The Dallas Cowboys should have won the NFC East last year. They were 7-4 and riding a four-game winning streak. The rest of the division was down. They knew they probably just had to split with the Giants in their remaining two games against New York to take the thing.
The Giants, of course, swept the Cowboys. (Dallas' loss to the Arizona Cardinals shouldn't be forgotten.) New York finished off the Cowboys in a Week 17 showdown that help propel them to a Super Bowl run.
Dallas hasn't played a meaningful game since the defeat in New Jersey. On Wednesday night, they are back again. So what is different about these teams since they last played?
New York is even faster on offense
Mario Manningham left the No. 3 receiver job for San Francisco, leaving second-round draft pick Rueben Randle to try to help fill the gap. (Second-year pro Jerrel Jernigan and Domenik Hixon also figure to get snaps behind starting receiver Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks.)
Dallas overhauled its secondary
The Cowboys remade their defense to counter the receiver depth in the NFC, especially in New York. First-round draft pick Morris Claiborne will be tested early and often Wednesday night. Free-agent pickup Brandon Carr will try to live up to the billing. Dallas' safety situation still looks shaky with Barry Church and Gerald Sensabaugh starting.
Giants' secondary woes are worse than ever
Last year's Giants secondary was banged up, but most of the injuries happened early in training camp. By Week 17, the team had adjusted with their "big nickel" three-safety package that featured Deion Grant.
This year's secondary is a huge work in progress. Cornerback Michael Coe will make his first NFL start on Wednesday. Terrell Thomas is out for the season again after the Giants' got their hopes up about his return. Prince Amukamara, last year's first-round draft pick, is hurt. (Again.)
In theory, this is a big problem. Then again ...
Dallas' receiver crew is thinner than ever
Laurent Robinson is gone to Jacksonville. A collection of players with almost no NFL experience battled to replace him all training camp to mixed results. Jason Witten is doubtful for the opener because of his spleen injury. Dez Bryant and Miles Austin are both coming off injuries. Throw in a shaky interior offensive line, and Tony Romo is fighting an uphill battle.
Eli Manning has a new blindside protector
Journeyman Sean Locklear won the team's starting left tackle job. David Diehl is at right tackle. The Giants wanted Will Beatty to win the left tackle job, but couldn't pull it off. This is a concern with DeMarcus Ware on the menu. (But not a big enough concern for us to pick the Cowboys.)Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.