The New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys will meet for the second time in 2013 from MetLife Stadium in a critical NFC East showdown.
It was Dallas that beat New York in Week 1, but plenty of things have changed since then.
Dallas sits at 5-5 and second place in the division coming out of a bye—a break that was sorely needed for a miserable defense. New York enters the game on a four-game win streak and sits at 4-6 in third place.
Between two classic rivals, this is rather simple—Dallas wins and catches up with 6-5 Philadelphia while ending New York's season, or the Giants win and have a legit shot at the playoffs.
As is the case with any game, a handful of players will decide the outcome. Here are three stars to watch who will go a long way in deciding this NFC East battle.
Tony Romo, QB, Dallas Cowboys
Tony Romo is in the middle of another great season. He has thrown for 2,681 yards, 21 touchdowns and six interceptions while completing over 64 percent of his passes.
Romo is a main component in this game not because of inconsistency, but because he must elevate his game to make up for his poor defense.
The Cowboys defense ranks last against the pass and is third-worst against the run. The unit ranks dead last overall with 439.8 yards allowed per game.
Romo's task is to overcome this unit—not just the New York defense that ranks in the top half of the league against the pass.
ESPN's Tim MacMahon brings up a good point:
Tony Romo doesn't want to be in group w/ Josh Freeman, Matt Barkley, Terrelle Pryor, Scott Tolzien. Those are QBs who lost to NYG this year.— Tim MacMahon (@espn_macmahon) November 22, 2013
Those are the last four quarterbacks who have lost to New York. Romo is clearly better, but if he doesn't make up for a porous defense, he'll be joining them quickly.
Dez Bryant, WR, Dallas Cowboys
For Romo to overcome his defense, he's going to need his star receiver to step up big time.
Said receiver would be Dez Bryant, who has gone without a touchdown in his last two games.
Let's check in with MacMahon one more time:
Dez Bryant’s stats in first 5 games: 29 catches on 45 targets, 423 yards, 6 TD. Last 5 games: 23 catches on 44 targets, 326 yards, 2 TD— Tim MacMahon (@espn_macmahon) November 12, 2013
Bryant was only targeted twice in Dallas' Week 10 loss to New Orleans. That's simply unacceptable, regardless of what the opposing defense is doing in an attempt to shut him down.
Want another disheartening stat for the star receiver? Bryant has gone four straight games against the Giants without a touchdown.
Either that changes Sunday, or the Cowboys give up precious positioning to the Giants in the division after a loss.
Andre Brown, RB, New York Giants
Andre Brown has been a major part of the turnaround in New York the last few weeks.
Brown returned from injured reserve in Week 10 and immediately ran for 115 yards and a touchdown in Week 10. He followed that up with 66 more yards in Week 11.
Which team wins?
Fun stat time—Brown is already New York's leading rusher despite playing in just two games.
Brown's ability to produce will continue to take pressure off quarterback Eli Manning. The embattled quarterback is in the middle of a down year and has thrown 12 touchdowns compared to 17 interceptions in large part because he has not been backed by a reliable ground game.
Against a Dallas defense that allows 126.8 rushing yards per game and gave up 242 rushing yards to New Orleans (a pass-first team) in Week 10, Brown must keep Romo off the field and chip away at the Cowboys for his team to win.
Not only will he be effective, Brown will keep things simple for the struggling Manning.