(Sports Network) - A three-game winning streak has the New York Giants in first place in their division and brimming with optimism, while the Dallas Cowboys' confidence is clearly shaken after stumbling badly out of the blocks in what's supposed to be a special 2010 campaign.
The desperate Cowboys will try to regain their swagger -- as well as save a season teetering on the brink of disaster -- when the reigning NFC East champions host the red-hot Giants in a colossal Monday night showdown between longtime rivals.
Expected to be on the short list of contenders to represent the NFC in Super Bowl XLV, which will be held in Cowboys Stadium, Dallas has instead gotten off to a startling 1-4 start that's put the franchise's grandiose plans in obvious peril. It's the first time the Cowboys have dropped four of their first five tests since 2001, and a loss this week would give the club its worst mark after six games since it began the 1989 season with eight straight setbacks en route to a 1-15 ledger.
Dallas' wounds have been largely self-inflicted, as a deluge of penalties, turnovers and special-teams breakdowns have all contributed to its present poor record. Mistakes doomed the Cowboys once again in last Sunday's 24-21 loss at Minnesota, with the Vikings scoring 10 points off a pair of interceptions of quarterback Tony Romo and getting another touchdown via a 95- yard kick return from wide receiver Percy Harvin to start the second half.
The Cowboys also committed a troubling 11 penalties that totaled 91 yards, with one of those flags negating a would-be long touchdown catch by Miles Austin when the standout receiver was called for offensive pass interference.
While the Cowboys have been reeling, the Giants come into Arlington flying high off three October victories that has given Big Blue a share of the NFC East lead with Philadelphia at 4-2. A rejuvenated defense has been at the forefront of the surge, with New York having surrendered the second fewest total yards (264.8 ypg) and passing yards (172.0 ypg) in the league and racking up 21 sacks through the first six weeks.
The much-improved unit could face its sternest test to date this week, however, as Dallas ranks third in the NFL in total offense (400.0 ypg) and is averaging 305 yards per game through the air (fourth overall).
New York did permit 302 net passing yards in last weekend's tussle with Detroit, but forced three turnovers and got a big effort from its running game to hand the spirited Lions a 28-20 defeat. Top running back Ahmad Bradshaw put up a season-best 133 yards on only 19 carries, with bruising understudy Brandon Jacobs adding a pair of short touchdown runs on the afternoon.
The Giants have averaged 157.8 rushing yards over the course of their three- game tear, which began with a 17-3 home verdict over Chicago in Week 4 and was extended with a 34-10 road rout of Houston the following Sunday.