Cowboys or Giants? Who has the advantage in the NFC East race?

Does New York need Beckham to beat Dallas? (1:32)

Michael Smith and Jemele Hill debate whether the Giants can defeat the Cowboys without Odell Beckham Jr. now that Ezekiel Elliott will be available for their matchup. (1:32)

FRISCO, Texas -- Thin lines have separated the teams in the NFC East for years, which is why there has not been a repeat division winner since the Philadelphia Eagles finished first in 2003 and '04.

As the 2017 season begins, those in Las Vegas believe the favorites to win the NFC East are the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants.

The Cowboys have won the division in two of the past three seasons. The Giants have not won the division since 2011, which is when they won their most recent Super Bowl title.

For the fifth time in the past six seasons, the Cowboys and Giants open the season against each other when they meet Sunday at AT&T Stadium.

Whoever wins Sunday won't determine the NFC East champion, but it could give them an advantage going into the December rematch at MetLife Stadium.

NFL Nation reporters Jordan Raanan (Giants) and Todd Archer (Cowboys) break down their teams as they enter the season:


Cowboys: For Week 1, at least, the Cowboys will have Ezekiel Elliott. He could be gone for Weeks 2-8 because of his six-game suspension, but when he plays, the Cowboys not only have the best running game in the division, they have one of the best (if not the best) in the NFL. The Cowboys have faith in backups Darren McFadden, Alfred Morris and Rod Smith, but the biggest reason they believe they will be able to run the ball should Elliott miss games is an offensive line led by All-Pros Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin. The Cowboys have a clear edge in this category.

Giants: The Giants have Paul Perkins as their primary ball carrier with Shane Vereen as their passing-down back and Orleans Darkwa as their potential short-yard option. The lack of a bona fide No. 1 back leaves some unconvinced the group is good enough, especially behind a suspect line.

"I like Perkins," said a scout. "I like his feet, I like his run skills, but I think he's a complementary back."

The Giants' offensive line is just not at the same level as the Cowboys. They have guard Justin Pugh and center Weston Richburg, who one scout called "good" players. He was concerned with the other three spots on the line, including left tackle Ereck Flowers, whom the scout considered better suited for the right side.

The Giants are hoping that the addition of a fullback, blocking tight end Rhett Ellison and physical wide receiver Brandon Marshall will aid their run game. It's still nowhere near enough to compare to the Cowboys' rushing attack.

Advantage: Cowboys


Cowboys passing attack: If training camp is any measure, Dak Prescott will be a more accomplished passer than a year ago when he had 23 touchdowns and four interceptions. That doesn't mean he will repeat those numbers, but it means the Cowboys can put more on Prescott in his second season. Jason Witten and Cole Beasley give Prescott a chance to make early throws underneath. The key will be the return to prominence of Dez Bryant, who has struggled with injuries the past two seasons. In two games against New York last season, Bryant had two catches and he lost a fumble. If Bryant returns to his Pro Bowl form, the Cowboys will have a better passing attack that could put them on par with New York's. The Giants have the edge, but it's not as pronounced as the Cowboys' advantage in the running game.

Giants passing attack: The Giants have the weapons and the more accomplished quarterback. Eli Manning is coming off a down season, but he has won two Super Bowls and can still play at a relatively high level.

He's throwing to perhaps the best group of weapons in his career. The Giants have wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr., Brandon Marshall and Sterling Shepard along with first-round pick Evan Engram at tight end. Marshall, 33, looks like he still has something left and Engram's speed was noticeable on the practice field.

"The Giants have three receivers that can win. They have arguably the best receiver in football. And they have a quarterback that has proven that he can beat you at the line of scrimmage and get the ball out quickly," a scout said.

Pass protection, especially off the edges, and the lack of a consistent running game threaten the effectiveness of the Giants' weapons.

Advantage: Giants


Cowboys: Almost all of the Cowboys' questions are on this side of the ball. Do they have a pass-rusher who can command attention? At the start of the season the answer is no. Do they have a secondary that can make plays on the ball? At the start of the season the answer is no. As much as the defense gets criticized for what it doesn't have, the unit still finished fifth in points allowed last season, which is the measure that matters most. A lot of that can be attributed to the Cowboys' offense, but this is a bend-but-don't-break style of defense. If the Cowboys can limit big plays and play with the lead, they can be good enough.

Giants: As much as the running games are a mismatch, so are the defenses -- only this time in favor of the Giants.

They have the more talented defensive line and secondary, two big reasons they allowed the second-fewest points in the NFL last season. Dallas has what is considered a classic bend-don't-break defense.

It all starts up front for the Giants. They have defensive ends Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon working alongside tackle Damon Harrison, considered by many the top run-stuffer in the league. It makes opposing teams one-dimensional. It's why teams threw the ball on 63 percent of the plays against the Giants last season.

The Giants have also put more resources into the secondary than in the past. They'll start three recent draft picks (safeties Landon Collins and Darian Thompson and cornerback Eli Apple). Throw in veteran cornerbacks Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Janoris Jenkins, and it's one of the more talented units in the league working with a defensive end combination that should be able to pressure the quarterback. That could be scary.

"They're definitely a top defense," one scout said. "They have the ability to play man and also have the ability to pressure with four."

Advantage: Giants


Cowboys: Jerry Jones believes he has one of the best coaching staffs he has had in his time with the Cowboys. He has seen Jason Garrett grow into the job since taking over midway through the 2010 season. Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan has shown he can guide a veteran to success, like he did Tony Romo, and a rookie, like Prescott. Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli relies more on hustle and effort than schemes. Garrett is more an overseer of things now without a tie into the every-down playcalling on either side of the ball. Ben McAdoo is head coach and playcaller for the Giants. Jones believed that put too much of a burden on Garrett. Since Garrett stopped calling the plays, the Cowboys have won two division titles in three years.

Giants: McAdoo went 11-5 in his first season with the Giants. It's hard to argue with the results. His most impressive accomplishment might have been keeping the Giants healthy. After four straight years of being the NFL's most-injured team, McAdoo's new strength and conditioning program produced impressive results.

The Giants were the seventh-healthiest team last season, according to Football Outsiders. And again this summer they've avoided, for the most part, any long-term and soft-tissue injuries.

McAdoo deserves significant credit for the way he handles his team and locker room. The early returns are positive.

Advantage: Cowboys