By Curt Macysyn

Most NFL fans view Dallas Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones with disdain. After all, who the heck appoints himself general manager of the team that he owns? But Jones has been resilient in combating the relentless criticism, and he has the Cowboys positioned to make a deep playoff run this season.

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Meanwhile, this season, the New York Giants were seemingly on the rebound, with a rebuilt roster under first-year head coach Ben McAdoo. But the feel-good story of a six-game winning streak came crashing down on Sunday, the result of a 24-14 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. With that loss, thoughts of an NFC East division title have largely vanished, and the G-Men face the Cowboys with their playoff lives on the line.

Dallas Cowboys Season Record: 11-1

Perhaps the Cowboys are still lamenting their opening day 20-19 loss to the New York Giants, otherwise the team would have a perfect record. Since Sept.11, however, Dallas has reeled off 11 wins in a row. During that stretch, the Cowboys have bested the Washington Redskins twice and defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers (35-30) at Heinz Field. Dallas has also shown an aversion to purple, as they beat the Baltimore Ravens and Minnesota Vikings in the past three weeks.

Cowboys on Offense:

Dallas has one of the top offenses in the NFL, ranking fourth in total yards per game. The ‘Boys average 395.7 yards per game in total offense, while their points per game average (27.8) stands at fifth in the league. The unit is led by its second-rated rushing attack that accumulates 155.8 yards per game. The leader of the rushing attack is rookie Ezekiel Elliott, who has already run for 1,285 yards this season.

Rookie quarterback Dak Prescott manages the passing attack, and he has been rock solid in his first season. Prescott has thrown for 2,978 passing yards with 19 touchdowns and only two interceptions, which is pretty remarkable. A healthy Dez Bryant means danger as the boisterous receiver has six touchdown catches in limited action this year while the diminutive but highly-skilled Cole Beasley leads the team with 60 catches.

Tight end Jason Witten is, plain and simple, a Giant killer, as he has taken a drink from the fountain of youth in his 14th season. Witten has 52 catches this season, with a season-high nine receptions against the G-Men in Week 1.

Cowboys on Defense:

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Dallas cannot be categorized as a stout defense; the strength of this team primarily rests with its offense. A few statistics do jump off the page, however. First, the Giants’ maligned ground attack will be tested by the Cowboys’ second-rated rushing defense (82.2 yards per game). Second, Dallas only surrenders an average of 19 points per game, good for second in the NFL.

Outside of linebacker Sean Lee, who leads the team with 112 tackles, the Dallas’ front seven is not much to write home about. But the team’s secondary is deep and under-appreciated. Safeties J.J. Wilcox, Barry Church and Jeff Heath all get looks in the coverage units, as well ever-improving second-year man Byron Jones.

Cornerbacks Morris Claiborne, Orlando Scandrick, Anthony Brown and Brandon Carr are a quartet that is unmatched throughout the NFL. This is a deep and talented group that does not get the hype of Josh Norman and Richard Sherman. Carr and Claiborne are every bit the equals of Norman and Sherman. Once again this season, the Cowboys do not turn over their opponents, as they are last in the league with four interceptions.

Players to Watch: Ezekiel Elliott and Sean Lee

This one is easy. Running back Ezekiel Elliott has probably sewn up the Rookie of the Year award, and he’s now working on a possible MVP candidacy. Those who may scoff at that suggestion, ask yourself: Who is the best player on the best team in the NFL? Elliott is a rare case where the intersection of hype and production has indeed met. With 1,285 rushing yards on his ledger, Elliott outpaces the second best back, DeMarco Murray, by more than 240 yards. If the G-Men are without Jason Pierre-Paul, the task of stopping Elliott becomes even harder.

The top 17 tacklers in the league are linebackers (hint, hint Jerry Reese). Sean Lee ranks fourth with 112 tackles. When Lee is healthy, he has been a tackling machine, but he has never played a complete 16-game season in his career. Lee is a sideline-to-sideline guy who is not flashy, but gets the job done. The Dallas front four will occupy the Giants’ blockers, so Lee can patrol the second level without interference.

Outlook:

It’s funny to say that the Cowboys are actually a better matchup for the Giants than the Steelers were, but they are. Pittsburgh’s multiple fronts tested the Giants’ slow-footed offensive line, and caused Eli Manning’s pocket to continually break down. Dallas does not rush the passer with the same ferocity as Pittsburgh, so Manning and his receivers may have more time to allow plays to develop.

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Perhaps we have seen the last of Rashad Jennings as the feature back, especially if Shane Vereen makes a comeback this week. New York may also get Justin Pugh back into the fold, which would help. Barring an offensive explosion by Beckham, and some special teams magic, the Cowboys will wear down the slumping G-Men. New York’s promising playoff hopes will likely take another blow against Dallas in primetime at MetLife Stadium.