By Ernie Palladino
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The defense is shutdown great. The beefed-up passing game should allow the offense to score, if not at will, then regularly and plentifully enough to produce a walkover or two.
Given all that, the Giants have no excuses.
They absolutely, positively must make the postseason this year. And beating the Cowboys in Sunday night’s opener would get them off to a flying start.
That’s a tall order in any season, given the hatred that flows between these two legendary rivals. Has anyone really forgotten how Flozell Adams nearly ruined Justin Tuck’s career back in 2009 when the tackle’s tripping strategy wrecked Tuck’s shoulder? The great defensive lineman was never the same after that.
Emmitt Smith going 68 yards for a touchdown with his FIRST carry of 1995 that sank the Giants’ season from the get-go? The sight of him racing up the middle untouched at Giants Stadium still brings chills.
Can anyone forget the wild games — wins and losses — that these two teams have engineered? Or how the Giants provided two of only three blemishes on the Cowboys’ NFC East-winning 13-3 record last year, by a grand total of four points?
Those were good memories; Victor Cruz scoring the winning touchdown in the 20-19 win in the opener, his first game in 700 days, and then the defense getting a stop as time ran out on Dak Prescott. The defense then holding Dallas scoreless over the final three quarters of the Game 13 rematch, a 10-7 victory that snapped the Cowboys’ 11-game winning streak.
Oh, there’s plenty of juice to these games. Real, inbred hatred. It’s a rivalry that needs no extra seasoning of a cheating scandal. Let the Red Sox have the Apple Watches and leave the surreptitious film production to the Patriots, and send them an extra air pump for good measure.
Giants-Cowboys stands alone these days. And this particular matchup has generated its own sense of hysteria.
It is still unknown whether Odell Beckham, Jr., the lead pony in a high-spirited receiving stable that also includes Brandon Marshall and Sterling Shepard, will play. But Ezekiel Elliott will be there despite the cloud of domestic controversy that could shelve the Dallas running back for six games down the road.
The league made darned sure that a little court matter wouldn’t interfere with the real game Sunday night — TV ratings. So Elliott plays.
His presence, combined with an offensive line that ranks among the league’s best, should provide the Giants’ defense with a major but not insurmountable challenge. A vicious front that includes Jason Pierre-Paul, Damon Harrison, and Olivier Vernon, a back four that includes the best safety in the league in Landon Collins, a superlative cornerback in Janoris Jenkins, an old pro complement in Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and a much-improved linebacking corps stacks up with the top Giants defenses of the past.
For however much the offense improves, the defense will still carry Big Blue. Theoretically, at least.
Assuming Ben McAdoo’s team has better luck than Terry Collins’ Mets in the health department, that should at the very least mean a second consecutive trip to the postseason. And if a few key players can tear themselves away from the celebrities and party boats, possibly the Super Bowl.
If they fulfill the potential, the Giants should find themselves atop the division by season’s end. No excuses for falling short.
But, as the saying goes, the journey starts with the first step.
It would only be appropriate for that walk to begin in Dallas, inside a packed AT&T Stadium, in a game fueled by the energy of hated rivals.
No cheating necessary.
Follow Ernie on Twitter at @ErniePalladino