Cowboys-Giants prediction: Can Dallas somehow make playoffs? (2024)

One hundred and forty days since the truncated Dallas Cowboys training camp held its first full practice in Frisco, 37 days until Super Bowl 55 in Tampa (we still assume) and just two days until the noon start at MetLife Field in East Rutherford, NJ, against the New York Giants….

The stakes are high. Much higher than anyone could have imagined a few weeks ago, when the number of things that had to fall right appeared far-fetched.


It is hard to believe, but a win on Sunday sets the Cowboys up for essentially coin-toss chance at a divisional title in a year when just about everything has gone wrong for them.

Taking the field for the regular season’s final game has rarely ended well during this era of Cowboys football. In a win-and-you’re-in scenario against the hated rivals of the NFC East, nothing sums up the Jason Garrett-Tony Romo era better than the Week 17 crash-and-burn performances of 2011, 2012, and 2013 — with special recognition to the garbage day in Philadelphia in 2019 (Week 16, but still).

Jon Machota set it up incredibly well in a piece from Thursday that I would highly recommend:

Standing on the opposing sideline on Sunday will be Jason Garrett. The current Giants offensive coordinator was Dallas’ head coach the previous nine and a half years. Garrett’s Cowboys teams went into Week 17 three consecutive seasons from 2011 to 2013 with an 8-7 record, having the chance to go to the playoffs with a win over a division rival. All three games resulted in Dallas losses.

The Cowboys fell 31-14 at the Giants in 2011. They lost 28-18 at Washington in 2012. The Eagles won 24-22 at AT&T Stadium in 2013.

In a similar situation last year in Week 16, Dallas had a chance to win the NFC East for the fourth time in six seasons with a win at Philadelphia. The Cowboys lost 17-9. They won their season finale against Washington to again finish 8-8, but it didn’t matter because the Eagles won the division by defeating the Giants in Week 17.

He is right. The symmetry of Garrett on the other sideline “coordinating” an offense that is in the red in almost everything is too much to imagine. He will look on as the Cowboys’ partially-JV offense rolls through town and tries to continue a run of form that has produced 108 points in the last three games.


No Dak Prescott, Tyron Smith, La’el Collins or even Zack Martin. This band of 23-year-old offensive linemen has allowed enough good to mix in with the bad that they have actually played their way back into this playoff picture from dead and gone in Baltimore on December 8th.

The debates of whether this late run is good or bad, whether it should change your perception of the first 12 weeks and whether this verifies or disproves the post-Garrett coaching staff is better than the last decade of Garrett running the sideline can wait. What cannot wait is Dallas trying to perform the season-sweep on the Giants and then leave the Philadelphia-Washington game to the toss of the coin.

At that point, it is out of your hands.

But at this point, it is not.

Let’s take a quick New Year’s Day look at the matchup of two teams that definitely have not had good years, but here they both still are thinking they can backdoor a division title.


The big story in Gotham these days circles around how the Giants defense has turned into a pretty good group. For all of the flak that their front office seems to receive — GM Dave Gettleman is one of the most criticized executives in the sport — one would have to admit that they have made some very fine defensive moves.

Four key veterans were brought in. Defensive tackle Leonard Williams, cornerback James Bradberry and linebacker Blake Martinez were each initially snickered at for various reasons. But all have had excellent years and are now seen as some sort of foundation moving forward that could be formidable if they can find some edge rushers to join the fun this offseason.

The fourth player is one who should really should sting Cowboys fans because there was plenty of chatter this summer about the merits of Logan Ryan fitting perfectly with the biggest need the Dallas defense seems to have. Instead, he ended up in New York and has been a wonderful addition to the Giants secondary. He can play slot or free safety and would have probably been the missing piece on either defense. The Giants have now extended him along with Bradberry and Martinez for several more years, and they must figure out how to keep Leonard Williams, who is their biggest talent and leader up front.

It has been a very nice year for new DC Patrick Graham, who has put himself in the mix for a head coaching job this offseason. But either way, this is a much better defense than people realize at the moment.

Cowboys-Giants prediction: Can Dallas somehow make playoffs? (1)

As you can see, it starts in the middle with big Leonard and a very real giant in Dexter Lawrence. They should be able to give the Cowboys interior all sorts of trouble with Dalvin Tomlinson, too, and they will regularly play all three on normal downs. Below is a look at what they will do against 11 personnel in their nickel (we assume).

Cowboys-Giants prediction: Can Dallas somehow make playoffs? (2)

For the first time since probably the Ravens game, the Cowboys face a challenge against a decent defense. It should certainly make the ball come out quick as New York will try to force Andy Dalton into mistakes. The Giants are not a huge blitzing team and they really don’t have exceptional edge rushing, and yet they have been able to get pressure on QBs at a decent rate. The mystery of how they have done it is one that people will debate around that team.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: CeeDee Lamb vs Darnay Holmes/Xavier McKinney

Lamb is having quite a year and while Justin Jefferson and now Tee Higgins have passed him in production, he could still conceivably reach 1,000 yards as a rookie with a 108-yard day. He will have to deal with two rookies. McKinney is a significant talent and will probably be on the case much of Sunday, but Holmes is a fourth-rounder who has been healthier and played much more. To be honest, McKinney vs Lamb is a battle we should all want to see and probably will for years to come. Because of that draft and Logan Ryan being locked in for three years, the Giants actually have an abundance of safeties and are pretty stacked to where McKinney can just be a slot corner for now. And he can really blitz.


This is substantially less problematic at the moment, especially if Dallas might actually have its secondary back in full.

Trevon Diggs and Chidobe Awuzie have barely played together, and when they showed up, either Xavier Woods and Donovan Wilson have been missing, too. In fact, if you look at the entire year, you cannot find a game until potentially this Sunday in which those four players have all been on the field for the majority of the game. It has been ridiculous how when one or two get back, the other guys get hurt.

Cowboys-Giants prediction: Can Dallas somehow make playoffs? (3)

The Giants just don’t have a very good offense. While people will be quick to point to Saquon Barkley’s injury, the fact is they do not get decent QB play very often. This has not been an encouraging year for Daniel Jones, as the poor play is still there from his rookie season, but now the big positives of 2019 are gone, too. He has almost no big games, has been beat up and appears to be losing confidence. He has below-average feel in the pocket, takes huge hits and doesn’t seem to see coverages very well. On top of that is a YPA of 6.4 which is 30th in the league — down where almost nobody wins besides the curious case of Ben Roethlisberger (6.3).

Cowboys-Giants prediction: Can Dallas somehow make playoffs? (4)

Everything is bad about this offense, but they do have two very young tackles in Andrew Thomas and Matt Peart. They might both become something very nice, and this is part of their growing pains. For now, however, the Cowboys should love their chances with Randy Gregory and DeMarcus Lawrence applying pressure.

Clearly, the name of the game for this defense is to stay on its takeaway roll. We shall see if they can pull that off. It is often not something that we have come to expect — just go get three more turnovers — but that is the main reason they have been so good these last few weeks, albeit against bad QBs. Lucky for them, they are not playing Patrick Mahomes this week, either.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Mike Nolan vs Jason Garrett

We have seen the Giants really struggle with T-E stunts. While Rod Marinelli isn’t around to call them all the time, we do know that Dallas on passing downs is willing to employ a myriad of ideas to attack the issues of the opposition. Look for the tackles to occupy the guards only to have the ends dip inside and try to get a free run at Jones.

If Nolan can generate a key play in this game to swing it to Dallas, perhaps narratives will be adjusted a bit.

THE PICK: Cowboys 27, Giants 20

I think Dallas is the better team with more ways to win. We will see if this late flurry of wins has actually done anything to this ridiculous divisional race, but in the end, I know that the 2021 offseason will feel considerably different if Dallas wins four in a row for the first time since November of 2018.

Will it be enough, or will the Eagles lay down and roll over for Washington?

There is only one way to find out.

Either way, enjoy your weekend. This season came and went with a flash. If somehow we are preparing for Tom Brady and the Buccaneers next week, we will certainly feel like casino money is in our pockets.

(Photo: Andrew Dieb/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Cowboys-Giants prediction: Can Dallas somehow make playoffs? (2024)
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