By Paul Dottino
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Ready or not, the Giants’ quest to defend their Super Bowl championship starts tonight with the NFL’s season opener against the Dallas Cowboys at MetLife Stadium.

Sure there are some questions about the Giants, but think about how many times –- in this era of salary caps and free agency -– a championship team has brought back virtually all of its starters on both sides of the ball. It’s next to impossible, but coach Tom Coughlin has such a lineup at his disposal.

Remember how the Giants came out of the gate for him following their Super Bowl XLII victory? They were 11-1 before they were derailed by the Plaxico Burress nightclub incident. This year’s schedule is rough and there are a few thin spots on the depth chart, but it appears that general manager Jerry Reese has another postseason team on his hands –- although their very difficult schedule won’t allow them to slip up at home.

Here are the key matchups to watch in Wednesday night’s game:

1. Giants DEs Jason Pierre-Paul, Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck vs. Cowboys’ offensive line: Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell is going to mix and match, rotate and slide his pass-rushing trio in multiple spots in an effort to make it hard for Dallas’ revamped offensive line to find any consistency. Fewell also has the option of throwing OLB Mathias Kiwanuka into the mix to make things even more confusing.  Dallas LT Tyron Smith and RT Doug Free will have their hands full, and they’ve yet to develop a strong chemistry with incoming veteran LG Nate Livings and RG Mackenzy Bernadeau, who were brought in to power block for the running game.

2. Cowboys LB DeMarcus Ware vs. Giants LT Sean Locklear: Locklear, who’s spent most of his nine NFL seasons on the right side, likely will draw Ware for most of the evening. Locklear progressed as the preseason came to a close and said he finally got comfortable with his new teammates and the playbook a few days ago. He cannot afford to make any mental mistakes and faces pressure similar to that of the Dallas offensive linemen, who know that any missed assignment could lead to a game-changing play. The Cowboys likely will turn up their blitz package, forcing the Giants to at least attempt a chip on Ware, who comes off the edge with great power and quickness.

3Giants CB Michael Coe vs. Cowboys WR Miles Austin. Coe will be making his first pro start in his sixth NFL season and is coming off a strong camp, but is he ready to defend a Pro Bowl-caliber threat like Austin? The Giants are expected to plaster cover CB Corey Webster on Dez Bryant, so you can count on QB Tony Romo testing Coe early and often. Should Coe live up to the challenge, Jayron Hosley –- who said his toe injury has recovered enough to allow him to play in the nickel package –- will be next in Romo’s sights while he looks for Kevin Ogletree.

Prediction: Giants 27, Cowboys 17

How does that 27-17 prediction sound to you? Let us know in the comments section below!


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