So there we were, the final game of the 2011 season, the Cowboys at the Giants with the NFC East title on the line.

New York won 31-14 and, a month or so later, was taking home its second Vince Lombardi Trophy in five seasons.

Now, here we are, the opening of the 2012 schedule, and there are the Cowboys journeying Wednesday to the Meadowlands to take on the Super Bowl champions, who are 4-point favorites.

It's one of the NFL's better rivalries, but the Giants have won most of the significant meetings in recent years. And no team has lost the prime-time kickoff to the season after winning the NFL title since the tradition was begun in 2004.

"Every game is a tough game," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "Seems to go pretty close to the wire. On the 17th week last year was a little bit of an exception, but every game is a battle. These two teams play each other hard and they're two talented teams that are very physical and that's the way these games always are."

As this one will be. Dallas retooled its defense, particularly the secondary, to deal with the strong passing game the Giants and Eagles present in the NFC East. The Giants (No. 3 in the AP Pro32) also had significant changes, especially on offense with rookie David Wilson now the primary backup to running back Ahmad Bradshaw, and big-play third receiver Mario Manningham gone.

One key player, Dallas tight end Jason Witten, is recovering from a lacerated spleen. The Cowboys (No. 15, AP Pro32) need him to have any chance.

GIANTS, 27-17

No. 30 Miami (plus 10½) at No. 6 Houston

BEST BET: Texans are aiming for Super Bowl. Dolphins are aiming to avoid cellar.

TEXANS, 27-6

No. 10 Atlanta (minus 2½) at No. 17 Kansas City

UPSET SPECIAL: Chiefs are hurting, but relatively healthy compared to 2011 debacle.

CHIEFS, 17-14

No. 7 Pittsburgh (plus 1) at No. 11 Denver

Could be punishing return for Peyton Manning. He'll survive the pounding.

BRONCOS, 22-20

No. 27 Indianapolis (plus 9½) at No. 12 Chicago

Rough debut for Andrew Luck. Better times ahead.

BEARS, 27-10

No. 24 Washington (plus 9½) at No. 9 New Orleans

Rough debut for RG3. Actually he should do well, but Saints are ticked off bunch that will score plenty.

SAINTS, 33-23

No. 22 Seattle (minus 2½) at No. 25 Arizona

Another rookie QB, Russell Wilson, will fare better than Luck and Griffin.


No. 4 San Francisco (plus 5½) at No. 1 Green Bay

They easily could meet again at Lambeau in January.

PACKERS, 24-17

No. 8 Philadelphia (minus 8½) at No. 32 Cleveland

Eagles can't afford another stumble out of the gate.

EAGLES 17-10

No. 20 Buffalo (plus 3) at No. 19 N.Y. Jets

Mario Williams and Mark Anderson meet at the QB, whether it's Sanchez or Tebow.

BILLS, 17-13

No. 2 New England (minus 6½) at No. 21 Tennessee

Tom Brady got banged around in preseason. Titans can rush passer. Still ...


No. 31 Jacksonville (plus 4) at No. 28 Minnesota

Might be only time Vikings are favored this season.


No. 29 St. Louis (plus 8½) at No. 13 Detroit

Difficult spot for Jeff Fisher in first game as Rams coach.

LIONS, 30-13

No. 18 Carolina (minus 2½) at No. 26 Tampa Bay

Bucs being touted as one of most improved teams. We think that might be Panthers instead.


No. 14 Cincinnati (plus 6) at No. 5 Baltimore, Monday

With improving offense, Ravens could be class of AFC.

RAVENS, 21-13

No. 16 San Diego (minus 1) at No. 23 Oakland, Monday

Norv Turner needs fast start to season with Chargers.



2011 RECORD:

Against spread: 133-111-5.

Straight up 176-91.

Best Bet: 4-15 against spread, 13-6 straight up.

Upset Special: 11-7 against spread, 8-10 straight up.


Online: http://pro32.ap.org/poll and http://twitter.com/AP_NFL