THE GAME: The Dallas Cowboys (11-1) vs. the Giants (8-4) at the Meadowlands on Sunday, Dec. 11 at 8:25 p.m. ET
THE WEATHER: Welcome to winter! The temperature at kickoff should be just above freezing, but with even light Meadowlands winds it'll feel colder. Much colder. Oh, and good news! Snow is in the forecast. Right now it's not supposed to start until after midnight, so it won't be a factor unless there's overtime. But hey, you never know.
WHAT IT MEANS: First, and perhaps foremost, the Giants don't want to see the Dallas Cowboys clinch the NFC East -- and possibly a first-round bye, or even the No. 1 seed in the NFC -- against them in their home stadium. No, even with a win the Giants aren't going to win the division, but they do have plenty of pride. They also are in a tighter-than-you-think wild-card chase so they need to win to stay ahead of Washington and Tampa. The Redskins play the Eagles at 1 p.m. and the Bucs play the Saints at 4:25 p.m. If both of them win and the Giants lose, the Giants and Bucs will be tied for the two wild-card spots at 8-5 and the Redskins will be right behind at 7-5-1. And that doesn't even factor in the Vikings (6-6 and facing the awful Jaguars) and Packers (6-6 and playing host to the Seahawks). The point? The race is tight. The Giants are in good position, but they need wins.
Oh, and one more thing. They were down after their loss in Pittsburgh last week -- the first "real" test in their brutal December schedule. It made their six-game winning streak against inferior competition look small, and they know it. Then they knocked down even further when DE Jason Pierre-Paul was lost for the regular season after undergoing surgery on a sports hernia and his groin. They need a pick-me-up, a reason to feel good again, a boost to their confidence. Beating the Cowboys for the second time this season could do it. A loss, though, would send them spiraling into their big game against the NFC North-leading Detroit Lions next week.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Giants DE Olivier Vernon. The Giants' $85 million man is having a fantastic season that goes way beyond his eight sacks -- the second-best total of his career. He's been a consistent source of pressure, a great locker room presence, and has been terrific in helping stop the run. He's also been on a tear. He has sacks in five straight games, including two each in the last two games. Few defensive ends are playing better, and that included JPP, who was on a tear of his own. They made quite a 1-2 punch. Now, of course, JPP is gone and his trio of replacements -- Kerry Wynn, Owa Odighizuwa and rookie Romeo Okwara -- have two career sacks between them. That means Vernon, in a game against the best offensive line in football (and a terrific left tackle in Tyron Smith) is going to have to do it on his own. The Giants' pass rush has been fantastic and the pressure it's gotten on quarterbacks particularly in fourth quarters is a big reason why they have won eight games. But can Vernon do it with no real help from the other end? He's fought through his share of double-teams, to be sure, but now he'll see more than ever. This isn't really a fair matchup to truly judge his ability to be 'The Man' in the Giants' pass rush, but it's absolutely what he's going to have to be from here on out. And for the $85 million contract he got from the Giants, he ought to be able to do it.
MATCHUP TO WATCH: Cowboys TE Jason Witten against Giants S Landon Collins. Hey, maybe you've heard this before, but the Giants can't cover tight ends. Every week, it seems, tight ends are open and put up big yardage against them. It's happened all season and it's happened for years and, arguably, no tight end has inflicted more damage against them than Witten --who, by the way, had nine catches for 66 yards against the Giants on Opening Day. That actually isn't a bad performance by the Giants, who have given up 63 catches for 793 yards and three touchdowns to tight ends this season. Of course, that was Dak Prescott's first NFL game, and he's gotten a little better at finding the holes in defenses since then. Now, Collins won't be the only one on Witten, but he's likely to be their primary defender because of his combination of size, physicality, and speed. Witten will get his catches and yards, but Collins -- and the entire Giants defense, really -- needs to make sure he's not running wide open down the middle of the field the way so many tight ends have done against the Giants this season.
THE PICK: Forget for a moment that the Giants won in Dallas on Opening Day, and that it remains the Cowboys' lone loss. It is a significant victory, to be sure, but it was also the first game for the Cowboys' rookie quarterback. It also could've been different if Terrance Williams had gone out of bounds to stop the clock on his last catch. Maybe. Anyway, the Cowboys are a much different and much better team now and Prescott has been simply terrific. Sure, it helps that he has the NFL's second-best run game at his disposal, but he doesn't make mistakes (only two interceptions in 358 attempts, and none since Oct. 30) and he can throw when he has to (he had back-to-back 300-yard games in Pittsburgh and at home against Baltimore in mid-November). With Dez Bryant and Witten, they have as good a 1-2 punch in passing game weapons as anyone, and Cole Beasley (60-670-5) is actually their leading receiver, and Williams (29-394-2) is pretty good, too. And really, they are all only a complement to the stellar running of rookie Ezekiel Elliott (1,285 yards) behind the best offensive line in football.
Jason Garrett has one of the most well-built teams in the NFL and he's running it to near perfection. Now, if there is one Achilles heel it's the pass defense. They don't get a ton of pressure and their cornerbacks can be beat. If only the Giants' passing offense had been clicking at all this season that might be enough to give them an edge. But the Giants are so out of sync right now, and struggling so much to get everyone involved, it's hard to see them suddenly putting it all together. The offensive line has been a mess and Eli Manning is rushing all his throws, and the only thing that seems to work is when he throws the ball to Odell Beckham, Jr.. That is not going to be enough against a team this good. Really, the Giants are lucky they got Dallas in the opener, because they're just not good enough to beat them the way either one of them are playing now. … Cowboys 24, Giants 17.
MY RECORD: 9-3.
MY RECORD WHEN PICKING THE GIANTS TO WIN: 6-1
MY RECORD WHEN PICKING THE GIANTS TO LOSE: 3-2