...So it all comes down to this.  One game.  Giants.  Cowboys.  Win the game.  Win the NFC East.  Lose the game.  Go home. 

If this season has taught we the Giant faithful one thing, it's that cautious optimism is the absolute most that we can allow ourselves.  Hope beyond that leads to only a few things: A home game against the Seahawks and a drinking problem.  So cautious optimism is the ceiling, and cautious optimism I'm riddled with in this scenario.  Coming off of last week's momentous, albeit sluggish, win over the Jets, I find myself encouraged - Encouraged that the Giants still have playoff hopes, encouraged that they found a way to win a must-win game, encouraged that after fourteen games without a defense, one finally materialized in week fifteen.  It may not have been the type of win that Giant fans wanted to see, but it was the one that they needed to see.  If there was to be a future for the 2011 New York Giants, other than a cold gray winter of booze and regret, the Giants were going to have to find a pass rush.  They did.  And with that, I enter Giants-Cowboys 2 - electric boogaloo - cautiously optimistic.

After all, the Giants did win the last matchup with the 'Boys.  For those who don't remember, or for those who just want to relive the glory that was, Eli and crew erased a twelve point deficit in the last five minutes and, capped off with a JPP field goal block, the Giants took the W.  So why can't they do it again?  Sure, they were dramatically outplayed for three and a half quarters.  And sure, they needed a miracle - in the form of that JPP block and Tony Romo overthrowing a discouragingly wide open Miles Austin - to take the W, but why the hell can't they do it again?  Hang on, I'm getting carried away with my optimism.  Something bring me back down to Earth.  What? They're playing the game at home?  Oh, well that'll do it.  We all know how prone the G-Men are to crushingly flat and disappointing efforts at home.

To me, avoiding such an effort rests squarely on the ever-so monstrous shoulders of the Giants defensive line.  Offensively the G-Men should be fine.  Sure, I'd feel more comfortable if Kevin Gilbride actually and consistently utilized his running game, but with the Cowboy secondary being one of only two that are so bad that they can actually rival the ineptitude of the Giants', I'm confident that a one dimensional approach will still have Rob Ryan tearing out his tre chic "Homeless Guy" hair style.  So it's all on the defense.  And let's be honest, we can largely write off the Giants' secondary, so it's really all on the defensive line.  Tuck and the gang brought it last week - much like Kool and the Gang brought it with "Jungle Boogie."  And to keep with this glorious funk metaphor, this week's Cowboy game is going to have to be the Defensive Line's "Ladies Night": Similar, yet somehow superior to its predecessor.  Put Tony Romo on his back, win the game - though be careful not to do it too well.  Given the Giant's history with back up quarterbacks (Charlie Whitehurst, Vince Young) we should all be terrified to see Stephen McGee enter the contest.

Barring such a McGee entrance - which would certainly see the Giants on their couches week one of the playoffs - I'm looking for an intensely competitive game, much like the first matchup.  Also much like the first game, both offenses will fly up and down the field - Manning and Romo will shine.   Much unlike the first game however - which was won by Eli Manning with an assist from God - I find myself steadfastly optimistic that in the end, Justin Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul, and possibly Osi Umenyiora (Ankle) will win this game for the Giants.  They won't keep Romo and company off the board, but I think they keep him off his feet just enough to keep Big Blue on the top of the score board.  And if all else fails, trust Eli.  Given the choice between Romo and Manning in the clutch, you take the Giant.  Every.  Single.  Time.

In all honesty, though, this is an absolute toss up game.  I could see it going any number of ways, but I choose to think it ends with the Giants finally showing a big time effort at home, finally stamping a ticket to the playoffs, and finally fulfilling the promise of a season that opened with a 6-2 record.  Given the mentality of this Giant squad - mercurial yet rugged - I just can't see them shrinking from this.  Giants 31 - Cowboys 27.

Check back here for my recap of the game.  And as always: Go Giants!