While it feels ludicrously early to be labelling teams as “playoff long shots”, the history books tell us that those who fall to 0-2 face an uphill battle. Since 2007, only 10 of the 92 teams to start with two losses have reached the postseason. That is the dark cloud looming over Sunday night’s showdown between the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys. Both desperately a win.
While neither team is expected to be a true contender this season (certainly not the Cowboys), this rivalry is rarely dull. Even if it is a low-scoring affair (which it likely will be), there will be drama along the way.
Here are a few things to look out for as the action unfolds in Dallas.
Which Cowboys receiver will step up to take some of the pressure off Ezekiel Elliott?
Elliott is a terrific running back but even he cannot work miracles against defenses stacked to defend the run, especially with the health issues in the Cowboys’ offensive line. Dak Prescott has to be assertive this week in sparking the passing game, but he needs help from his receivers.
The only challenge? The Cowboys’ receiving corps has major limitations. Rookie Michael Gallup is the best bet to rise to the occasion in Week 2. If Prescott and Gallup can connect on some deep passes, it will open up space for everyone else, including steady slot receiver Cole Beasley.
Can the Giants get tight end Evan Engram more involved?
Engram managed just two catches for 18 yards against the Jacksonville Jaguars last weekend. While this is not ultra-surprising (after all, there are a lot of mouths to feed in the New York offense), many expected him to build on his rookie year and become more of a security blanket, short pass target for Eli Manning.
Maybe that is still to come. It is probably unwise to draw too many conclusions given the strength of the Jacksonville defense, but it will be worth watching how they use Engram on Sunday night and whether he can avoid costly drops.
How will Manning respond to the Dallas pass rush?
Given that the offense is floundering, the Cowboys defense is having to lead the way. With Sean Lee patrolling the middle of the field, pass rushers like DeMarcus Lawrence have license to pressure the quarterback. If they are going to keep this game close, they will need to win the turnover battle.
Manning had defenders in his face all afternoon against the Jaguars and can expect to get an up close view of the Dallas pass rushers on Sunday. If he can get the ball out quickly, on short passes to Engram, Odell Beckham Jr. or Saquon Barkley, the Giants might be able to counterpunch.