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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Sunday, December 11, 2011 at 9:22 AM

A very important day in the NFC playoff race will be capped off by the NY Giants at the Dallas Cowboys Sunday Night on NBC. And, THAT game is arguably the most important one this year in the NFC East. The Cowboys could virtually lock up the division with a victory as a home favorite (snaring a two-game lead with three to go), a result that would also virtually eliminate the Giants from the Wildcard picture with a 6-7 record.

If the Giants win...then we have a real dogfight over the last three weeks between the Giants and Cowboys that would culminate in a conveniently scheduled rematch on the final day of the season.

We do want to crunch some key indicator stats for you in that NYG-Dallas game you'll be watching on TV tonight. But, first, as promised a few days ago, we're going to run through the full NFC playoff picture first. Things are actually very simple at the moment in this conference because there are so many bad teams! Half the NFC is at 5-7 or worse entering today's action...and there aren't many in the collection who could run the table for 9-7 even if that were destined to be enough to qualify for the postseason.

We're dealing with a couple of short lists...and the tweeners playing in tonight's big TV game...

Green Bay: 12-0
San Francisco: 10-2
New Orleans: 9-3

Green Bay and San Francisco have already won their divisions. New Orleans hasn't done that yet, but they're virtually assured of a playoff spot even if they don't win their division because they're so far ahead of the Wildcards. Green Bay can seemingly coast to a bye and home field throughout the NFC brackets. It's up to them as to whether they'll make a serious run at an undefeated campaign. San Francisco has a very weak schedule, and is extremely likely to earn the other bye. The Saints are on pace to draw the worst Wildcard team at home in a Week One opener.

No secrets there...assume those are three of the four divisional winners.

Dallas: 7-5 (vs. NYG, at TB, vs. Philadelphia, at NYG)
NY Giants: 6-6 (at Dallas, vs. Washington, vs. NYJ, vs. Dallas)

Dallas is favored tonight, will be favored at Tampa Bay next week, and will then again be favorites at home in a revenge matchup with fading Philadelphia. So, the Cowboys have a one game lead, but an immediately bright future. The Giants will be favored next week vs. the Redskins, but will have a toughie after that against the a game where BOTH Big Apple teams may be fighting for their playoff lives. Should the Giants play great tonight...and run the table over those first three games for a 9-6 mark, they'd still have to win the rematch against revenge-minded Dallas in the season finale to take the division most likely.

This is why respected computer models give Dallas about a 2-1 edge right now to win the NFC East. Some would argue it should be hire given their favored status tonight, and the fact that the Giants have lost four straight games.

Finishing off the playoff picture with the Wildcard contenders...

WILDCARDS (only two qualify)
Chicago 7-5 (6-3 in conference)
Atlanta 7-5 (5-4 in conference)
Detroit 7-5 (5-5 in conference)
NFC East runner-up

The NFC runner-up will either be the Giants, who would be sitting at 6-7 if they lose to Dallas Sunday Night...or Dallas...who would be 7-6 and looking up at probably two teams who are favored to be 8-5 at the end of the day (Atlanta and Detroit are favored Sunday, and Chicago's certainly capable of upsetting Denver on the road).  Let's also note that it's impossible for BOTH the Cowboys and Giants to finish at 10-6 or better because they play each other twice in the last month. The runner-up is guaranteed to be 9-7 or worse. Current computer projections show that the Cowboys and Giants combine for less than a 5% chance to get a Wildcard.

WILDCARDS (what's left)
Chicago 7-5 (at Denver, vs. Seattle, at Green Bay, at Minnesota)
Atlanta 7-5 (at Carolina, vs. Jax, at NO, vs. Tampa Bay)
Detroit 7-5 (vs. Minnesota, at Oakland, vs. San Diego, at Green Bay)

Two of those three teams are going to make it. There aren't any elimination games that would help clarify the picture. All have one game vs. a divisional leader who may or may not be going at full steam in that game. Atlanta has the softest of the three remaining schedules with Carolina, Jacksonville, and Tampa Bay on tap. Detroit has the toughest, particularly if San Diego's win this past Monday Night is an early sign of a strong Chargers finish. But, Chicago played so poorly with Caleb Hanie at quarterback last week that they may end up being the true longshot here.

Respected computer projections show Atlanta at about 70% to claim one of the two spots. Chicago and Detroit grade out in the 50's.

Okay...that sets the stage for your day in front of the TV. Let's crunch the numbers for what you'll be experiencing TONIGHT in front of the TV...

DRIVE POINTS PER GAME (scored and allowed on 60 yards or more)
NY Giants: 17.3 on offense, 16.8 on defense
Dallas: 12.4 on offense, 11.6 on defense

We have similar differentials here, within differing styles. Dallas holds a slight edge with +0.8 to +0.5. That's why they're favored by a shade more than home field advantage tonight. But, you can see that the Giants have been playing a lot of shootouts. They have a much worse defense than people realize. The Ryan-ization of the Cowboys have helped in this stat, but Tony Romo isn't lighting up the scoreboard in a way his media coverage might suggest.


  • If Dallas wins, Romo gets all the credit
  • If the NY Giants lose, Eli Manning gets all the blame

Since the Cowboys have a one-game lead in the standings, it seems like Romo's having an all-pro year while Manning keeps messing up. Keep in mind that the Dallas defense is becoming a force, while the Giants defense has been way too porous...and everything's basically come out in the wash as very comparable overall team performances.

NY Giants: 37% on offense, 39% on defense
Dallas: 38% on offense, 39% on defense

Same story here in terms of how even the teams are. Slight edge for the Cowboys. But, those are very poor offensive numbers for veteran quarterbacks. And, it's interesting how the defenses are even in this stat while wildly varied in Drive Points. What would cause that? Big plays. The Giants have allowed WAY too many big plays this year, while Dallas has been much stingier. In terms of moving the chains, we're looking at even teams here.

NY Giants: +4 (23 takeaways, 19 giveaways)
Dallas: +5 (22 takeaways, 17 giveaways)

Well, this makes it official...Dallas is SLIGHTLY better than the Giants however you slice it! An edge of one in turnover differential through a dozen games is negligible. A third down here, one less miscue there, and these teams would swap uniforms without anyone noticing. The biggest difference is that the Giants defense has allowed more big plays...which has created shootouts where Eli Manning was forced to try to make big plays to keep up. He's done that enough to keep them at .500 against a tough schedule.

That's where we stand heading into what could be one of the best Sunday Night games of the year. The season is on the line for both teams. Each is basically playoff caliber if not championship caliber. Both are coming off hardfought losses last week (the Giants vs. the Packers and the Cowboys in overtime in Arizona). It's not much of an exaggeration to say that this is the first playoff game of the year. Surely Dallas has a chance to come back if they lose. The Giants really don't.

JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK has been working very hard all week to find the right side in this big TV game. We have, it's our Sunday Night Bailout Game. Our New York sources have monitored the Giants recovery from the Packers game. Our guys down in Texas have been monitoring the injury situation for the Cowboys. Be sure you check our "buy picks"page here at the website to find out how to purchase this game and the rest of our blockbuster Sunday ticket. If you have any questions, call the office at 1-800-323-4453. We hope you'll ask about early season basketball when you call.

We'll be back with you Monday to preview St. Louis/Seattle in the NFL...with an eye on the complete and total disaster happening in St. Louis this year. Has the Sam Bradford era already come to an end? Should the Rams take a new quarterback with the #2 or #3 pick in next year's draft? Picking winners in the NFL means understanding the storylines in play for all 32 teams! JIM HURLEY'S exclusive team handicapping approach does just that...which is why NETWORK HAS BEEN A MONEY-MAKING JUGGERNAUT FOR MORE THAN 25 YEARS!

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