Dallas Cowboys (3-0) at New Orleans Saints (2-1)
The Cowboys are one of six teams currently 3-0. That’s where they should be, given that their schedule has had them face three of the worst teams in the league (Giants, Redskins, Dolphins) in the first three weeks of the season, but it’s good to see the Cowboys win all 3 games convincingly, by an average of 17.7 points per game, after having just one win by more than eight points all last season. Along with the Patriots, they are one of two teams that have won all three games by double digits so far this season and their first down rate differential of +10.96% is 3rd in the NFL behind the Patriots and 49ers. We’ll see how they look against tougher competition, but I thought they had one of the better rosters in the league going into the season, in large part due to the return of center Travis Frederick, who missed all of last season.
This is when the Cowboys’ schedule is supposed to get tougher, with a trip on New Orleans on the schedule for week 4, but the Cowboys’ good schedule luck continues as they get to face the Saints without starting quarterback Drew Brees, who is out for about 6 weeks with a thumb injury. Backup quarterback Teddy Bridgewater led the Saints to a victory in Seattle in his first start last week, but the Saints lost the first down rate battle in that game by 3.47% and ended up winning by just 6 points despite getting two return touchdowns.
In 18 drives since taking over for Brees, Bridgewater has led the Saints to just 28 first downs and 3 touchdowns on 98 plays, a 31.63% first down rate. By comparison, the Saints had a 43.17% first down rate in 2018. Bridgewater has starting experience and could still turn it around, but he does not look like the same player as he was in his last stint as a starter 2015, when he was one of the more promising young quarterbacks in the league. Given all that’s happened since then, that’s not exactly a surprise.
The Saints have a strong roster around the quarterback, but have not looked impressive since losing Brees, outside of their two return touchdowns last week. Even including their week 1 win over the Texans with Brees healthy, the Saints rank 27th in the NFL with a -4.84% first down rate differential this season, as their defense has struggled without injured defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins, who is unlikely to make his season debut this week and would almost definitely be limited if active. I have this line calculated at Dallas -4, so I like their chances of covering in a game in which they basically just need to win to cover, as 2.5-point favorites. With this line dropping below 3 in most places, the Cowboys are worth a small bet.
Dallas Cowboys 24 New Orleans Saints 20
Pick against the spread: Dallas -2.5