The news the Dallas Cowboys did not want to hear came down on Wednesday when an NFL arbiter upheld the six-game suspension of running back Ezekiel Elliott following accusations of domestic violence. However, Elliott got a one-week reprieve and will play in Sunday’s season opener when the Cowboys host the NFC East rival New York Giants in prime time.
Elliott, who led the league in rushing with 1,631 yards as a rookie last season, filed a temporary restraining order to block the ban, but the timing of Wednesday’s ruling allowed him to face New York before the suspension kicks in. The Giants, who swept Dallas last season and have won three straight in the series, are looking forward to facing the Cowboys at full strength. “I don’t want to hear the backlash of, ‘This person wasn’t here,’” said New York safety Landon Collins. “If you want to be the best ... you have to beat the best. He’s one of the best in the game.” The Giants have one of the best in the game on their sideline in mercurial wideout Odell Beckham Jr., but his status for the game is in question after missing practice Wednesday and Thursday due to a left ankle injury sustained in a preseason game against Cleveland.
TV: 8:30 p.m. ET, NBC. LINE: Cowboys -4. O/U: 47.5
ABOUT THE GIANTS (2016: 11-5, 2nd in NFC East): New York rebounded from three consecutive losing seasons to earn its first postseason berth since 2011, sparked by a defense that led the NFC with an average of 17.8 points allowed and ranked fourth in the league against the run (Dallas was No. 1). Quarterback Eli Manning, entering his 14th season, threw for 26 touchdowns and 16 interceptions while reaching 4,000 yards for the sixth time despite a running game that averaged only 88.3 yards and produced a league-worst six rushing touchdowns. While second-year running back Paul Perkins takes over as the starter, the Giants added two pieces to the passing game by signing six-time Pro Bowler Brandon Marshall and making rookie tight end Evan Engram their first-round draft pick. Beckham is coming off another huge season, scoring 10 times and hauling in a career-best 101 receptions.
ABOUT THE COWBOYS (2016: 13-3, 1st in NFC East): Elliott wasn’t the only Dallas rookie to make a spectacular entrance into the NFL as quarterback Dak Prescott played with the poise of a veteran by throwing for 23 touchdowns against only four interceptions and compiling a 104.9 passer rating. Elliott was the focal point of the offense, getting at least 20 carries in 12 games while rushing for 15 touchdowns and eclipsing 100 yards seven times, but was held to 162 yards on the ground in two meetings against the Giants. A healthy Dez Bryant will be a big boost for the Cowboys — he was limited to 81 catches combined over the past two seasons after hauling in at least 88 receptions in each of the previous three years. Linebacker Sean Lee was third in the league with a career-best 145 tackles last season for a defense that will be missing three defensive linemen due to suspension.
1. Beckham’s 288 career receptions are tied for the most by a player in his first three seasons.
2. Cowboys TE Jason Witten has at least 60 catches in 13 straight seasons and has 13 TDs in 28 games versus New York.
3. Manning will start his 200th straight regular-season game, third behind Brett Favre (297) and older brother Peyton Manning (208).
PREDICTION: Cowboys 27, Giants 23