Familiar Foes

The Dallas Cowboys seem rejuvenated after moving on from Bill Parcells' harsh ways. Parcells disciple Tom Coughlin remains tough on the New York Giants, but this could be his last chance to make his system work.

Wade Phillips makes his debut as coach of the Cowboys as they open the season against Coughlin and the Giants on Sunday night in an NFC East matchup at Texas Stadium.

Parcells stepped down as Dallas coach in the offseason, four years after arriving and turning the franchise into a playoff-caliber team again. The Cowboys, though, never won a postseason game under Parcells - and haven't since 1996 - and his tough approach was beginning to wear on the players.

Oddsmakers from Bodog.com have made Dallas -6 point spread favorites (View NFL Football odds) for tonight's game, the over/under has been set at 44 total points (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 71% of bets for this game have been placed on Dallas -6 (View NFL Football bet percentages).

After four years as defensive coordinator in San Diego, Phillips brings a decidedly more upbeat approach to Dallas than his predecessor did.

"It's totally, totally different," Cowboys linebacker Bradie James said. "You see the smiles. I think you can see from our body language, we're actually having fun."

Coughlin, meanwhile, learned under Parcells as New York's receivers coach from 1988-90, and has tried to instill his mentor's brand of toughness with the Giants since taking over in 2004. The no-nonsense coach appears to be on the hot seat, though, after failing to get past the first round of the playoffs two straight years amid all kinds of turmoil.

The NFC East appears wide open again this season, and it may come down to who does the best coaching job.

Phillips already has won over finicky star receiver Terrell Owens, who didn't always agree with Parcells' methods during last season's 9-7 campaign.

"I feel very confident in going on record now saying we are going to make the playoffs," said Owens, who will be used in a variety of different formations by new offensive coordinator Jason Garrett. "We are going to win some playoff games."

Last season, Owens had a hamstring problem in training camp, a broken hand in the third game that required surgery, followed by a finger injury that required offseason surgery. He still caught 85 passes for 1,180 yards and an NFL-best 13 touchdowns.

Owens, who has had issues with numerous quarterbacks in the past, has developed a good rapport with Tony Romo, who has gotten the entire offseason to prepare as the starter after making the Pro Bowl last season following just 11 career starts.

Dallas returns 10 offensive starters from the unit that scored the third-most points in the NFL last season, with the only change being an upgrade at right guard with the offseason signing of Leonard Davis.

On defense, the Cowboys will still use a 3-4 front, but it will be more of an attacking scheme than Parcells'. Phillips is a proven defensive coach, and has plenty of talent to use with Dallas.

The Cowboys defense won't have to contend with Tiki Barber this season. Barber, New York's all-time leading rusher, retired for a television career. He will be replaced in the backfield by third-year bruiser Brandon Jacobs, who led the team with nine rushing touchdowns in 2006.

"I'm not here to be Tiki," Jacobs said. "I'm here to be me."

Though Rueben Droughns was signed to take some of the carries from Jacobs, Barber's absence puts more pressure on Eli Manning to finally become the elite quarterback the Giants expected after acquiring him from San Diego during the 2004 draft. The former No. 1 overall pick has had second-half slumps in each of his three seasons in the NFL.

Manning will have former quarterbacks coach Kevin Gilbride as the offensive coordinator, and he is also being tutored by Chris Palmer, another longtime quarterbacks guru.

New York's offense has the potential to carry the team, with a deep receiving corps consisting of Plaxico Burress, Amani Toomer, rookie Steve Smith and Sinorice Moss along with Pro Bowl tight end Jeremy Shockey.

The Giants defense is more of an unknown, with new coordinator Steve Spagnulo taking over a unit that just got Michael Strahan in the fold on Tuesday.

Strahan, the NFL's active sacks leader with 132 1/2 and the single-season record holder with 22 1/2, dropped thoughts of retirement before deciding to return for a 15th NFL season because his desire to play football was rekindled.

Neither Strahan nor Coughlin was certain the 35-year-old defensive end would play in Dallas.

"He appears to be in good shape," Coughlin said. "Of course he hasn't had any contact. But we have to work our way through all of that."

Justin Tuck has been outstanding filling in at left end, and would likely start there if Strahan doesn't. At the other end position, Osi Umenyiora remains a force.

New York's weakness is the secondary with cornerback Sam Madison nursing a hamstring injury, and that could mean a long day against Romo and Owens. Rookie cornerback Aaron Ross should provide help once he becomes acclimated with the system.

The Giants and Cowboys have split their last eight games, including two meetings last season. Dallas beat New York 23-20 on Dec. 3 at Giants Stadium in the teams' last meeting.

By: Staci Richards - theSpread.com - Email Us

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