Giants’ first test toward NFC East legitimacy comes in Week 1 matchup with Cowboys

They set the goal for the offseason before their lockers were entirely cleaned out. The Giants were beaten — embarrassed by the Eagles in the divisional round of the playoffs. A promising season and undeniable step in the right direction, yes, but one that ended with a reality check.

The Giants were the cute little brother of the 2023 postseason — not one anyone took seriously. If they wanted to truly take that next step as a team, become one of the premier players in the conference, it started by closing the gap between themselves and the other patrons of the NFC East.

That’s what the Giants set out to do. That’s what the Giants believe they have done.

Sunday night against Dallas is the litmus test.

“All of these divisional games are big, for sure,” quarterback Daniel Jones said. “It means a lot, so it’s a big opportunity for us and we’ll be ready to go.”

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and the Giants certainly weren’t going to be rebuilt in 365. Joe Schoen not only had to infuse New York’s roster with legitimate game-changing playmakers, but round out the depth — both absent after Dave Gettleman’s run of (largely) draft and free-agency malpractice.

That’s what made last year’s accomplishments so impressive. The Giants wildly exceeded expectations by Brian Daboll squeezing every last ounce out of those he had to work with. The Giants knew they needed to win ugly, so week in and week out they dragged their opponent to the deep end to see if they could survive in their circumstances. Most couldn’t.

Those within their division could.

The Giants’ 20-12 victory over the Commanders in Week 15 was the only divisional game they won. They tied Washington two weeks prior. They were swept by both the Cowboys and Eagles. At least New York kept things close against the Cowboys, but in the two the starters played against Philly, the Giants lost by a combined 57 points, including an ugly 38-7 thumping in the divisional round of the playoffs.

The Commanders are in a bit of a transition period, but the Eagles and Cowboys aren’t going anywhere. If anything, the two teams are better than they were a year ago. The Giants, on paper, are too. They believe they accomplished what they set out to do this offseason.

In the NFL, seeing is believing. It’s time for the Giants to show it on Sunday night.

“It’s a great test for us,” receiver Isaiah Hodgins said. “We know when we’re executing and playing our best football we can compete with anybody.”

The Eagles have dominated the Giants in recent years. New York hasn’t fared much better against Dallas, though. The Cowboys have won 11 of their last 12 meetings. The Giants’ only victory in the stretch came in a 23-19 victory on Jan. 3, 2021. Andy Dalton started at quarterback for Dallas.

This game won’t literally define New York’s season — it’s one of 17. Losing it, though, would be an undeniable gut punch. You can preach the need to close the gap, then display one larger than before in your first intra division battle.

Daboll spent most of last week, and the beginning portions of this one, downplaying the significance of this opener. It’s a big game, yes, but only because it’s the next game. Daboll wouldn’t touch any question about the importance of the divisional games.

That’s fine. Talk is cheap.

But come Sunday, the Giants must play the game.

“It’s a chance to show who we’re going to be this 2023 season,” cornerback Adoree’ Jackson said.

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