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Giants-Cowboys rivalry builds as both aim to be NFC East's best

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Ezekiel Elliott's presence will only add to the drama of Sunday night's game between the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium. As if it was needed.

Giants-Cowboys is a classic NFC East rivalry potentially blossoming into something bigger. The Cowboys won the division last season, but the Giants beat them twice. Both teams are expected to be good again and, maybe most importantly for the rivalry, they are well positioned for the future.

The Cowboys have a young and dominant offensive line blocking for second-year stars such as Elliott and quarterback Dak Prescott. That makes for a consistently productive offense. The Giants have the ninth-youngest roster and a nasty defense that should be really good (potentially great) for at least the next few years.

"It's building every year," said Giants wide receiver Dwayne Harris, who has been on both sides. He played his first four seasons with the Cowboys before leaving in free agency prior to the 2015 season.

The Giants and Cowboys have been playing against each other twice a season for almost 50 years. There is history, dating back to the days when Tom Landry was an assistant with the Giants before becoming a legendary head coach with the Cowboys.

But the rivalry might be ratcheting up after an offseason filled with verbal volleyball. It's also aided by the Giants and Cowboys finally being good at the same time. The 2016 season was just the third time in the past 22 seasons that they had winning records in the same season. And there seems to be a little bit of bad blood as well.

Giants cornerback Janoris Jenkins and Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant went back and forth on Twitter this offseason. This came after Jenkins blanketed Bryant in their two matchups last season. The Cowboys' top receiver had two catches for 18 yards and a fumble in the two games combined.

The intensity of that matchup isn't about to subside after these recent comments from safety Landon Collins: "Oh man, Janoris is a competitor. He says Dez's route-running is limited and that Jackrabbit [Jenkins] is just too quick for Dez," Collins said in an interview with ESPN’s Matt Bowen. "In the second game, he was just reading Dez's routes, and it was easy for him. I mean, Dez is strong, but he does not use his strength. He tries to use his quickness, but he is not quicker than Janoris."

That will surely catch Bryant's attention, much like Prescott's comments earlier this summer were noticed by Collins. Prescott said: "We're the Cowboys. We're gonna win the NFC East."

"I commented right underneath his picture," Collins said at his football camp in July. "I said, 'I highly doubt that.' They do not control the [NFC] East. It's over with. We're going to have a run for it. I mean, they're not going to win, I can tell you that much. We're definitely going to take over."

One area the Giants think they can exploit is the Cowboys' secondary. The Giants are loaded with weapons, especially if star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. (ankle) is ready come Sunday night. Quarterback Eli Manning has Beckham, Brandon Marshall, Sterling Shepard and tight end Evan Engram working alongside him this season.

"Definitely a lot of new people over there," Harris said. "For us I think it's an advantage because they don't know how we play as receivers. They have only one [defensive back] that has been there since I was there. I think that is Orlando Scandrick. But the other guys they don't really know how we play. They have Nolan Carroll, who played in Philly, so maybe he knows. For us, I think it's an advantage for us."

There is something about the opener between the Cowboys and Giants in Texas that has become ... familiar. This is the third straight season the Giants have opened on the road against the Cowboys. The team have split in the previous two meetings.

"It's going to be gritty. It's going to be tough. You're going to feel like you were in a car accident after that game," Giants guard Justin Pugh said.

The Cowboys are considered the favorites to win the division. They're 8/5 to capture the NFC East, according to Westgate Las Vegas Superbook. The Giants are second at 9/4. Dallas is a favorite to win at home on Sunday night.

Pugh said he considers the Cowboys the team to beat even though the Giants beat them twice last season. The opener has been the focus since the Giants arrived at training camp on July 27.

"We've been thinking about them for a long time," Giants linebacker Jonathan Casillas said. "We've been working. Everything's been building for September 10. Whatever we've been doing come April, we've been building for September 10. All the preseason games were important, of course, but we're all building for September 10."

That's when the next chapter of the Giants-Cowboys rivalry will be written.