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Cowboys at Giants

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Editor's note: Brian Edwards finished No. 2 in the NFL on VI last fall, posting a 60-percent winning percentage. He's back tonight with this pay-if-it-wins-only selection for the side.

With the Democratic National Convention scheduled for Thursday, the NFL has moved its annual mid-week opener to tonight when the defending Super Bowl champs will host arch-rival Dallas in the Meadowlands.

As of early this morning, most betting shops had the Giants installed as 3 1/2-point favorites with a total of 45. Gamblers can take the Cowboys to win outright for a plus-170 payout (risk $100 to win $170).

The G-Men are favored by three (at even money) for first-half wagers, while the total is either 22 ½ or 23.

Eli Manning led New York to a second Super Bowl win over New England in Indianapolis on Feb. 5, completing 30-of-40 passes for 296 yards and one touchdown without being intercepted in a 21-17 win as a three-point underdog. The 38 combined points fell ‘under’ the 53-point total.

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Tom Coughlin’s team needed a Week 17 win over Dallas to secure the NFC East title. The Cowboys came to Giants Stadium and took a 31-14 loss to fall shy of making the postseason. The G-Men would go on to beat Atlanta at home before knocking off Green Bay and San Francisco on the road en route to the Lombardi Trophy.

During the off-season, veteran RB Brandon Jacobs and WR Mario Manningham signed as free agents with the 49ers. Also, a pair of secondary players, Deon Grant and Aaron Ross, left the club.

Replacing Jacobs to help share the bulk of the rushing load with Ahmad Bradshaw is late first-round pick David Wilson, who garnered ACC Player of the Year honors by rushing for 1,709 yards and nine TDs for Va. Tech in 2011.

The Giants also made a wise selection with their second-round pick, taking WR Rueben Randle from out of LSU. Randle’s college numbers don’t do him justice because this kid has excellent size and speed. He simply suffered from the mediocre QB play from Jordan Jefferson at LSU. Look for Randle to fit nicely with Manning at the No. 3 WR spot vacated by Mannningham.

Another new weapon for Manning will be former Dallas TE Martellus Bennett, who had 17 receptions for 144 yards last year. Of course, Manning’s favorite targets will remain WRs Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks. Cruz enjoyed a breakout campaign in 2011, hauling in 82 catches for 1,536 and nine TDs, while Nicks had 76 grabs for 1,192 yards and seven scores.

New York’s defense lost a pair of players to season-ending injuries during training camp. Terrell Thomas, expected to start at one of the CB spots, has been placed on injured reserve (ACL) along with DT Shaun Rogers (blood clot). Also, CB Prince Amukamara is ‘doubtful’ tonight with an ankle sprain, while DT Marvin Austin is a question mark due to a sore back.

Dallas is dealing with an injury to one of its premier players, perennial Pro-Bowl TE Jason Witten, who is listed as ‘doubtful’ as he recovers from a lacerated spleen. Witten had 79 receptions for 972 yards and five TDs in 2011.

Tony Romo posted brilliant numbers last season and was at his best for most of the year, but we can’t help but point out the two games he lost by making critical mistakes. As it turned out, those two defeats (27-24 at the Jets and 34-30 vs. Detroit) kept the Cowboys home for the playoffs.

Romo was outstanding for three quarters against the Jets, but his fourth-quarter fumble inside the 5-yard line and a terrible interception in the final minute led to a loss on a last-second field goal. Then against the Lions, the Cowboys blew a 27-3 third-quarter lead when Romo was intercepted twice for TDs.

When he was healthy, WR Dez Bryant proved to be a dazzling playmaker and if he can stay out of trouble off the field, he should have a big 2012. Bryant had 63 catches for 928 yards and nine TDs last season.

Romo developed a nice chemistry with WR Laurent Robinson, who made 54 receptions for 858 yards and a team-high 11 TDs. But the diminutive wideout bolted for Jacksonville and a lucrative free-agent deal. Therefore, Miles Austin will have to bounce back following a down year in which his numbers dropped significantly (43 catches, 579 yards and seven TDs).

Romo connected on 66.3 percent of his throws for 4,184 yards with a 31/10 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

The Dallas defense lost a number of veterans to free agency, including LB Keith Brooking, CB Terence Newman and LB Bradie James. However, this unit picked up a stud in first-round pick Morris Claiborne, a lockdown cover corner out of LSU who the Cowboys traded up to get with the No. 6 pick.

We should note two more off-season signings by Dallas, as it acquired QB Kyle Orton to serve as Romo’s backup, in addition to veteran LB Dan Connor from the Panthers.

Dallas is hoping that RB DeMarco Murray will return to the form he displayed before sustaining a broken ankle that ended his season in early December. Murray was averaging 5.5 yards per carry and was poised to eclipse the 1,000-yard rushing plateau before going down.

Kick-off is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. Eastern tonight on NBC.

**B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**

--Bovada is listing the Giants’ season win total at nine with gamblers forced to pay a minus-140 price for the ‘over’ (risk $140 to win $100 on the ‘over’). The ‘under’ offers a plus-110 return (risk $100 to win $110).

--Bovada has the Dallas win tally at 8 ½ ‘over’ (minus-155), meaning ‘under’ wagers bring back a plus-125 payout.

--Bovada has these props – Will the Giants make the playoffs? This is a pick ‘em with ‘yes’ or ‘no’ at minus-115. For the Cowboys, ‘yes’ is plus-130 and ‘no’ is the minus-160 ‘chalk.’

--Despite their status as the defending Super Bowl champs, 10 NFL teams have shorter odds to win this year’s Super Bowl than the Giants, who are 20/1 at Bovada. The Cowboys have 22/1 odds to hoist the Lombardi Trophy.

--Since 1996, the Cowboys have a grand total of one win in the playoffs.

--No player on an NFL roster – other than the possible exception of Philadelphia QB Michael Vick -- is under more pressure to produce in 2012 than Romo.

--The NFC East odds at Bovada are as follows:
Eagles +140
Giants +200
Cowboys +260
Redskins +800

Brian Edwards can be reached at briane@vegasinsider.com.

For daily sports gambling analysis, follow Brian Edwards on twitter at Vegasbedwards.

  
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