New York Giants Must Beat The Cowboys In Week 1, No Matter What 4
PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 22: Eli Manning #10 of the New York Giants and his teamates enter the field before the game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on December 22, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

It’s irrelevant who plays or doesn’t. The New York Giants must beat the Dallas Cowboys in Week One to make a statement to the rest of the league.

The NFL preseason is finally over. And in its ending, the New York Giants’ focus now shifts to their Week One match up with the Dallas Cowboys. And regardless of who’s suspended or out with injury, the Giants must beat their bitter rivals — in what would be a statement win.

Last year, the Giants had the Cowboys’ number. Winning in nail-biting fashion 20-19 in Dallas and 10-7 in the Meadowlands, the Giants swept their division rivals. In doing so, they were also one of only two teams to beat Dak Prescott and the Cowboys in their 13-3, 2016 season, the Philadelphia Eagles being the other team to claim victory over the division champs.

The Giants’ ability to shut down Dallas in their two regular season match ups was generated by their elite defense. Given the play of their star-studded defensive line — consisting of Jason Pierre-Paul, Olivier Vernon and Damon Harrison — they were able to contain rookie phenom Ezekiel Elliott to just 52 rushing yards in their Week One match up. They were also able to limit Prescott to just 165 yards in the air, while forcing him to throw two interceptions in Week 14.

One year later, both teams are of the mindset that they’re better than ever. The Giants have added weapons for Eli Manning in wideout Brandon Marshall and rookie tight end, Evan Engram. On the other hand, the Cowboys believe that with Prescott and Elliott going into their sophomore years, they’ll produce at an even higher level than they did last season — which is quite fair to assume based on their 2016 success.

ARLINGTON, TX – AUGUST 26: Ezekiel Elliott #21 of the Dallas Cowboys takes the handoff from Dak Prescott #4 of the Dallas Cowboys in the first quarter of a preseason game against the Oakland Raiders at AT&T Stadium on August 26, 2017 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

But both the Giants and Cowboys have a crisis on their hands.

For the Giants, wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. remains questionable for Week One after suffering an ankle injury against the Cleveland Browns two weeks ago. If Beckham is not healthy enough to play Week One, the Giants would have a major uphill battle to climb — even with the additions of Marshall and Engram.

With an offensive line that’s struggled to hold its own in year’s past, losing Beckham will only expose their woes up front even more, something which the Giants cannot afford.

On the other hand, the Cowboys are facing what’s become a league-wide controversy in the suspension of Elliott. Roughly two weeks ago, Elliott was handed a six-game suspension by the NFL for domestic violence. Now controversy has sparked as to whether there’s enough evidence to assure that Elliott is guilty and if his suspension should be overturned.

GREEN BAY, WI – JANUARY 8: Odell Beckham #13 of the New York Giants warms up before the NFC Wild Card game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on January 8, 2017 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

At the moment, chances are Dallas will be without its star running back versus the Giants, barring an unforeseen overturn. That means the Cowboys’ running game will have to go up against a dominant Giants defense that surrendered the third fewest yards on the ground in the NFL last season without Elliott leading the way.

But whether Elliott is suspended or Beckham is out due to injury, the Giants have to come out on top in their regular season opener.

The reality is that if Beckham and/or Elliott are out, no one is going to feel sorry for either team; it’s next man up, especially for Dallas.

While replacing one of the league’s best backs is no easy task, the Cowboys are the one team who could make up for his loss in the short-term. While not elite rushers, backup halfbacks Darren McFadden and Alfred Morris are both proven commodities. And with an offensive line portrayed as one of, if not the best, units in the NFL, the Cowboys’ running game will still be able to produce at a high level. It also helps that McFadden and Morris, like Elliott, are downhill runners.

For the Giants, one could argue that they have the best receiving core in the NFL. With Beckham, Marshall, Sterling Shepard, former Cowboy Dwayne Harris and even Engram (who while a tight end, tends to line up as more of a slot receiver), the Giants are very deep at the receiver position. But, of course, a below average line can make that depth irrelevant.

If the Giants are going to win without Beckham, they’re going to need their O-Line to help facilitate their run game. While second-year man, Paul Perkins, veteran Shane Vereen and newly healthy Orleans Darkwa aren’t top-tier backs, they have no chance at running with any consistency unless their O-Line can hold its own.

In terms of who replaces Beckham on the outside, it’s the same philosophy that Dallas is facing: “next man up”. While it’s virtually impossible to replace Beckham’s skill set, a core consisting of Marshall, Shepard and Engram should be able to hold its own for Manning and company.

The Giants could have the advantage of Elliot not being on the field and, simultaneously, Dallas could have the luxury of trying to stop an offense deprived of its best player in Beckham. But at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter who’s playing or not, week one presents a massive challenge for Ben McAdoo and company.

The NFL world is of the mindset that the Cowboys are the team to beat in the NFC and have a great chance at making it to the Super Bowl. While the Giants are respected among the league, many feel that they are likely a Wild Card threat, as opposed to a Super Bowl one.

Last year, the Giants had the Cowboys’ number and now they have the chance to do the same from the get-go — which is what they should want. Prescott, Elliott, Dez Bryant, Jason Witten and company were the talk of last season and remain the focal point of that discussion in 2017.

But talk is cheap. The Giants are the one team in the NFL who owned an undefeated record against them last season. They possess one of the best defenses in the NFL with their run-stomping line and elite secondary, which features the likes of Landon Collins, Janoris Jenkins and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. There’s no reason why the Giants can’t do the same in 2017.

Regardless of who plays or who doesn’t, the Giants Week One rodeo in Dallas should not be taken for granted — it’ll be crucial for their division title hopes and playoff seeding. Plus, if Elliott is out and Beckham can get himself healthy, they’ll have no excuses to not win.

Whether the Giants win or lose will speak volumes for where they stand at the current moment with the rest of the conference.

Robbie Stratakos is a New York Knicks/Giants Beat Writer for Elite Sports NY (ESNY); he also covers the NBA nationally. He previously wrote at Last Word On Pro Basketball and Empire Writes Back. In addition to writing for ESNY, Robbie is an MLB columnist at Baseball Essential. He previously wrote at HardBallScoop - part of Scout/CBS Interactive/247Sports, Last Word On Baseball and District On Deck. He is attending Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh, New York. Follow him on twitter @RPStratakos