ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) - A month ago, the Dallas Cowboys figured to be without star running back Ezekiel Elliott for the opener while facing the New York Giants and dynamic receiver Odell Beckham Jr.
Now, Beckham is the one in doubt.
Elliott, the NFL rushing leader last season as a rookie, was already cleared to play in the opener Sunday night and, on Friday, U.S. District Judge Amos Mazzant blocked his six-game suspension over a domestic violence case. It’s uncertain whether an NFL appeal can get the suspension reinstated this season.
Beckham hasn’t practiced since spraining his left ankle in a preseason game against Cleveland on Aug. 21, and that included all the preparations during game week.
So Eli Manning could be without his top receiver for his 200th consecutive start, but will have a new one in six-time Pro Bowler Brandon Marshall, who signed as a free agent. The Giants are trying to win their fourth straight against the Cowboys after sweeping the NFC East champions last year.
“They got weapons now,” Dallas defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said. “Beckham, he’s special obviously. Those are really good receivers. We know that. They’re stocked up pretty well.”
Beckham is listed as questionable, which is supposed to mean a “50-50” chance of playing.
“You try and get better each and every day,” Beckham said Wednesday. “I’ve been rehabbing an endless amount of hours and treatment, etc. So, just trying to get it right.”
Dak Prescott lost his debut as a rookie quarterback to the Giants in last year’s opener before leading the Cowboys to a franchise-record 11 straight wins. The streak ended in a 10-7 loss at New York that was easily the worst game for the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Dez Bryant was shut down as well, getting one catch in each loss. But now Dallas’ top receiver is coming off his first full offseason since his All-Pro year in 2014, which his teammates and coaches believe will make a difference.
“Two different teams than we were last year,” Giants receiver Sterling Shepard said. “So, you kind of have to flush that down the toilet and move on.”
Some key story lines for the fifth Giants-Cowboys opener in six seasons:
ELLIOTT SAGA: He was suspended by Commissioner Roger Goodell on Aug. 11 after the NFL concluded he had several physical confrontations with Tiffany Thompson, his girlfriend at the time, in 2016 in Ohio. Prosecutors didn’t pursue the case. On Friday, Mazzant agreed with players’ union lawyers that Elliott didn’t receive a “fundamentally fair” hearing in his appeal and he granted the NFL Players’ Association request for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction blocking the league’s punishment.
BECKHAM FACTOR: The 24-year-old had a career-best 101 catches last season for 1,367 yards and 10 touchdowns and has made the Pro Bowl all three seasons. Beckham has five TDs against Dallas, including that famous one-handed catch as a rookie. Roger Lewis Jr. and Tavarres King are the backups, but a more likely scenario would be a bigger role for first-round draft pick Evan Engram and fellow tight end Rhett Ellison.
DEFENSIVE UNKNOWNS: Dallas linebacker Jaylon Smith should make his debut after missing his rookie season with a college knee injury. The Cowboys aren’t sure what they have in someone who likely would have been a top 10 pick before the injury. They also have high hopes for rookie cornerbacks Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis, but both have missed almost all of the preseason.
GIANTS UP FRONT: The major question for the Giants is the offensive line. The only change is right tackle Bobby Hart replacing Marshall Newhouse, who signed with Oakland as a free agent. This line didn’t open holes for the running backs, but it did put Manning under constant pressure last season. Giants management felt another year together would help the group, especially left tackle Ereck Flowers.
WITTEN AND ELI: Cowboys tight end Jason Witten, in his 15th season, needs 17 yards receiving to break Hall of Famer Michael Irvin’s club record of 11,904 yards. He will tie Ed “Too Tall” Jones for the most games in franchise history at 224. Manning is set to join Brett Favre (297) and brother Peyton Manning (208) as the only quarterbacks with at least 200 straight starts.
SHARED FATES: Both teams made the playoffs last season, and both lost postseason openers to Green Bay. The Giants lost 38-13 in a wild-card game, and the top-seeded Cowboys fell at home 34-31 after twice tying the NFC divisional game in the final minutes.
Corrects previous version to say it’s the fifth Cowboys-Giants opener in six seasons, not the fourth opener in six seasons.
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