be a game-time decision; WR Terry Glenn (knee) is expected to play.
FAST FACTS: The Cowboys can become just the 18th team to beat a team three times in the same season. ... The teams have both made 29 postseason appearances, tied for most in NFL history. ... Giants DE Michael Strahan has a franchise-record 8.5 sacks in seven career playoff games.
GIANTS PERSONNEL NEWS: C Shaun O'Hara missed last week's game vs. Tampa Bay and while he has been practicing on a limited basis, head coach Tom Coughlin isn't ready to say he is going to be well enough to play. He suffered a sprained knee against New England in the season finale, and veteran G/C Grey Ruegamer played for him last Sunday.
-- CB Sam Madison (abdomen) got in some individual practice Thursday. His status for Sunday is still uncertain.
-- TE Kevin Boss (sick) missed practice Thursday.
-- WR Plaxico Burress seems to have bonded even closer with QB Eli Manning, and said after practice Thursday that the young Manning is getting better each game. "We all are human and therefore inconsistent," he said, "but the way Eli has been playing lately, and we just look for him to go out and play better each week. When he does that, our offense usually works well."
-- FB Madison Hedgecock is one of the absolutely unsung heroes of this Giant team. The 6-3, 266-pounder, acquired via waivers from St. Louis early in the season, has replaced the injured/retired Jim Finn and has played well. "He blocks as well as any fullback I've seen," said Manning. Hedgecock hasn't carried the ball yet but he has caught six passes for 45 yards.
-- Veteran WR Amani Toomer, who has spent all 12 of his NFL seasons with the Giants, has been more impressed with Manning each week. "I have never seen him crack under pressure," he said. "Not once. He is a stand-up guy and handles tight situations calmly.
-- TE Marcus Freeman of Notre Dame and OL Brandon Torrey of Howard University have been added to the Giants' practice squad.
COWBOYS PERSONNEL NEWS:
--WR Terrell Owens practiced for the first time in three weeks on Wednesday, fostering hope that he and his sprained right ankle will play against the Giants on Sunday.
The Cowboys are encouraged, but say it will be a game-time decision even though T.O. practice again the following two days and appeared to improve. Owens ran routes and with through team drills, albeit with a slight limp at times.
"I thought that he moved well," owner/GM Jerry Jones said. "I thought he competed right around the level that we practicing at. Those weren't half speed out there. It is a decision that needs to be made at game-time. We know how critical this is, nothing else happens if we don't win this game.
"On the other hand, his availability will be determined probably in large part on what kind of risk is involved on not having him for later games. He obviously can run a route, but I think it is a very legitimate game-time decision. He's in very good spirits, very competitive spirits, very focused on our success here Sunday."
--QB Tony Romo and his celebrity lifestyle is supported by owner Jerry Jones, who said it's good for the Cowboys and good for the league.
"It's not the first time I have seen it," Jones said. "It has to be coupled with success. I think it's really good and I encourage it. It's in the best interest of the Cowboys for key players to have flair."
--NT Tank Johnson said this Cowboys team might be better than the Bears team he played on last year.
"It's so similar, it's kind of scary almost; we get every bounce we did last year, and this team is more explosive than we were in Chicago last year," Johnson said. "We have more big-play capabilities on offense, and our defense is just as good. We've got all the right ingredients."
--WR Terry Glenn had his second strong day of practice. He missed the first 15 games of the season with a knee injury. Although he played in the season final this is the first week that he has done everything in practice. He is explosive and quick.
"I think we've got a chance to have 83 light 'em up," Jerry Jones said. "I'm excited about that."
INSIDE THE GIANTS CAMP:
Giants head coach Tom Coughlin will have a major decision to make prior to the division playoff game Sunday in Dallas.
It isn't as though he doesn't have a bevy of major decisions, either, but this one can positively affect the game. What if weak-side linebacker Kawika Mitchell (sprained knee) and cornerback Sam Madison (abdominal strain) are healed from their injuries and ready to play? Does he put them back in their starting roles?
Linebacker Gerris Wilkinson, who has taken the spot usually reserved for Mitchell, has played extraordinarily well and has greater speed than the veteran. In fact, he ran stride for stride with New England wide receiver Randy Moss in the season ender, opening eyes from coast to coast.
Cornerback Corey Webster, once a second-round draft pick (2005) who was bordering on disappointing, has replaced Madison and, based on his performance last Sunday vs. Tampa Bay, he might have won the job over the 33-year-old.
Webster forced a fumble on the opening kickoff of the second half and intercepted a pass in the end zone, each achievement helping immeasurably toward the team's wild-card victory.
It would seem a coach's job is never done.
INSIDE THE COWBOYS CAMP:
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said coach Wade Phillips' job is not on the line in Sunday's NFC divisional playoff game against the Giants.
He said Phillips has done enough in leading the Cowboys to a 13-3 record and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
"There's nothing that can happen in the playoffs that would change my thinking about him being head coach of the Dallas Cowboys," Jones said, "and I don't know how you could even have a question as to whether or not he's coaching or not for the Cowboys in the future."
The questions about Phillips job stems from the pressure the team feels to win a playoff game for the first time since 1996.
The Cowboys acknowledge that a loss on Sunday would make the regular season success meaningless.
The Cowboys have set themselves up for a Super Bowl run for the first time since 1995.
That was the premise behind hiring Phillips to replace Bill Parcells following last season and the bevy of moves Jones made in the offseason.
"Yes, there is a lot on the line here," said Jones, who has gone through five coaches since his last playoff win. "The consequences of not being able to advance in the playoffs seem more meaningful. Last year when Bill Parcells left and upon hiring Wade Phillips, I got emotional. I felt I got to get this done right. We have got to do that. We have to make something happen that will get us to the Super Bowl."
PREDICTION: Dallas 31 New York 24
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