EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) – The New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys each own a 7-4 record that includes a three-game winning streak, victories against three common opponents and a three-point loss at Seattle.

Despite the preponderance of threes, at least one member of the Cowboys thinks there is little similarity between the teams.

“I think they are a much better football team right now,” wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson said. “They beat the Washington Redskins; Washington beat us. They had no problem handling the Philadelphia Eagles, where we had to come from behind to try to beat the Eagles. They beat the Denver Broncos; we didn’t beat the Denver Broncos. When you start to factor in all of those things, then they are a better football team.”

What Johnson’s analysis failed to include was that the Cowboys also own a 16-13 overtime victory over the Giants that has become the dominant theme as the two longtime rivals prepare to meet Sunday at Giants Stadium.

Dallas’ win on Oct. 16 has set clear parameters for today’s game: a Cowboys win not only would put them a game ahead in the NFC East race, it would guarantee them the advantage in any tiebreaker with the Giants.

Dallas coach Bill Parcells framed the distinction in broader terms.

“I think this is an important game, but for the winner this will just be one of several important games that are following,” he said. “For the loser, it will put the pressure on them to pretty much have to pick it up the rest of the way or they could be in jeopardy.”

The two storied franchises have not played a game of this magnitude this late in the season since they entered the last game of the 1993 season at Giants Stadium with 11-4 records. Coincidentally, the Cowboys won that game 16-13 in overtime. Also under the heading of coincidence: both teams are seeking to rebound from overtime losses. Dallas had its three-game winning streak snapped on Thanksgiving by Denver; handed a chance to take the lead in the NFC East, New York lost to Seattle three days later when Jay Feely missed on three field goal attempts that would have won the game.

Penalties have been the Giants’ Achilles heel for most of the season, and they have accumulated the third-most infractions in the NFL. A week ago they were penalized 16 times, 11 times for false starts caused in part by the Seahawks’ noisy fans.

“There’s nothing you could say about it. They threw the flags, there’s no way of getting around it,” said guard David Diehl. “It’s a question of, do you bounce back from it or do you let it linger, and we’re not going to let it linger.”

A recent concern for Dallas has been its rushing attack. Since the return of running back Julius Jones from an ankle injury three games ago, the Cowboys ran for just 58 yards against the Eagles and 85 yards against Denver.

The second-year back, who has 1,368 yards and 10 touchdowns in his first 16 NFL games, missed the first game against the Giants.

The Dallas defense came through in that game, stopping the Giants on 10 of 11 third-down chances.

That negated a similarly inspired effort by New York’s defense, which forced four turnovers and three times gave the offense the ball inside the Dallas 40. Some Giants said Dallas’ defensive switches caught them unprepared.

“They did a good job of switching things up on us, but we still had opportunities to make plays, we just didn’t do it,” said quarterback Eli Manning. “We’d make a big play, then we’d have a false start, or a sack. Those are the ones that are going to hurt, the plays where you’re losing yardage. You can have an incompletion or a run for 1 or 2 yards, but when you have negative plays, that’s what’s going to hurt you.”

The game will go a long way toward crowning a new division champion for the first time since 2000, the last time a team other than the Eagles finished first.

“It is a five-game season right now,” said Giants coach Tom Coughlin. “Each game is singularly important. It is a wonderful time of the year. You have worked your tail off to get to have a meaningful December. We have a meaningful December. It is refreshing.”


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