IRVING -- Listening to Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett one would think Sunday's much-anticipated NFC East showdown against the New York Giants is no different than last week's matchup against Arizona or the game before that against Miami.
For that matter, Garrett said it is no different than the Oct. 23 game against the St. Louis Rams -- never mind that first place is on the line and the winner controls its playoff destiny with three games left in the season.
The Cowboys (7-5) have a one-game lead on the Giants (6-6).
"Every game is important," Garrett said. "You get 16 chances in this league. You want to be your best for three hours each week to try to take full advantage of those opportunities."
Asked a second time and Garrett went into rewind mode, "They are all important. You have 16 chances. You want to win them all. Division games are important. You try to prepare your best every week. You try to be your best for three hours on Sunday."
No doubt his message has been the same to the players. It's a good, sound philosophy, just so no one tries to overdo things and make one game too big.
But there is no hiding the truth about Sunday's matchup. The season is basically at stake for the Cowboys and the Giants, which the Cowboys players readily acknowledge, if not their coach.
A win would give the Cowboys a two-game lead with three games to play, while sending a reeling Giants team to a fifth consecutive loss.
A Giants win would not only stop their four-game losing streak but give them a share of the division lead and momentum going into the final three games, including a home season finale against the Cowboys.
Add in the potential emotional implications of a second consecutive loss to a Cowboys team that has a recent history of folding in December and there is no doubting this is their "biggest game" of the season.
"Our goal is to make the playoffs and in order to do that we have to take care of our business this week," safety Abe Elam said. "This is probably the biggest of our season yet."
Linebacker Bradie James said there no reason to downplay the significance of Sunday's game.
"We have to win this game," James said. "There is nothing for us to sit here and have a debate about. Everybody in this locker room, everybody in this building knows how important this game is. So everybody has to step up."
Said linebacker DeMarcus Ware: "It's like a measuring stick of the NFC East, who really wants it. It's a big game. We're playing for first place, so it's not like it's a regular old game playing against just any other team."
Because of the bitter rivalry between the teams, this game would mean a lot even if the division lead wasn't on the line.
Several recent matchups between the two have included trash talk before, during and after games and extracurricular activity after the whistle.
James said Giants running back Brandon Jacobs is the dirtiest player in the league. Cornerback Mike Jenkins called Jacobs a bully.
"It's the Giants," James said. "We like to get after each other. It will be some out of character plays sometimes. It just so happen we are playing for first place. It's going to be a good one."
The Giants have won five of the past seven games in the series, including the previous two at Cowboys Stadium, site of this week's game.
"I know ...we know all the stats," James said.
Clarence E. Hill Jr.