Detroit Lions (11-5) at Dallas Cowboys (12-4)
The Cowboys have been pretty inconsistent this season. They come into the playoffs red hot, ranking 3rd among playoff teams (only behind Seattle and Carolina) in rate of moving the chains differential adjusted for schedule. This makes sense as they won their final 4 to qualify for the playoffs, including convincing victories against a pair of solid football teams, Indianapolis and Philadelphia. However, over the past 8 games, they rank just 9th among playoff teams, as those 8 games include performances such as big home losses to Philadelphia and Arizona. That Arizona game can be somewhat disregarded though as Romo didn’t play. On the season, they rank 8th among playoff teams in schedule adjusted rate of moving the chains differential.
The Lions, meanwhile, rank near the bottom no matter what timeframe you look at, the last 4 games, the last 8 games, or the whole season. They rank 11th, 12th, and 10th among 12 playoff teams in those 3 metrics respectively. Their +39 point differential is 4th worst among playoff teams (ahead of only Carolina, Arizona, and Cincinnati) and they’ve been overly reliant on a 6-1 record in games decided by a touchdown or less and a +7 turnover margin. If Dallas plays like they have over the past 4 games, they should be able to win this one easily and cover the spread of 6.5 as well, but their season long inconsistency worries me. If they don’t play like they have in their last 4 games, I think we’re getting line value with the Lions.
Another thing that worries me is that, of their final 4 games, 3 of them were on the road. The Cowboys have proven they can win on the road this season, winning all 8 road games, but they’re just 4-4 at home and their numbers have been significantly worse at home. At home, they’ve moved the chains at a 76.86% rate, as opposed to 74.79% for their opponents, a differential of 2.07%, while they’ve moved the chains at a 77.73% rate on the road, as opposed to 72.84% for their opponents, a differential of 4.89%. The Cowboys got a huge home victory over the Colts week 16, beating a solid opponent by the final score of 42-7, but their home issues date back longer than this year, as they’re 8-23 ATS as home favorites since 2010, and in their 2nd to last home game they got destroyed by the Eagles, so I’m not completely sold on the Cowboys at home.
However, the Lions haven’t exactly been good on the road this season either, moving the chains at a 69.71% rate, as opposed to 73.17% for their opponents, a differential of -3.46%, as opposed to a 73.22% rate, as opposed to 67.93% for their opponents, a differential of 5.29% at home. On top of this, they are 4-13 ATS against winning teams on the road since 2011. The Lions should be the right side. The Cowboys struggle at home, are probably a little overrated (when you look at the whole season for these two teams), and have heavy public action on them. However, the Cowboys are a hot team and the Lions are one of the worst teams in the playoffs, especially on the road, so I’m not confident.
Dallas Cowboys 24 Detroit Lions 19
Pick against the spread: Detroit +6.5