By Shawn S. Lealos

The 2015 NFL season is ready to start and the Dallas Cowboys open up against the NFC East division rival New York Giants. It has only been four years since the Giants beat the Dallas Cowboys to end the 2011 NFL season, allowing them to make the playoffs and win the Super Bowl. However, in 2014, the Cowboys were the winners of the NFC East while the Giants finished the year with a disappointing six wins. After sweeping the Giants in 2014, Dallas hopes to build on their 2014 success while the Giants want both revenge and a chance to climb back into playoff contention in 2015.

Season Record

The New York Giants had a hugely disappointing 2014 NFL season, finishing with an overall record of 6-10. That was the second season in a row that the Giants fell below .500 and the third straight season that they missed the postseason since winning the Super Bowl following the 2011 NFL season. Much of the team’s collapse came in the middle of the season, where the Giants lost seven straight games, including two to the Dallas Cowboys in that stretch. The Giants went 2-2 in the 2015 NFL preseason.

New York Giants on Offense

The Giants offense starts with Eli Manning, who had a decent season in 2014 but it wasn’t enough for the team to take a positive step forward. Manning finished last season with 4,410 passing yards to go along with 30 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. However, he was also sacked 28 times in the season, which was a drive killer for the team. The main change this season is the promotion of Marshall Newhouse from reserve tackle to a starter, but the Giants line looked solid in the preseason, and if they can protect Manning better, the team will improve in 2015.

As for Manning’s main targets, he still has last year’s Rookie of the Year Odell Beckham Jr., who has quickly become one of the NFL’s top wide receivers. Adding in the exciting Victor Cruz and the dependable Ruben Randle, and Manning has some nice targets in the passing game. On the other hand, the tight end position in New York is questionable with Jerome Cunningham the preseason star, but unproven in real games.

The running game looks solid, with Rashad Jennings winning the starting job from Andre Williams in 2014 and finishing with 639 rushing yards and a 3.8 average, along with four touchdowns. However, the Giants want more from the position and Williams will get every chance to try to win the role back. The team also brought in former New England Patriots star Shane Vereen, who is one of the best pass catching running backs in the NFL. Jennings has proven to be a solid starter, but the Giants need a star.

New York Giants on Defense

At one time, the New York Giants defense was one of the best in the NFL. In 2014, the unit ranked 29th in the NFL in total defense, giving up 355 yards and 22 points a game. Improvement has to come in 2015 or all the offense in the world won’t save their season. The big move this offseason was the return of Steve Spagnuolo as the defensive coordinator. He was the coordinator of the Giants when they won the Super Bowl in 2007 and the team was highly ranked in eight defensive categories, including ranking first in sacks with 53.

The Giants brought in some new defensive players to help shore up the defense, including former Dallas Cowboys’ defensive end George Selvie. The starters will be Robert Ayers, Cullen Jenkins, Johnathan Hankins and Kerry Wynn. They also added Louis Nix III off the waiver wire, although he will need time to learn the Giants system.Of course, the biggest name missing here is former All-Pro Jason Pierre-Paul, but he is scheduled to take a physical on Monday to see if he will return or not.

There are a lot of questions. Wynn is a rookie, and needs to prove he is ready for the NFL. Ayers is the team’s best pass rusher until Pierre-Paul returns, and he only had five sacks in 2014. Defensive back Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is the only big name in the defensive backfield, but rookie Landon Collins will get every chance to prove he is worth the second round pick the Giants spent on him.

New York Giants‘ Players to Watch

Odell Beckham Jr. – Most rookie wide receivers need two or three seasons to get themselves ready for the speed of the NFL. However, Beckham exploded right out of the gate, with not only a Rookie of the Year performance but also becoming one of the best wide receivers in the NFL regardless of tenure. He finished with 91 receptions for 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns. In two games against Dallas, he had 14 receptions for 180 yards and four touchdowns. With Orlando Scandrick out for the Cowboys, it is up to Brandon Carr to stop the Giants top receiver.

Jason Pierre-Paul – It should tell fans all they need to know about the Giants to see that the top Giants’ defensive player to watch is Jason Pierre-Paul, someone who hasn’t been at Giants camp this offseason. Pierre-Paul was scheduled to arrive on Monday to take a physical and head coach Tom Coughlin said that if Pierre-Paul comes in still in great shape, he could play against Dallas. If he is not there, Dallas will have an easier time against the Giants defense, with little in the way of competition.

Outlook

The opening game of the 2015 NFL season is one that might set the pace for both teams. As rivals in the NFC East, the winner will take a quick lead in the division race, and while the Giants are not expected to contend this season, losing for Dallas could hurt as every win counts. Tom Coughlin should never be counted out, though, as he is a winning coach and has a chance to win every game. Dallas needs the win, but the game could end up a shoot out and Dallas has to stop Beckham in order to win.

Shawn S. Lealos is a freelance writer who graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 2000 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism. He writes for a variety of national publications and has over 15 years of sports journalism experience. Follow Shawn on Twitter @sslealos. Examiner.com