Giants, ‘Boys play for NFC East lead

While the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys both lost last weekend, the damage by those defeats can easily be mitigated thanks to what’s at stake this weekend.

The Giants will try to end a four-game losing streak Sunday night on the road against the Cowboys as these rivals play for the NFC East lead. Most sports books monitored by the SportsOptions odds product have installed the Cowboys as 4 1/2-point home favorites, with the total set at 50 1/2.

Dallas (7-5) leads New York (6-6) by one game. The Giants led the race by two before their slide.

The Cowboys had their four-game win streak snapped thanks to mistakes that included poor clock management in last Sunday’s 19-13 overtime loss at Arizona – a defeat that cost them a chance to clinch the division this weekend.

“Most importantly, we have to put this one to bed and go to the next one,” coach Jason Garrett said.

The Giants, meanwhile, seem buoyed despite last Sunday’s 38-35 last-second loss to Green Bay. After giving the unbeaten Packers their toughest game, New York is looking forward to the chance to move back into first place.

“The mindset is looking ahead,” quarterback Eli Manning said. “It doesn’t matter what you’ve done last week or what your record is. It’s what you’re playing for, who you have this week. And you have Dallas, Sunday night football, that’s a big one.”

These teams’ quarterbacks are having similar seasons. Manning has a 96.0 passer rating, 23 touchdowns to 11 interceptions and 3,705 passing yards. Tony Romo owns a 97.3 rating with 22 touchdowns to nine interceptions and 3,325 yards through the air.

“I think everyone knows this is an important game and you have to play the best football this time of year,” Romo said. “We’re going to go out there and give great effort and be ready for a great challenge in the Giants.”

Each passing game could get a boost Sunday.

Receiver Mario Manningham, out the last two games with a sore knee, could return for New York. Manningham has three touchdown catches in his last four games against Dallas and would complement a group that includes Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz.

Cruz is fourth in the league with 1,076 receiving yards after three straight 100-yard efforts.

Cowboys star receiver Miles Austin and blocking fullback Tony Fiammetta returned to practice Wednesday and both are expected to play. That should provide help to an offense that has produced three touchdowns over the last two games.

“We feel like we have a rejuvenated offense,” receiver Laurent Robinson said.

The Giants had some changes on their offensive line last week with Kevin Boothe replacing David Baas (neck) at center and Mitch Petrus entering at left guard. Dave Diehl had already replaced the injured Will Beatty at left tackle.

Diehl is accustomed to that spot from years past, and could renew his battle with linebacker DeMarcus Ware. Ware, who leads the NFL with 15 sacks, sat out practice Wednesday with a stinger.

“That has always been a great matchup and there have been some other ones all across the board on both sides of the ball,” Garrett said. “That is certainly one of the subplots of the game and we are excited to see how it plays out.”

No NFC team has more sacks than the Cowboys’ 35, and the Giants are close behind with 33.

New York’s rushing defense is 23rd in the league, allowing 127.0 yards per game. The Giants will get their first look at Cowboys rookie DeMarco Murray, who averaged 108.5 yards rushing during the win streak before being limited to 38 last Sunday.

“I think they are averaging 114 yards a game rushing,” Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. “They are doing some good things with the run game.”

The Giants remain last in the league in rushing with 83.8 yards per game. They reached 100 for the first time in four games last Sunday as Ahmad Bradshaw returned after missing four straight with a broken bone in his right foot.

New York’s depleted secondary received good news on safety Kenny Phillips, who left the Green Bay game with a knee sprain but could play.

These teams split notable meetings last season.

Romo’s season came to an early end with a broken collarbone due to a hit by Michael Boley in last year’s 41-35 home loss to New York – part of a 1-7 start that led to the dismissal of coach Wade Phillips.

Garrett had a memorable debut as interim coach, guiding Dallas to a 33-20 victory at New York in the last meeting Nov, 14. 2010.

Their upcoming clash Jan. 1 in the regular-season finale has the chance to be even more dramatic.

New York has won both previous matchups at Cowboys Stadium, where Manning has six touchdown passes, three interceptions, a 68.5 completion percentage and 636 passing yards.

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