New York's season-opening matchup with the 'Boys didn't go as planned, as the G-Men totaled just 269 yards to the Cowboys' 433 and allowed Tony Romo to throw for more than 300 yards and three touchdowns in a 24-17 loss at MetLife Stadium.
With the Giants and Cowboys heading in opposite directions since the Week 1 meeting, Big Blue looks poised to earn its second consecutive division win after defeating Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins last Sunday at home.
As we do each week, here's my prediction on the top Giants offensive players for their Week 8 matchup at Dallas.
Martellus Bennett really enjoyed playing against his ex team in Week 1.
Bennett caught the only Eli Manning touchdown pass against his former team in the 2012 season opener on his way to four receptions for 40 yards.
The Black Unicorn has become a vital part of the Giants offense, both in the passing and run-blocking game. He scored touchdowns in three consecutive games to begin the season and added five receptions and 79 yards to New York's offense in Week 7 in a win against the Washington Redskins.
Manning loves his tight ends and that's been evident again in 2012, as Bennett has seen the second-most targets for the G-Men. The 25-year-old Bennett is enjoying an increased role in New York because of his quarterback, which ESPN New York content provider Robin Lundberg points out:
If there are still people who need proof that Eli Manning is >>>> Tony Romo, see the season Martellus Bennett is having.— Robin Lundberg (@robinlundberg) October 21, 2012
Now, with the Giants establishing the running game and Hakeem Nicks being healthier, the Cowboys defense has a lot more to worry about this weekend than they did in Week 1.
A solid day for Marty B.
Prediction: 5 rec, 60 yards, 1 TD
Although Dallas defends the pass well—it boasts the No. 3 pass defense in the NFL—Eli Manning is still in for a big afternoon on Sunday.
Over the course of his career against the Cowboys, Manning has tossed 32 touchdowns to 18 interceptions for an average of 254 yards per game, according to Pro Football Reference. Moreover, Manning already had success against Dallas' new-look secondary in Week 1—despite his offense being at full strength—when he finished the night with a 94.9 passer rating.
Dallas may sport a solid pass defense on paper, but they haven't exactly played against the cream of the crop in terms of quarterbacks, as Russell Wilson, Josh Freeman, Jay Cutler, Joe Flacco and Cam Newton aren't even close to being on Manning's level from under center.
Even ex-New England Patriots safety Rodney Harrison couldn't hold back from dubbing Manning the best QB in the NFL (via Ralph Vacchiano)
Manning has the advantage on his side already having seen this defense one earlier this season, the first of the year where teams are still trying to gel.
We all witnessed monster performances from the Super Bowl MVP last season against Dallas and there's no reason to think he won't walk into Cowboys Stadium and do it again this weekend.
Prediction: 25-of-32, 280 yards, 3 TD
Hakeem Nicks has got to be licking his chops at the opportunity to play at Dallas this weekend.
He was held in check in Week 1 because of injury, but I'm sure Rob Ryan hasn't forgotten what Nicks did the last time he stepped foot in Cowboys Stadium in Week 14 last season.
The former UNC standout torched the Cowboys for eight receptions and 163 yards to lead New York to a crucial victory over its division foes. Then, three weeks later and the season on the line, Nicks went for five receptions, 76 yards and a TD against Dallas.
Coming off a five reception win against the Washington Redskins, Nicks appears to be getting back to his old self, as ESPN New York's Ian Begley touches on.
Leading up to Sunday's game against Washington, Nicks told The Star-Ledger's Jorge Castillo,
It’s feeling better. I feel like starting to practice on it would be the only way to break it back in and get it better, so I took that approach this week and got the green light to do it. So it’s definitely been getting better.
With Nicks getting healthier each week, the Cowboys will have a tough time sticking both Nicks and Victor Cruz for all 60 minutes.
Prediction: 7 rec, 90 yards
Ahmad Bradshaw had every right to be upset with coach Coughlin for the game plan last Sunday against the Redskins. Bradshaw is an emotional guy and one heck of a runner when he gets into a groove, but with just 12 carries in the game, it's hard for a running back to get into a groove.
If you haven't figured it out by now, Bradshaw is the heart and soul of the Giants' offense and his teammates echoed that notion to ESPN New York's Ian Begley.
As Antrel Rolle said,
If I'm going to a fight, I'm taking Ahamd with me. I love that guy. I love his passion. I love the attitude he brings to a game. He's a very emotional guy. Nothing he does is meant to be disturbing to anyone else. It may come across like that; it may not.
We all know Ahmad means well, he means extremely well. And he's a passionate player. He wears it on his sleeve. I back him 100 percent, and we ride or die with Ahmad... I’ll take Ahmad’s passion however it comes. I know he doesn’t mean any harm. He’s never been a disturbance to this team. I’ll take Ahmad’s passion every day of the week.
Bradshaw had a solid effort in Week 1 against the Cowboys—78 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries—and I fully expect him to be a huge factor in this one. Before the Redskins game, Bradshaw had back-to-back monster games against the Cleveland Browns and San Francisco 49ers, and against a division rival like Dallas, you can bet he's going to bring his best.
Marshawn Lynch is the only running back this season to rush for more than 100 yards on the Cowboys defense, but that will change following Sunday's game.
Prediction: 21 carries, 125 yards, 1 TD
Like teammate Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz has grown accustom to big games against the Cowboys in his young career.
Week 1 of the 2012 NFL season saw Cruz lead New York in receiving against the Cowboys, hauling in six catches for 58 yards. Cruz also dominated Dallas in two meetings last season, most notably highlighted by a six-reception, 178-yard Week 17 performance with a touchdown.
Heading into this matchup with the Cowboys, Cruz has caught a touchdown pass in four consecutive games, including three against the Cleveland Browns in Week 5, and chances are that Dallas won't have an answer for the star wideout.
The NFL's Vice President of Football Communications Michael Signora payed tribute to Cruz's big-play ability with these tweet:
Victor Cruz now has 6 TD catches of 70+ yards, tied for most among active players. Cruz has played in 26 career games. #WASvsNYG— Michael Signora (@NFLfootballinfo) October 21, 2012
Cruz's value was diminished in Week 1 due to Nicks' injury, but with a healthier No. 88 on the field this Sunday, Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne are in some serious trouble.
You can expect to see Cruz doing the salsa in the end zone and throwing up the Roc on Sunday afternoon.
Prediction: 8 rec, 115 yards, 1 TD
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