For the third time in as many years, the Dallas Cowboys will host the New York Giants in Week 1. After finishing two games ahead of their divisional rivals to win the NFC East, Dallas is favored, via the betting odds at OddsShark, to win the first “Sunday Night Football” game of the 2017 NFL season.

Following the news that Ezekiel Elliott is eligible to play, New York is a four-point road underdog and the over/under is 48. Here’s a closer look at the Week 1 game, including a prediction against the spread:

Why New York could cover the spread

The Cowboys were nearly perfect in the 2016 regular season when they didn’t play the Giants, going 13-1 against the rest of the league. New York found a way to defeat the NFC East champions in both of their head-to-head matchups, and they’ve got a chance to leave AT&T Stadium with a win by executing a similar game-plan.

The Giants bring back what might be the NFL’s best defense. After ranking second in points allowed, New York returns just about all of their key pieces, with the exception of defensive tackle Jonathan Hankins. Dallas totaled just 26 points in their two losses against the Giants

Elliott will be on the field Sunday night, despite his impending six-game suspension. The NFL’s leading rusher had his only truly poor performance when the Cowboys hosted the Giants in last year’s season opener, totaling just 51 yards on 20 carries. Elliott had a lot more success three months later when he rushed for 107 yards on 4.5 yards per carry, though he was held without a reception for the only time as Dallas managed to score just seven points.

Ezekiel Elliott Dallas Cowboys Ezekiel Elliott, pictured during a preseason game against the Oakland Raiders at AT&T Stadium on Aug. 26, 2017 in Arlington, Texas, will play for the Dallas Cowboys when they host the New York Giants in Week 1 of the 2017 NFL season. Photo: Getty Images

Defensive tackle Damon Harrison is arguably better at defending the run than any NFL player. Only the Seattle Seahawks gave up fewer yards per carry than New York in 2016, and Dak Prescott could struggle against the league’s best secondary if his Pro Bowl running back doesn’t put up big numbers.

Prescott’s two worst games of his rookie season came against the Giants, posting passer ratings of 69.4 and 45.4. Eli Manning won’t have to be anything special if New York’s defense does what it’s capable of doing, and the veteran quarterback might have some success against a Dallas secondary that lost two of its top cornerbacks in free agency.

New York is 4-0-1 against the spread in their last five matchups with Dallas.

Why Dallas could cover the spread

The status of each team’s best playmaker is a potential game changer. Dallas thought they might be without Elliott, but the running back is allowed to suit up in Week 1. Just a few days before the season opener, it’s still unknown if Odell Beckham Jr. will be forced to sit.

Beckham hasn’t practiced since he suffered an ankle injury in Week 2 of the preseason. New York has been mum on his status, and their offense could be in big trouble if the 24-year-old can’t play or be close to 100 percent.

It’s hard to overstate Beckham’s importance to a Giants’ offense, which has an offensive line that doesn’t give Manning much protection and has no running game to speak of. Beckham was responsible for New York’s only touchdown in last year’s Week 14 victory over Dallas, turning a seven-yard slant pass into a 61-yard touchdown reception.

Even in games that Beckham does play, New York is probably going to have to win on the strength of their defense. The additions of Brandon Marshall and rookie tight end Evan Engram probably won’t be enough to drastically improve a unit that failed to score 20 points in the last six games of the season.

Of course, if Elliott does to the Giants what he did to so many teams as a rookie, a big game from Beckham might not be enough to keep New York close. 

With Prescott, Elliott and an elite offensive line on the field, Dallas is going to score 30-plus points on several occasions in 2017. Doing so against the Giants might all but ensure the Cowboys a Week 1 victory.

Prediction

When both teams are at full strength, the difference between the Cowboys and Giants is negligible. Sunday’s game will likely be decided in the fourth quarter, possibly by a late field goal, making New York the smart bet.

The Giants have a top tier defense that can go toe-to-toe with any offense in the league, though their shaky offensive line will give them trouble at times. Facing a Cowboys defense that has several question marks, including up front, Manning and Co. can be good enough to pull off the upset.

New York over Dallas, 23-20