(SportsNetwork.com) - The gloves will be off when the NFC East-rival New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys close out their regular season series Sunday at MetLife Stadium.
The Giants have reeled off four straight wins since an 0-6 start and are back in the mix for NFC East bragging rights.
New York finds itself right behind the Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles in the division and has a legitimate shot at making a run for an NFC East title. Sunday's game will have a playoff atmosphere and running back Andre Brown agreed during a conference call.
"Yeah and it always comes down to stuff like that against the Cowboys and Redskins in the division games," Brown said. "We've got to take them more seriously whereas ... I think we're two games back in the division, so just go out there and fight and try to put ourselves in a better position so we can win the division."
Brown obviously realizes how important another win would be.
"Everybody definitely realizes how important this game is," he said."With every division game, it's very important because we're fighting to make the playoffs."
That wasn't the mood back in early October. Since a loss at Chicago on Oct. 10, the Giants have played exceptionally well on defense and are the second team in NFL history to follow an 0-6 start with four consecutive victories. The 2009 Tennessee Titans lost their first six games and won the next five.
But back to the defense. In Sunday's 27-13 win at home over the Green Bay Packers, New York allowed just 55 yards rushing and shut down rookie running back Eddie Lacy, who had only 27 yards on 14 carries. Giants linebackers Jon Beason and Jacquian Williams and cornerback Terrell Thomas all had eight tackles for a stop unit that made up for no sacks with three interceptions.
Beason, safety Antrel Rolle and defensive end Jason Pieree-Paul each had an interception, with the former returning his 24 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. The Giants limited Green Bay to two field goals in the first half; it was the third time in their four-game winning streak they did not give up a first-half touchdown. The defense has only allowed two touchdowns in the last 18 quarters.
"The goal is never to give up any points, whether it's running or throwing the ball," Beason said. "Anytime you're shutting teams out, it's something special, it's something that is extremely hard to do in this league."
New York will wrap up a three-game homestand Sunday and three of the four wins during the streak have come at the Meadowlands.
The Cowboys are right behind the 6-5 Eagles in the division and enjoyed an extra week's rest with the recent bye. They entered the break having lost two of three games, including a 49-17 thumping at New Orleans.
The Saints completely exposed Monte Kiffin's defense to the tune of 625 yards (383 passing), 40 first downs and a 9-for-12 clip on third down. Saints quarterback Drew Brees passed for 392 yards with four touchdown passes and no interceptions and Dallas' defense recorded only one sack. That would belong to DeMarcus Ware, whose been bothered by a quad issue and hopes to be ready for the stretch run, starting in New York.
"Oh yeah, I'll play Sunday," Ware said. "Right now, if I get treatment this whole week and I go into the game with confidence, I'm not worried about the rest of the season."
Ware has 12 1/2 sacks in his last 13 games against the Giants. Dallas hopes cornerback Morris Claiborne will be healthy and he hasn't played since Oct. 27 at Detroit because of a hamstring injury. The Cowboys need a spark on defense, but will have to get it in their fourth road game in the past five contests.
The Cowboys have won two of the past three meetings with the Giants and took a Week 1 matchup, 36-31, in Big D. Giants quarterback Eli Manning threw four touchdown passes, but was picked off three times. Dallas QB Tony Romo had 263 yards passing, two TD strikes and one interception.
Romo has 12 touchdown passes to three INTs in past four starts at the Meadowlands, while Manning has won six of his past nine games against the Cowboys and has started 145 consecutive games. Seven out of the last 12 games in this series have been decided by a touchdown or less.
Dallas, which is 3-0 in division play, hasn't swept a season series with New York since 2007. The Giants are 1-2 against the NFC East.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
As if Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant needed any more motivation for Sunday's game. Pierre-Paul got the trash talking started early after a win over the Packers.
"It's going to be a fight. It's going to be a dogfight," Pierre-Paul said. "There's going to be a lot of blood spilled out there."
Bryant, who leads the Cowboys with 749 receiving yards, 53 receptions and eight TD catches, was limited to one catch for 44 yards against the Saints, which was a surprise because the Cowboys were down early and big. Still, Bryant took the recent talk in stride.
"He's supposed to feel that way," Bryant said. "You're an opponent, and we're the opponent for them. It's great confidence."
Pierre-Paul predicted he would have an interception for a score versus the Packers and made the call in the huddle. He proved to be Nostradamus himself when it happened.
"He actually called it in the huddle before they even came out of their huddle and told me he was going to pick this off," Giants DE Justin Tuck said. "I've never seen anything like that before in my life."
Bryant has 495 yards and four TD receptions through seven games in this series. With the pending return of Miles Austin because of a hamstring issue, Bryant's job of getting open could get a lot easier.
"You've got Terrance Williams, you've got Jason Witten, you've got Miles Austin, you've got me, you've got Cole Beasley ... what more can you ask for?"
Romo hopes to find his targets more often than he did against the Saints and completed 10-of-24 passes for a season-low 128 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions. He has six TD passes to just one pick in the past three games and has been sacked three times in each of the previous two. He is 6-6 as a starter against the Giants with 3,268 yards, 27 TDs and 14 INTs, and has a lifetime mark of 22-5 in November.
Manning, meanwhile, has just two interceptions in his last four games after getting picked off 15 times in the first six. Manning was efficient in the win over the Packers and passed for 279 yards with a TD and an INT, and his 92.4 QB rating was the highest since Week 1 at Dallas (102.3).
He completed 25 of his 35 pass attempts, and has connected on that many four times this season. Manning talked about taking it one game at a time.
"We knew we were going to have a tough challenge getting back into the mix, but the only thing we could do is to start getting one win at a time," Manning said. "We've done that these last four weeks. Obviously we've still got some room to go. We've got four in a row and that's a good feeling. We're going to keep fighting, keep getting better and see if we can keep winning."
Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz got back into the mix with 110 yards on eight catches, but hasn't seen the end zone since Sept. 29 at Kansas City. Cruz had three TD catches in Week 1 at Dallas. Rueben Randle caught three passes for 37 yards, including a 26-yard touchdown, last week and has six touchdown receptions in the past six games.
Cruz, Randle and Hakeem Nicks have to be anxious to go after a Dallas secondary that was shredded by Brees and the Saints.
Tension at MetLife Stadium Sunday afternoon will be thicker than the blood Pierre-Paul predicted would cover the sod. There's no doubt bumps, bruises, scrapes and cuts will cover some of the participants in this highly anticipated NFC East showdown and the Giants will come away with a win simply because they're at home and have all of the momentum.
Four straight wins to erase a seemingly devastating start is impressive indeed, and the Giants are making the rest of the division sweat it out by suddenly throwing their hat in the ring. It won't be easy for New York because the Cowboys have a reputation to keep after a horrible loss two weeks ago. But this is the Giants' game to win and they'll edge past for win No. 5.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Giants 31, Cowboys 24