Dallas Cowboys (4-5) at Atlanta Falcons (4-5)
Both of these teams are pretty banged up. The Falcons are missing starting safeties Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen for the season, while recently activated linebacker Deion Jones is at least a week from returning for the first time since week 1. Without those three, the Falcons have ranked dead last in first down rate allowed at 44.04%. On offense, they are without starting guards Andy Levitre and Brandon Fusco and starting running back Devonta Freeman, which has led to an inconsistent running game. Another MVP caliber year from Matt Ryan has kept this offense among the better in the league, ranking 7th in first down rate at 40.58%, but this passing game can’t carry this team to the playoffs by itself.
The Cowboys, meanwhile, could be without both starting guards Connor Williams and Zack Martin, though the latter is expected to continue playing through his knee injury. Already without center Travis Frederick since the pre-season, this offensive line is not nearly what it once was, leading to an offense that ranks just 21st in first down rate at 34.55%. Their defense has been what’s kept them respectable, ranking 8th in first down rate allowed at 33.57%, and they are coming off of a strong performance in Philadelphia, despite their defensive injuries. They have a great #1 cornerback in Byron Jones, #1 edge rusher in DeMarcus Lawrence, and two great every down linebackers in Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith, so they’re still one of the better defenses in the league even with a few starters missing.
On paper, I have the Cowboys a couple spots ahead of the Falcons, so we’re getting some line value with the Cowboys as road favorites of more than a field goal. It’s only a half point, but about 1 in 4 games are decided by a field goal or less, including 1 in 6 by exactly a field goal, so it’s a very significant half point. The Cowboys are also in a slightly better spot. Both of these teams have to play again in 4 days on Thanksgiving, but the Cowboys get to host the Redskins, while the Falcons have to go to New Orleans, which is much more difficult.
Favorites typically don’t cover before being underdogs if their opponent will next be favorites, going 53-89 ATS since 2014, and that’s especially true before being double digit underdogs, which the Falcons are on the early line (+11) in New Orleans. You have to go back 30 years to get a good sample size, but teams are just 21-52 ATS in that spot. The Cowboys should be able to keep this close and have a good chance to pull the upset and steal one on the road.
Dallas Cowboys 24 Atlanta Falcons 23 Upset Pick +150
Pick against the spread: Dallas +3.5