Dallas Cowboys (7-4) at New Orleans Saints (5-6)
Both of these two teams lost on Thanksgiving a week prior to this matchup and in both cases injuries were a big part of the reason why. The Cowboys were without their two best wide receivers Ceedee Lamb and Amari Cooper, as well as their two best pure edge defenders DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory, while talented left tackle Tyron Smith did not seem 100% in his first game back from a short absence. The Saints, meanwhile, were missing even more, as they’ve been one of the most injury plagued teams in the league this season.
Already without top wide receiver Michael Thomas for the whole season, the Saints have since seen quarterback Jameis Winston, running backs Alvin Kamala and Mark Ingram, stud offensive tackles Ryan Ramczyk and Terron Armstead, guard Andrus Peat, and edge defender Marcus Davenport suffer injuries that have kept them out for varying amounts of time, with only Ramczyk playing from that group last week.
At least one of these teams figures to be a lot healthier this week and that team is the Dallas Cowboys. Both Cooper and Lamb are expected back and, while Randy Gregory is still at least a week away, the Cowboys should get DeMarcus Lawrence back for the first time since week one. On top of that, Tyron Smith is likely to be healthier this week than a week ago, having had another week to get better. With key players like Michael Gallup and La’El Collins also having returned from extended absences recently, the Cowboys are arguably as healthy right now as they’ve been since the beginning of the year.
On the other hand, while the Saints will get Mark Ingram back, he is the only player the Saints are guaranteed to get back this week and even Ramczyk, who played last week, is highly questionable. Neither Ramczyk nor Armstead practiced in the Saints’ final practice of the week and both are likely on the wrong side of questionable, while Kamara is also not a guarantee to return after getting limited practices in all week. All of the rest of the aforementioned injured Saints will be out at least another week and, if Ramczyk sits out, the Saints could be in even worse injury shape than they were a good ago.
With three key players like Kamara, Armstead, and Ramczyk all legitimately questionable, it’s impossible to confidently pick either side in this matchup and which side I end up going with will depend largely on who of those three end up being available. If all three play, the Saints have a good chance to keep it close or even pull an upset. The Saints are switching quarterbacks from Trevor Siemian to Taysom Hill, which should be an upgrade by default, as Hill can at least be a threat with his legs.
If the Saints offensive linemen and top running back are available, they can utilize a run heavy, ball control offensive game plan, which, when combined with their talented defense, could allow them to pull the upset or at least keep this close. The Saints are also in a good spot in their second straight game as home underdogs, as teams tend to be much better in their second game after being uncompetitive in the first game, with teams covering at a 59.0% rate all-time as home underdogs after a loss by 14+ points as home underdogs the previous week. On top of that, the Saints could benefit from the Cowboys being without several coaches in the COVID protocol, although we’ve seen that have minimal if any impact in the past in many cases.
On the other hand, if the Saints don’t get their running back and offensive tackles back, it’s hard to see them having enough to be competitive with a suddenly healthy Cowboys team that has one of the most talented rosters in the NFL. Since it’s looking like Armstead and Ramczyk are both on the right side of questionable, I am making Dallas my pick for now, but it’s a no confidence pick until I know who is actually playing. I will almost definitely have an update before gametime.
Update: Kamara, Ramczyk, and Armstead are all out for the Saints, while the Cowboys are healthy as expected, but we won’t be able to take advantage of the Cowboys’ significant health edge, with this line moving up to -6.5. My calculated line has the Cowboys favored by a touchdown, but when you factor in that the Saints are in a better spot, there really isn’t anything to be confident about the Cowboys with this week. I’m still taking them for pick ’em purposes because I think the most likely outcome is they win by a touchdown, but this is one of my lowest confidence picks of the week.
Dallas Cowboys 24 New Orleans Saints 17
Pick against the spread: Dallas -6.5