EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — The Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants are looking to close the gap in the NFC East as they start the season.
The Cowboys (12-5) finished two games behind the NFC champion Philadelphia Eagles in the division, and the Giants (9-7-1) were a distant third. All three made the playoffs, but the Eagles remain the team to catch.
Both teams will come into Sunday's night's season opener at MetLife Stadium, having made significant changes.
Dallas coach Mike McCarthy will be calling plays for quarterback Dak Prescott and a backfield that now features Tony Pollard. Brandin Cooks and CeeDee Lamb give Dallas a potent 1-2 punch at receiver. The Micah Parsons-led defense has added Stephon Gilmore at cornerback.
The Giants were as active in the offseason, bolstering a suspect defense with linemen Rakeem Nunez-Roches and A'Shawn Robinson, inside linebacker Bobby Okereke and two rookie cornerbacks Deonte Banks and Tre Hawkins. The offense is loaded at receiver with playmaking tight end Darren Waller joining draft pick Jalin Hyatt and veteran Parris Campell as Daniel Jones' options along with running back Saquon Barkley.
While the Cowboys have won four straight against New York, and 11 of 12, Parsons said this game isn't going to be a walkover.
“I think they put together a great offseason, just like we did,” Parsons said. “They got great guys who they already had. Just a rivalry just makes it so much harder, such a better game and something you’ve really got to prepare for. Because they’re going to come and give us their best shot. Each game last year came down to the wire, so it’s not a game that we’re just like, ‘Man, this is a game,’ every game. This is like a Super Bowl.”
Long-time Giants special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey said everyone's juices get going for a game against the Cowboys.
“It’s always fun, especially for years we opened up with the Cowboys, but we used to be on the road,” he said. “Now it’s here at home. So, it’s fun. And again, I told the guys other day, ‘We ain’t sticking our toe in the water,’ right? We’re diving in headfirst. So, let’s be ready to rock."
THE POLLARD SHOW
Tony Pollard is the lead back for the Cowboys now that two-time rushing champion Ezekiel Elliott (New England) is gone in a cost-cutting move.
Dallas put the $10.1 million franchise tag on Pollard, who was a more potent playmaker than Elliott last season. Still, he is unproven when not sharing duties with Elliott. Pass protection could be an issue.
Rico Dowdle, an undrafted fourth-year player with seven career carries and rookie sixth-round pick Deuce Vaughn are his backups.
Since being acquired from Las Vegas in March, Waller has been the main option for Jones in training camp and the preseason. The two combined for three catches for 30 yards against the Panthers on a game-opening touchdown drive.
The 6-foot-6 veteran runs faster than some wide receivers and is a matchup problem for opponents.
GIANTS RIGHT TACKLE
The major concern on the Giants offensive line is second-year right tackle Evan Neal. The No. 7 overall pick in 2022 struggled last season and he said one of his worst games was against Dallas. Line coach Bobby Johnson said Neal worked hard in the offseason on his footwork.
It will be interesting to see how it pans out. Dallas had eight sacks against New York last season. The Giants didn't have any.
PAIR OF UPGRADES
The Cowboys used offseason trades to add a key piece on offense and another on defense.
Prescott gets his first live look at Cooks, a vertical threat who should take some pressure off Lamb and make Dallas deeper on offense by dropping Michael Gallup to the third spot. Cooks has a chance to become the first NFL player to have 1,000-yard seasons with five different teams.
Glmore’s addition gives the Cowboys All-Pro pedigrees with both outside cornerbacks. Trevon Diggs, tied for the NFL lead with 17 interceptions since entering the league in 2020, is playing his first game since signing a $97 million contract extension when camp opened. Gilmore was the 2019 AP Defensive Player of the Year with the Patriots.
One of the advantages the Giants have is at placekicker. Graham Gano is entering his 14th season. The 36-year-old was 29 of 32 on field-goal attempts last season and 32 of 34 on extra points. The Cowboys replaced Brett Maher with rookie Brandon Aubrey. A former MLS player, the 28-year-old kicked in the USFL before joining the Cowboys. He was 8 of 9 in the preseason.
AP Pro Football Writer Schuyler Dixon contributed to this story.
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Tom Canavan, The Associated Press