Detroit Lions (1-4) at Dallas Cowboys (4-2)
The Lions began the season as the highest scoring team in the league through 4 games, averaging 35.0 points per game, before being shut out in week 5 against the Patriots. The common thinking seems to be that the Lions’ dominant offensive start was legitimate and that they just happened to run into a dominant defense in week 5, but I don’t think that’s correct. Even with the Patriots’ game taken into account, the Lions still rank 3rd in the NFL in points per game at 28.0, but in terms of first down rate, which is much more predictive than points, the Lions rank just 13th, 18th when adjusted for strength of schedule.
That’s still pretty solid, but it’s a big concern for a Lions team that has one of the worst defenses in the league and relies on their offense’s ability to keep up in shootouts to win games. A year after ranking 30th in defensive efficiency, about 4 points below average, the Lions have somehow been even worse this season, ranking dead last, about 5.5 points below average, especially struggling since losing two of their better players, safety Tracy Walker and edge defender Charles Harris, due to injuries. My roster rankings tell the same story, with the Lions’ defense being 5 points below average without Walker and Harris. Overall, both my roster rankings and schedule adjusted efficiency have the Lions about 5 points below average overall as a team, making them one of the worst in the league, despite an impressive points total.
With that in mind, I like the Cowboys a lot this week. Many thought the Cowboys’ season was over when they lost quarterback Dak Prescott for an extended period of time in a week 1 blowout loss to the Buccaneers, but the Cowboys’ defense has been dominant this season, ranking 2nd in schedule adjusted efficiency, and, led by that defense, backup Mike White won 4 of 5 games in Prescott’s absence. With Prescott set to return to the lineup for a 4-2 team with a dominant defense, the Cowboys are in position to be a serious contender going forward.
I’m a little wary of betting on the Cowboys in Prescott’s first game back, especially considering how he struggled in his first game back from a shoulder injury last season, and the Cowboys have offensive problems beyond Prescott, ranking just 24th in schedule adjusted offensive efficiency thus far this season, but, even with Prescott factored in at less than 100%, the Cowboys still rank 4 points above average in my roster rankings, 9 points ahead of the Lions.
In addition to how well their defense has played thus far this season, the Cowboys also rank 4th in schedule adjusted special teams efficiency. Given how big the gap between them and the Lions is, we are getting significant line value with the Cowboys as mere 6.5-point home favorites, with my calculated line being Dallas -11. This isn’t a big play, but the Cowboys are worth a bet this week if you can get this line at less than a touchdown.
Dallas Cowboys 26 Detroit Lions 17
Pick against the spread: Dallas -6.5