Since the beginning of the tradition of having the Super Bowl champion host next season’s opener, the home team is 8-0. That means the New York Giants should feel very comfortable going into their first game of the 2012 season, hosting their bitter NFC East rivals, the Dallas Cowboys.
Seeing as the Giants won five of the last six meetings between the two teams should also fill Tom Coughlin and his players with confidence but we can go even further, or probably settle for simplest explanation – The Giants simply have the better team, and the better weapons, both on offense and defense.
While the Dallas Cowboys probably hold the edge when it comes to their linebacker crew (Bruce Carter, Sean Lee, Dan Connor) and maybe even their upgraded cornerback situation, signing Brandon Carr and drafting Morris Claiborne, the advantage the Giants have with their fully fit and best in the league defensive line, featuring Justin Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul and Osi Umenyora, sacking Tony Romo nine times in the two meetings last season.
And if that wasn’t enough, the Cowboys offensive line looked like a mess last season and during the preseason, as their best tackle, Tyron Smith, was moved to the left side and is still struggling to adjust with the change. Facing the Giants on opening night, the adjustment isn’t going to magically happen and succeed.
And while the Cowboys’ biggest weapons are their offensive crew, even if they do get the right kind of protection, Tony Romo has all three of his favorite targets carrying some sort of injury heading into the game – Jason Witten, Dez Bryant and Miles Austin. John Phillips will probably get the start at tight end, with the Cowboys hoping that they’ll get a lot more of him this season than the 15 receptions for 101 yards he saw last year. Having DeMarco Murray back from his injury should provide a bit more versatility, power and speed to an offense that missed a running threat during the second half of the season.
Eli Manning doesn’t have Brandon Jacobs, but the Giants are still following Ahmad Bradshaw as their feature back, with the addition of David Wilson, a rookie out of Virginia Tech who ran for 1709 yards last season in College. His two biggest weapons are those that helped him finish with 4933 yards last season – Victor Cruz, who caught for 1536 yards and nine touchdowns last season, and Hakeem Nicks, finishing the regular season with 1192 yards and 7 touchdowns.
The 31-14 beat-down the Giants gave the Cowboys on the last game of the regular season in 2011 is still ringing in Dallas’ players heads, with Tony Romo sacked six times, missing out on the postseason again. The Cowboys led the NFC East with a 7-4 record, but lost four of the last five games, including another fourth quarter collapse against the Giants, at home, losing 37-34.
Will it be different this time? It seems like the Cowboys might be better equipped to handle the Giants later in the season, when the offensive line problems, hopefully, are sorted out. For now, the Super Bowl champions look like a much better prepared unit for the start of the season, and their advantages should give them enough of an edge to comfortably make it through the opener.