Dallas Cowboys (3-9) at Cincinnati Bengals (2-9-1)
This is one of the least appealing games of the week, on a number of levels. The Cowboys have had a very disappointing year and are one of the worst teams in the league due primarily to the amount of key players they have unavailable due to injury, but it doesn’t compare to the Bengals, who were one of the worst teams in the league even before losing quarterback Joe Burrow to injury and replacing him with a bottom of the roster caliber talent in Brandon Allen. The Bengals are also without left tackle Jonah Williams and running back Joe Mixon, two of their best offensive players, among others on defense. As much as the Jets and Jaguars have struggled this season, the Bengals ranked noticeably behind both teams in my roster rankings.
The Cowboys offense actually ranks 8th in first down rate over expected at +1.55% and, while a lot of that is from when they had Dak Prescott healthy, they have shown some ability to move the ball in small chunks consistently with Dalton under center. The big plays haven’t been there, but their lack of pass protection has been the biggest issue, which won’t be nearly as big of an issue against the Bengals and their underwhelming defensive front. That should allow the Cowboys to set up more big plays downfield for their talented receiving corps.
Unfortunately, this line takes into account the big talent gap between these two teams, favoring the Cowboys by 3.5 points on the road, despite the Bengals having some limited fans in attendance. In fact, this is my exact calculated line, so we’re not getting line value in any direction. The Cowboys should have the motivational edge though as, not only is this Andy Dalton’s return to Cincinnati, but the Cowboys are actually still in the NFC East race technically, while the Bengals have been eliminated.
The Cowboys may overlook the Bengals a little bit, with a tougher home game on deck against the 49ers (road favorites are just 52-83 ATS since 2008 before being home underdogs), but this is also a must win game, while the Bengals could be looking forward to next week’s big home game against the Steelers. Teams are 50-102 ATS since 2008 before being home underdogs of 7.5 points or more, which the Bengals almost certainly will be next week. I’m taking the Cowboys for pick ‘em purposes, but I have no confidence in them, especially since the Bengals could easily get a backdoor cover and cut the final margin to 3 points or fewer, as 1 in 4 games are decided by 3 points or fewer.
Update: This line has dropped to 3 in most places. I’m more confident in the Cowboys at that number, but not enough to bet them.
Dallas Cowboys 24 Cincinnati Bengals 20
Pick against the spread: Dallas -3