In a game that has massive implications for the NFC East divisional title, the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants face off on Sunday in East Rutherford. With the Cowboys sitting at 6-9 and the Giants at 5-10, both teams have struggled this year, but both could somehow pull out the unthinkable.
If, and this is a big if, the Washington Football Team loses to the Philadelphia Eagles in their Sunday Night Football matchup, then the winner of the DAL/NYG game earns the divisional title and moves into the postseason as the NFC’s fourth seed.
For the Cowboys, they earned the role of the favorite on the road, as they are 1.5-point favorites. Getting a point plus the hook on the road speaks to how bad each of these teams is, but especially how bad the Giants are, even at home.
Ezekiel Elliott finally puts together a Zeke-Esque performance
Back in Week 5 when these two teams faced off in Jerry World, Ezekiel Elliott turned 19 carries into 91 rushing yards and two rushing scores, while hauling in one target for 14 yards through the air. While certainly not a substantial statistical day for the former OSU star, this was one of the last large performances by him this year in a struggling season.
But even though the Giants do boast a strong defensive front, Zeke should be able to do what he wants against them and produce at the level that they need to earn the divisional title, all the while taking pressure off of Andy Dalton.
Over 100 yards rushing, 5-plus receptions, and 2 total scores certainly would look like a great day for Zeke and something that he can produce if given the play calls and blocking that he needs.
Andy Dalton struggles but does enough for Cowboys
Andy Dalton has done a fantastic job distributing his targets amongst his top three receivers (Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, and Michael Gallup) ever since stepping in for the injured Dak Prescott, as Cooper has 56 targets, Lamb has 54, and Gallup has 53. But on Sunday, he goes up against a strong secondary that may give him fits and hold him down for most of the game.
Having struggled in his last four games (WAS, BAL, CIN, SF), Dalton’s days as a competent signal-caller are obviously gone, and the Cowboys have tailored their offense around him as such to make sure that he is only needed to play to his strengths. But having those solid three weapons to target, plus Zeke and Dalton Schultz, certainly provides him with a lot of mouths to feed.
Leading a game-winning drive down the field that results in either a field goal or a touchdown would be a fitting way for Dalton to close out the 2020 regular season for the Cowboys, putting them in the driver’s seat and waiting on the outcome of the WAS/PHI game. Being held to under 225 passing yards and only throwing for 1 score certainly are dismal numbers for a starting QB, but then again, if he does just enough, is it really that bad?
Cooper commands target share, puts up 100+ yards and a score
Amazingly enough, it seems like the only Cowboy offensive weapon that did not suffer too poorly in the transition from Prescott to Dalton was wide receiver Amari Cooper, who continued to produce WR1/2 numbers on pretty much a weekly basis. While there certainly were weeks that he barely put up anything, his consistent floor kept him at the top of the Cowboys’ offensive target share.
Playing out the first season of his five-year $100 million extension that he signed in March 2020, Cooper certainly has proven to the Cowboys’ front office that he’s been worth every penny. Having produced a line of 86/1,073/5 has shown that he still is one of the better WRs in the league, regardless of who is throwing him the ball.
The Giants have a solid secondary based on the play of CB James Bradberry, who most likely will be tasked with shadowing Cooper and keeping him quiet all day. But, with as much at stake in this game on Sunday, Cooper should be able to shake that off and put up a big-time performance.
Cowboys defense goes nuclear
Probably the boldest take in this entire piece is that the Cowboys defense will do well, seeing as how they have been one of the worst units in the entire season throughout the league. With opponents putting up high yardage and point totals on this unit, they certainly are due for a stout performance, something that could finally come to fruition on Sunday.
This unit has scored in three games this year, once in Week 5 (vs. NYG), and again in consecutive weeks, Week 14 (@ CIN) and Week 15 (vs. SF), so this unit is capable of producing when needed. But they have also had their fair share of awful performances, as they have let seven teams score 33+ points this season, including a stretch from Week 2 through 4 where teams hung 39, 36, 49, and 28 points on them.
In terms of fantasy, the Cowboys D/ST unit is best looked at in this shot – they have ‘busted’ in 10 games, ‘boomed’ in three games, and have only averaged a measly 2.7 points per contest on the year. Certainly not good, but the fact that they have something to play for in Week 17 could make them finally produce.
Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch has missed practice all week and looks to be trending towards missing this game, which would give veteran Sean Lee the keys to a bigger role on defense, a perfect player to help lead this team to a great game.
Holding the struggling NYG offense to less than 14 points and fewer than 275 offensive yards, all the while forcing 2-plus turnovers, would constitute a great step in the direction of wrapping up the divisional title, and it may be what helps push this team to a win.