San Francisco 49ers (5-8) at Dallas Cowboys (4-9)
The Cowboys have had a disappointing season, but there are some reasons to be optimistic about their chances of covering spreads going forward. The Cowboys’ offense hasn’t been as good since losing Dak Prescott, not to mention their top-3 offensive linemen in Zack Martin, Tyron Smith, and La’El Collins, but they’ve been better in recent weeks since getting Andy Dalton back from injury and, all in all, they’ve been better than you’d expect on offense, ranking 10th in first down rate over expected on the season at +1.35%.
Turnovers have been a problem for the Cowboys, but turnover margin is highly inconsistent on a week-to-week basis. Case in point, through the first 7 games of the season, the Cowboys had the worst turnover margin in the league at -13, but they’re actually +3 over their past 6 games. The Cowboys’ defense has been a bigger problem this season than the offense, but they’re healthier on that side of the ball now than they’ve been, with top cornerback Chidobe Awuzie, top linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, and talented edge rusher Randy Gregory returning in recent weeks. My roster rankings have the Cowboys 24th, which isn’t anything to write home about, but I think they’re underrated compared to their public perception.
The 49ers are also a little underrated too, as they have been much better in schedule adjusted first down rate differential (+2.52%) than their record would suggest and they are healthier now than they were earlier this season, even if only by default, most notably getting top cornerback Richard Sherman (9 games missed) back a few weeks ago. They’re still a far cry from last season, ranking 17th in my roster rankings, most notably missing quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, tight end George Kittle, and edge defender Nick Bosa, but they’re better than their record would suggest.
I think the Cowboys are a little bit more underrated though, as I have this line calculated at San Francisco -1.5, rather than -3.5, a big swing, considering about 1 in 5 games are decided by 2-3 points. The Cowboys are also in a better spot, with a relatively easy game against the Eagles on deck, while play the 49ers play the Cardinals next. Underdogs cover at a 55.1% rate all-time against a team with a .500 or worse record when their opponents will next have a .400 or worse record and their opponents next opponent will have a .500 or better record, which is the case here. The Cowboys are worth a small bet if you can get the full 3.5.
Update: Ezekiel Elliott won’t be playing for the Cowboys, which isn’t a huge deal because he’s having a down year and his backup Tony Pollard likely won’t be much of a drop off. Meanwhile, the 49ers will be surprisingly without cornerback Jason Verrett, which is a bigger absence than Elliott. I wish I hadn’t locked this in at +3.5 though, as this line has climbed to 4 or even 4.5 in some places, due to Elliott’s absence. I still recommend betting the Cowboys confidently even without Elliott, even better if you can now get them at 4 or 4.5.
San Francisco 49ers 24 Dallas Cowboys 23
Pick against the spread: Dallas +3.5