Welcome to the first Pregame Flyover for 2015! I am so excited for the NFL season to begin that I have just filled my yearly quota for exclamations points.
The Giants open the regular season by traveling to Dallas, whose coaches, brass and fans are convinced that swapping out reigning NFL rushing champion DeMarco Murray for a committee featuring an underwear and perfume bandit (Joseph Randle) and a castoff Raiders running back (Darren McFadden) will have no effect on a team that went 12-4 and was basically one Dez Bryant gaffe away from advancing to the NFC Championship Game.
Sure, and paying Bryant an exorbitant contract will have no effect on his commitment to the game.
Every year one or two teams come out of nowhere to surprise the league with how well they play. (Like, say, the 2014 Cowboys.) And every year one or two teams will come out of nowhere to surprise the league with how poorly they play. (Like, say, the 2015 Cowboys.)
Perhaps their implosion will start early, with a loss to the Giants. And perhaps it’s the giddiness associated with the beginning of the NFL season that has me overwhelmed with wishful thinking.
Anyway, let’s look ahead to the game itself, using our old friend the NFL injury report -- Probable, Questionable, Doubtful and Out – to predict which players, coaches, owners or other figures associated with the game will have varying amounts of influence on the outcome.
Probable Player of the Game: Eli Manning.
Yahoo! Sports football writer Frank Schwab ran an interesting exercise this week, looking at players and coaches who were relative long shots to win NFL awards and trying to pick a winner. He chose Eli Manning, who is 40-1 to win NFL MVP.
Bold choice, but not one I’d get behind. Manning is a two-time Super Bowl MVP and surefire future Hall of Famer, but he also has a penchant for throwing backbreaking interceptions and might be the best elite quarterback to be openly disdained by a large swath of his team’s fan base. That being said, he usually plays great against the Cowboys.
In 21 career games against Dallas (10-11 record), Manning has passed for 44 touchdowns against 23 interceptions for a 91.8 rating (versus 82.4 overall in his career).
Last year he lit up Dallas. In the first matchup, he went 21 of 33 (63.64 percent) for 248 yards, 3 touchdowns, 0 interceptions and a 116.7 rating in a 31-21 loss in Dallas – a game that was tied 14-14 at the half and was New York’s first game following the season-ending injury to Victor Cruz.
In the second meeting he was almost equally as good: 29 of 40 (72.5 percent) for 338 yards, 3 touchdowns, 1 interception and 112.3 rating in a 31-28 loss.
If the Giants are to upset Dallas on the road, they must have one of those kind of outings from Eli.
Questionable Player of the Game: Anyone on the Giants’ defensive line.
The NFL has a rich history of great nicknames for collective units. The Steel Curtain, The Doomsday Defense, The Purple People Eaters, The Hogs. Heck, even the Legion of Boom is OK. But the name in common use in reference to the Cowboys’ impressive offensive line – the Legion of Room – is derivative, uninspired and unworthy of a team that likes to peddle itself as America’s sweethearts.
The line features three first-round picks in Travis Frederick, Tyron Smith and Zack Martin, and helped make DeMarco Murray the NFL Offensive Player of the Year last year. Barring injury, the line is set to clear, um, room for whomever Dallas rolls out at running back for the next few years.
With Jason Pierre-Paul out for the foreseeable future, the Giants are going to be hard-pressed to get pressure from its front four. New defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo is going to have to get creative in pressuring Tony Romo, so look for everyone short of Jason Sehorn to be blitzing from the back seven.
Meanwhile, Cowboys fans, work on a better nickname for that offensive line. After all, the Steelers were offered the nickname of America’s Team first, but turned it down -- so the Cowboys’ best known nickname is basically a hand-me-down.
Legion of Room just makes people think you’re slightly less creative than Seahawks fans.
Doubtful Player of the Game: Brad Wing.
Did you know the Giants have a new punter? Yep, they jettisoned Steve Weatherford and his six-pack abs and brought in Brad Wing, an Australian and therefore the coolest punter in the league. I know little else about Wing as yet, but I know for certain that if he plays a central role in this game – i.e., punting a lot, making heroic tackles – the Giants are doomed.
Out Player of the Game: Greg Hardy.
The Cowboys don’t have a great defense, especially when it comes to putting pressure on the quarterback. To address that shortcoming, the team drafted defensive end Randy Gregory – a great pick and a guy who fell in the draft because he reportedly smoked(es) marijuana to alleviate anxiety – and signed Greg Hardy, who got himself into a bit of trouble last year for a domestic violence incident in which he reportedly beat up his girlfriend and threw her onto a bed covered in automatic weapons and also slammed her arm under a toilet seat cover.
Yeah, Hardy is a Cowboy now, but he has to sit out the first four games with a suspension for that aforementioned incident. But feel free to buy his team jersey, Cowboys fans.