|Old friends, Tony Romo and Eli Manning, meet again when the Cowboys and Giants kick off the season. (Getty Images)|
It's kind of hilarious that Mariah Carey and No Doubt will perform before the Giants and Cowboys kick off the 2012 NFL season on Wednesday night. After all, the last time those bands were relevant, Dallas was much closer to a pair of Super Bowl victories than New York.
The proverbial butter has churned though, and with the Giants coming off their second Lombardi Trophy in five years, it's Jerry Jones Cowboys team that faces all the pressure leading up to the first game of the 2012 season.
Such pressure isn't a surprise, either, as Jones spent much of the offseason chatting about windows closing and glory holes. The rest of the time, he was riling up the G-Men with some bulletin board material that involved the phrase "ass-whupping."
Tom Coughlin's crew remained (mostly) quiet, but on Wednesday night, they'll get their chance to do their talking on the field. To get you ready, here's a five-point preview:
1. Lemme lemme upgrade
In the Giants pair of victories over Dallas last year, the Cowboys secondary got lit up by Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks, who combined for 491 receiving yards in the two games. Dallas' front office recognized the problem with the secondary and shoved their chips in on Brandon Carr ($50 million in free agency) and Morris Claiborne (trading up in the draft) to improve the secondary.
Nicks and Cruz still will get theirs, because they're talented wideouts and Eli Manning is, in fact, an elite quarterback. But the ability of Carr and Claiborne to prevent the Giants from lobbing single/blown-coverage bombs down the field will go a long way toward letting Jerry know if his investment was worthwhile.
2. Down with JPP?
Did you know that Naughty by Nature also is playing at the kickoff in NYC? You ride that Jason Pierre-Paul nickname, barely-relevant rappers who were super awesome when I used to watch MTV. Ride it. The Giants also hope they can ride JPP to another big-time season; many folks believe he can challenge for the single-season sack record (it's possible) and there's more than a few analysts predicting him to win the Defensive Player of the Year Award (also possible).
But just like the Giants of yore, this team has a ferocious pass-rush rotation, and the combo of Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora and JPP is what should scare the Cowboys. Their offensive line was bad last year, and it might not be great again in 2012, but at the very least Tyron Smith should turn into an anchor at left tackle, and Doug Free should be vastly improved from last year with a move to the right side. Having good tackles is the only way to keep your quarterback from being sacked to death against the Giants. Case in point: the 2011 playoffs. If the Giants can get pressure up the middle against a not-so-good interior of the offensive line, it'll become much easier to fluster Romo, and it will also mean many less double teams for the trio of skilled pass rushers. That will only lead to good things for New York.
3. The Red Cross
Injuries are a huge part of this game, which is a little surprising considering that it's the beginning of the season. Dallas' skill position players with injuries include Jason Witten (lacerated spleen), Miles Austin (hammy issues), Dez Bryant (knee tendonitis) and DeMarco Murray (wrist injury). These are the guys that Romo and the Cowboys heavily depend on to put numbers up on the scoreboard.
Witten's almost a guarantee not to play, medical waiver or no waiver, and just how banged up the other guys are will go a long ways toward determining whether or not Dallas can keep pace with the flying Elis. Of course it will certainly help that the Giants secondary also is dealing with a bunch of injuries. Corey Webster's healthy, but Terrell Thomas is done for the year, Prince Amukamara is out Wednesday and rookie Jayron Hosley is questionable with a toe injury, though he's expected to play.
Oh yeah, and the Giants have some offensive injuries too: Ahmad Bradshaw's probable with a hand injury and Hakeem Nicks is expected to play, but he's still recovering from a fractured foot.
4. Amusing Pieces of Giants and Cowboys Media Presented Without Comment
5. History repeats itself
Folks are quick to forget this, but the last time Tom Coughlin's crew came off a title, they started 11-1 the next year before an incident involving Plaxico Burress, Plaxico Burress' leg and a gun derailed their season. They were the prohibitive favorite to repeat that season and there are many similarities between this year's team and 2008's team ... except this rendition is much better. Their pass rush rotation is more fearsome and youthful, their wide receivers are more talented, and Eli is more seasoned and performing at a much higher level.
As if that wasn't enough to jump on the Giants bandwagon, here's a little statistical nightmare that might warrant stocking Jerry's box in the Meadowlands with Maalox: Not only are the Cowboys 0-7 over the past two years when playing their game on NBC, but the defending Super Bowl champion is 8-0 in the NFL Kickoff Game.
The Cowboys put up a good fight and keep things close, the secondary looks good against the Giants receivers, but after Eli marches down the field for a clutch, go-ahead, fourth-quarter touchdown, the Dallas offensive-line protection breaks down on a would-be game-winning drive, causing Romo to scramble and throw a pick. After the Giants win 24-21, everyone gets to spend the next 72 hours debating whether or not Romo is a choker. Welcome back, NFL.
For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter, subscribe to our RSS Feed watch Pro Football 360 daily at 3 p.m. ET and NFL newsletter. You can follow Will Brinson on Twitter here: @willbrinson.