Las Vegas Raiders at Dallas Cowboys: 2021 Week 12 NFL Pick

Las Vegas Raiders (5-5) at Dallas Cowboys (7-3)

In non-divisional Thursday games like this, typically a home favorite is at a significant advantage. It’s very tough for an inferior team to go on the road on a short week and play a superior team that is not in their division that they don’t have familiarity with and, as a result, non-divisional road underdogs cover at a 65.0% rate on Thursday when both teams are on short rest. That would seem to favor the Cowboys, who are 7.5-point home favorites over the Raiders, but that line is too high, so I can’t bet them confidently. 

This line was just a touchdown a week ago, which is a bigger shift than you might think, as about 1 in 10 games are decided by exactly seven points. That’s despite the fact that the Cowboys lost and failed to cover against the Chiefs. The Cowboys are healthier than they were a week ago, with left tackle Tyron Smith set to return from a 2-game absence and CeeDee Lamb, who missed most of the loss to the Chiefs, likely to join him, but Lamb was expected to be healthy a week ago and this line movement seems to mostly be the result of the Raiders’ big home loss to the Bengals last week.

That result did not look good for the Raiders on the scoreboard, as they lost at home by 19, but they actually won the yards per play battle by 1.8 yards per play. The final score was largely the result of the Raiders losing the turnover battle and converting just 1 of 7 third downs, but third down conversion rates and turnover margins tend to be highly inconsistent and non-predictive on a week-to-week basis, especially compared to things like yards per play and first down rate. 

The Raiders have a negative point differential (-39) on the season at 5-5, but they have a much bigger than average disparity between their 1st/2nd and 3rd/4th down performance on both sides of the ball, which should even out in the long run. In terms of overall efficiency (based on yards per play and first down rate), the Raiders rank 19th, 7th, and 25th on offense, defense, and special teams respectively. The Cowboys, meanwhile, rank 3rd, 18th, and 21st. 

The Cowboys’ offense is mostly healthy, but their defense is worse than that suggests right now, with their two best edge defenders, DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory, both out with injuries, a big absence. Given that, they don’t deserve to be more than touchdown favorites against a decent at worst Raiders team. My calculated line has the Cowboys favored by 5.5 and, while that doesn’t take into account that the Cowboys are in a great spot, I have a hard time justifying this line. The Raiders aren’t worth betting on either, but they should be the better side in this one from a spread perspective.

Update: CeeDee Lamb will apparently not be playing, as, even though he participated in the walk through yesterday, he will not have enough time to clear the concussion protocol on a short week. I want to bump this confidence up to low confidence before the line moves off 7.5. Having Tyron Smith back healthy will help, but the Cowboys will be without their two top wide receivers in this game, which will obviously effect their offense in a negative way.

Dallas Cowboys 30 Las Vegas Raiders 24

Pick against the spread: Las Vegas +7.5

Confidence: Low

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