At this early point in the regular season, few matchups hold the pregame hype that Sunday afternoon's New England visit to Dallas will. Comparisons of the two teams go well beyond their undefeated records and place in the hearts of millions of fans.
Through the first month of 2007, the Cowboys (4-0) and Patriots (5-0) were two of five teams (Baltimore, Denver, Pittsburgh) ranked in the top 10 in the league in offense and defense. Dallas held the league's best overall offense, while New England brought the top overall defense.
Speaking of the quarterbacks, Brady earned AFC Player of the Month honors for September by getting off to the hottest start in his Hall of Fame career. Equally impressive, Romo continued his Brady-like ascension -- after similarly replacing Drew Bledsoe in Dallas as Brady did in New England -- by earning NFC Player of the Month honors.
The matchup of unbeatens also includes two rebounding wide receiving stars in Terrell Owens and Randy Moss. Owens is loving life in the Big D under new head coach Wade Phillips, happily taking on an increased role in the offense while enjoying the new coach's anti-Bill Parcells leniency. Moss has tuned up the New England passing attack in the dramatic ways he himself predicted during his introductory conference call on draft weekend following the trade from his personal hell in Oakland.
"You all are going to really see some things that you've never seen before and, when it does happen, don't say I didn't tell you," Moss said April 29.
But Brady, Moss and New England's Adalius Thomas-paced defense will get its toughest test of the season to date. Of course, many of the same things were said about the Chargers in Week 2 -- a 38-14 Patriots rout -- and New England's Week 4 Monday night trip to Cincinnati -- a 34-13 walloping of the Bengals.
So will this test actually end up a test? On the other side at Texas Stadium, Romo's Cowboys get the chance to prove themselves against one of the two toughest teams from the stronger AFC conference.
For the Patriots, the game is a measuring stick on the way toward what many were predicting after just a couple weeks could be an undefeated season in New England. The Cowboys can derail not only those presumptuous projections, but could stamp themselves as the team to beat, not just in the NFC, but in the NFL all together.
And coming off Sunday's lackluster 34-17 win over the Browns, a game that very well could have in fact been a game had it not been for four Patriots takeaways, New England's defense knows it needs to play better in this big early season battle.
"Bill (Belichick) is always telling us we hold ourselves accountable to a higher level. Winning is just not enough for us. Playing well and winning is what we try to do," cornerback Ellis Hobbs said. "I think we all can agree we all need to pick it up. It's not going to be enough to play Dallas and beat Dallas."