'Boys/Giants Preview & Prediction

Without suspended WR Plaxico Burress to worry about, the Eagles threw eight and nine defenders at the Giants' running game last Sunday. Can Dallas do the same thing?

KICKOFF: Sunday, 8:15 ET
GAMEDATE: 12/14/08
SURFACE: Sportfield Realgrass
TV: NBC (Al Michaels, John Madden, Andrea Kremer)
SERIES: 93rd regular-season meeting. Dallas leads series, 54-36-2. The Giants lost both regular-season games to the Cowboys last year but then stunned them on the road in the second round of the playoffs, advancing to the NFC Championship game in Green Bay before winning the Super Bowl.

KEYS TO THE GAME: Without suspended WR Plaxico Burress to worry about, the Eagles threw eight and nine defenders at the Giants' running game last Sunday. The result was little play-action and an off game for QB Eli Manning. And with replacement Domenik Hixon's status uncertain, it could be up to Steve Smith to start opposite Amani Toomer. If Jacobs can't go, backups Derrick Ward and Ahmad Bradshaw will get the workload for an offense that needs to establish the run or face the wrath of Dallas's strong pass rush. ... Whether it's Marion Barber or rookie Tashard Choice, the Cowboys must establish the running game early. QB Tony Romo is coming under fire following three interceptions in Pittsburgh, and he's going up against another fierce pass rush this week. Giants DE Justin Tuck could require extra attention as he battles RT Marc Colombo, which would keep a tight end or back in pass protection. Romo is going to get pressured, and the game could swing on his decision-making while on the move.

KEY INJURIES: Jacobs (knee) and Hixon (foot, ankle) are uncertain; CB Aaron Ross (ankle) said he believes he'll play. Cowboys: Jones (neck) and WR Miles Austin (knee) are out; Barber (dislocated toe) could be a game-time decision; LG Montrae Holland (ankle) is out; WR Roy Williams (foot) is expected to play.

FAST FACTS: Romo is 4-8 with 12 touchdown passes and 17 interceptions as a starter in December and January. ... The Giants clinch a first-round bye with a win.

NEW YORK PERSONNEL NEWS: WR Domenik Hixon, the replacement for the suspended Plaxico Burress (Non-Football Injury list), did not practice Thursday. He is nursing ankle and foot injuries and, like Brandon Jacobs, did not practice for a second straight day. His replacement would be Steve Smith.

--DE Mathias Kiwanuka has been impressed with the return to form of Dallas QB Tony Romo, who missed the first encounter between the two teams. "He is definitely his old self and it will be a challenge for us, but right now I think we're in a good spot," he said.

--Four Giants reportedly finished at the top of their positions in the fan portion of voting for the Pro Bowl, which counts for only one-third of the total vote. They are DE Justin Tuck, G Chris Snee, C Shaun O'Hara and P Jeff Feagles. Four others finished second at their positions -- OT David Diehl, FB Madison Hedgecock, K John Carney and special teamer Chase Blackburn. Teams will be announced Dec. 16.

--OT Kareem McKenzie (back) returned to practice and is likely to play Sunday night. The Giants were scheduled for this game, but got themselves back-to-back Sunday nighters when their Dec. 21 game against Carolina was "flexed" to the NFC Sunday night program. It could be for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

--For a team that had 53 sacks last season and seemed on the way to doing it again, the Giants have hit a sack-slump. They have only six in the last five games, and four came against the Redskins Nov. 30. "We haven't had the number we want," said DE Justin Tuck, the team leader with 11.5, "but it's like a batter in baseball. Suddenly that slump is over."

DALLAS PERSONNEL NEWS: CB Adam Jones got good news on his herniated disc. His second opinion confirmed that the injury was not career threatening but he is not expected back this season.

--RB Marion Barber showed progress on his dislocated pinky toe but it will be a game-time decision.

--LG Montrae Holland has all but been declared out of Sunday's game against the Giants with a sprained ankle. Cory Proctor will start in his place.

--SS Ken Hamlin did not practice Thursday and will not practice all week with a sprained ankle but he is expected to play against the Giants.

--WR Roy Williams will be held out of practice all week with plantar fasciatis. But he is expected to play against the Giants on Sunday.

--TE Jason Witten has been held out of practice this week with a sprained ankle. But the Cowboys expect him to try to go against the Giants Sunday.

INSIDE THE GIANTS CAMP: The question now appears to concern running back Brandon Jacobs, as in will he play Sunday night when the Giants go to Dallas.

He did not practice Thursday, and while that doesn't normally provide a pat answer for such questions, his sore knee is of greater importance for the defending Super Bowl champions than one game -- even if it is against their arch enemies, the Cowboys.

"We'll do the smart thing," said coach Tom Coughlin. "If the medical people say he can play, then he will. If it's unclear, then it will be a game-time decision. We would like that home-field advantage, of course, but we're in the playoffs and we have to do the smart things that will help us get to where we want to go."

The hulking 6-foot-4, 265-pound running back with 1,002 yards is somewhat uncertain for the Dallas game.

"He feels a little better each day," Coughlin said Thursday, "but he didn't practice today. We'll see how he is tomorrow. We don't want to rush him into the game, and we do have a few other running backs."

Indeed, his backup is Derrick Ward, who has 669 yards and, with a chance, could provide the team with its first double-1,000-yard rusher in franchise history. There is also flashy Ahmad Bradshaw, who provides a change of pace with his elusiveness and breakaway speed.

The problem is whether to play Jacobs or not, and from all indications, that won't be decided until 90 minutes before kickoff.

INSIDE THE DALLAS CAMP: The Cowboys have yet another controversy boiling over heading into Sunday's game against the Giants.

Receivers Roy Williams, Patrick Crayton and Terrell Owens had a private meeting with offensive coordinator Jason Garrett complaining about Tony Romo targeting best friend and tight end Jason Witten in what they called a buddy system.

Witten is the leading receiver with 64 passes. He caught 15 passes the past two games. Owens, Crayton and Williams have combined to catch 14 passes during the same span.

Coach Wade Phillips said it was a discussion, not a gripe session.

"No, it doesn't concern me because I don't think there's anything to ... Tony's the quarterback and he always takes the blame," Phillips said. "I think it's just part of being a quarterback in this league because he's going to get a lot of the glory when he wins. And the players know he cares enough to take the blame for things.

"That's an important step not every quarterback does that, so I don't think ... The other players certainly think they're open and have a chance to get the ball and want it. Part of what Terrell says is, 'I'm trying to win and if you can get me the ball I can help you win.' You know, there's nothing wrong with that either. That's not a bad thing."

PREDICTION: Cowboys 28-27

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