Eli Manning

NFL Predictions: New York at Dallas

Favorite: Dallas (-7)

It’s kind of sad that while Giants/Cowboys will probably be the best game this weekend, it was the contest that received the most scrutiny this week due to irrelevant concerns.

So instead of talking about the quarterbacks like I have throughout the past three game predictions, the relative uncertainty of this game’s outcome means it deserves a closer look.

In other words, I have no idea who is going to win so I’m going to have to talk myself through this.

The Giants have been a popular pick all week, for several reasons:

The Pats Game
The Giants pulled off a rare accomplishment against New England, making the most-hyped game of the NFL regular season a game that actually surpassed the hype. Anybody who watched the first half not only believes the Giants can play at the level of an elite team, they’re also grateful to the Giants for providing a game so entertaining that NFL Network announcer Bryant Gumbel was rendered invisible.

The Giants’ pass rush
People love sacks, and the Giants delivered plenty of quarterback pressure in 2007. While their secondary is held together by duct tape and the nearly fossilized R.W. McQuarters, the Giants often made up for that with a defensive line that helped New York lead the NFL in sacks with 53 over the regular season.

Sacks and pressure often lead to chaos, especially if the opposing quarterback is a bit shaky mentally, which leads us to…

The Romo Factor
I made my point on Jessica Simpson: her parents shouldn’t have made the trip to Mexico. I’m done with that now, I promise.

But you can’t ignore that the whole Jessica situation has gotten people positively frothy with expectations of a Romo meltdown, especially if the Giants hit him hard early.

Romo’s reputation as a quarterback whose neck gets a little tight during big games is overblown. He muffed the snap on an extra point (and if you don’t think I love the opportunity to type the word “muffed,” you don’t know me that well yet). That’s it. He wasn’t exactly en fuego against Seattle in his only playoff game last year, but he was 17-for-29 with 189 yards and a touchdown, no interceptions. Romo isn’t Neil O’Donnell in Super Bowl XXX, he’s a quarterback who has only played 28 full games, most of them extremely well.

If someone asked you three weeks ago if you’d rather have Tony Romo or Eli Manning in this year’s playoffs, would you have even blinked before picking Romo? All the sudden Eli’s public image has gone from a guy who looked confused by his own facemask to one of the two quarterbacks with a better chance to get to the Super Bowl than his older brother.

Dallas is at home, but Texas Stadium might give one of the weakest home field advantages in the league. I’m surprised they don’t hand Cowboys fans thundersticks; their crowd is about one decibel louder than the average Atlanta Falcons crowd was this year.

The running backs for both teams are pretty much interchangeable. The level of wide receiver play is similarly close, and both teams have had good and bad games over the last month (with both teams throwing up major stinkers against the Redskins).

As much as it pains me to say this, I don’t think the perceived weaknesses of the Cowboys are as detrimental as the actual deficiencies the Giants have been masking.

The Giants don’t have Jeremy Shockey, while the Cowboys have a healthy Jason Witten. While both Plaxico Burress and Terrell Owens have bum ankles, only the Giants have an equally beat-up secondary.

While the Giants seem to have some sort of “team of destiny” mojo going, I think this game is where their late-season surge ends. The Giants will rally to keep the score close, but the Cowboys will be hosting Green Bay next Sunday.

Prediction: Dallas Cowboys 27, New York Giants 23

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