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Dallas Cowboys (8-7 SU, 5-9-1 ATS) vs. New York Giants (8-7 SU, 7-7-1 ATS), 8:20 p.m. EST, Week 17 NFL, Sunday, January 1, 2012, MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J., TV: NBC
by Badger, Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: Dal +3/NYG -3
Over/Under Total: 46
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The final spot in the NFC playoffs and the coveted NFC East division title will be up for grabs in a winner-take-all matchup on New Yearís Day when the Dallas Cowboys travel to MetLife Stadium to play the New York Giants on NBCís Sunday Night Football in America.
Itís almost hard to believe that after 16 weeks of the regular season itís come down to a one-game scenario for the title, but thatís exactly what will get to witness Sunday night when the two storied franchises duel in primetime.
We got to this point when the Giants took care of business and beat the blowhard cross-town rival New York Jets in the Battle of New York on Christmas Eve afternoon, 29-14. The G-men got just enough offense from Eli Manning and company and the defense forced three Jets turnovers and clinched it with a late safety to send Rex Ryan and his ďlittle brotherĒ Jets back home with their tails tucked.
With the win the Giants forced the one-game win it all scenario for the NFC East title, regardless of what the Dallas Cowboys did in their Christmas Eve game against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Once word came down in Dallas that the Giants won, the Cowboys took everyone of importance and with any type of soreness and injury out of the game and the end result was a, 20-7, Eagles win on the road in Cowboys Stadium.
However, it wasnít quick enough to allow Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo to emerge unscathed, as he took a direct hit from a helmet on the back of his throwing hand in the second series of the game to put his status and the Cowboys title hopes in jeopardy this week. Romoís hand swelled up big time as he stood on the sideline, and he had issues gripping the ball, so how quickly the swelling goes away and his hand recovers will go a long way toward determining if the Cowboys will be firing all of their bullets in the finale.
On Monday reports came out of Dallas that Romoís hand was okay and that he was upgraded to probable on the injury report, but with him unlikely being able to practice until midweek you canít help but think that this will be a problem for the Cowboys as they prepare for the biggest game of the season.
Oddsmakers waited until late on Monday before releasing a point spread for the big contest, but once word came in that Romo would play they didnít hesitate to set the opening number with the Giants as the ďstandardĒ 3-point favorites at home. With the opening point spread only a few hours old as of press time, and with only a few sportsbooks actually releasing a number for the game already, there has yet to be any line movement in either direction from the early money at the window.
The over/under total opened at 46.5 and is also young and has yet to generate enough action to cause any line movement too, although there are a few offshore sportsbooks that opened at 46 without the hook to bring the push back into play as a result.
The beauty of handicapping this game is the fact that these two teams met just a few weeks ago, so we have a great case study to work from when breaking this game down.
In that week 14 matchup these two teams went back and forth all game until early in the fourth quarter when the Cowboys started to pull away. Romo hit Miles Austin with a touchdown strike early in the fourth to make it a 27-22 game, then dropped a 50-yard pass to Dez Bryant with just over five minutes remaining to make it 34-22 and give everyone the appearance that the Cowboys were in the clear.
But with the season literally on the line, Manning orchestrated another of his fourth-quarter comebacks with two touchdown drives and a two-point conversion to steal a 37-34 victory away from the Cowboys and keep the NFC East title in limbo.
That week 14 game became a contest between Romo and Manning and which offense would get the ball last, because the Cowboys actually had a chance at a tying field goal in the closing seconds, but it was blocked (after an ďice the kickerĒ timeout) by Jason Pierre-Paul to preserve the Giants win.
Both teams virtually gave up on trying to run the football in that game, which is surprising since they both had some success running it earlier in the game (NYG 3.5 per carry, Dallas 5.8 per carry). With 705 yards of passing between the two quarterbacks it was clear to see that neither defense was stepping up to the challenge.
Which means defense will likely be the biggest factor in Sundayís game for the title.
The Giants defense is coming off of a dominating game against the Jets and with a pass rush of Pierre-Paul and Jason Tuck on the edge it almost begs the question of whether of not the Cowboys will try and get Felix Jones 20 to 25 carries in the game to stop them from rushing upfield so hard. If Jones gets going the Cowboys could take pressure off of Romo to win it, but thatís a giant question that will only be answered come Sunday.
The Cowboys defense didnít necessarily play bad against the Eagles last weekend, but with nothing to play for they didnít really show their hand either so to speak. They will need to continue to stuff the run in order to be successful (allow 98.6 ypg Ė 8th in NFL), because with Ahmad Bradshaw back in the fold the Giants running game looked much better than their 32nd-ranked season-long average and more like the Giants running teams of old.
Dallas did win in New York last season, 33-20, but thatís about the extent of the Cowboys success in this rivalry of late. The Giants have won four of the last five games (including week 14) and six of the last eight both on the scoreboard (SU) and at the window for bettors (ATS).
However, those stats in favor of the Giants go against the recent betting trends of this series, since the underdog is 5-0 ATS in the last five meetings and the road team is 4-1 ATS in the last five as well. New York has struggled against the NFC East of late (2-5 ATS in L7) and at home (1-4-1 ATS in L6 in MetLife).
This matchup has gone over the closing total in the last five meetings, and in eight of the last 10 including a perfect 4-0 mark in the Big Apple.
Badgerís Pick to Cover the Point Spread: My head tells me the Cowboys and Romo may struggle, but my gut and the trends tell me the opposite that the Giants are in for disappointment. It just canít be that easy, it never is. Plus, I picked Dallas to win the NFC East back in August. So Iím going to dance with the girl I brought to the dance. Iím taking Dallas and points.
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