Dallas Cowboys at Los Angeles Rams: 2018 NFC Divisional Round Pick

Dallas Cowboys (11-6) at Los Angeles Rams (13-3)

The Cowboys are the weakest of the remaining 8 playoff teams. Their offense has been better since acquiring Amari Cooper during the bye, picking up first downs at a 35.98% rate in 10 games with him, as opposed to 33.81% in 7 games without him, but their defense has gone in the other direction. Before the bye, the Cowboys ranked 4th in first down rate allowed at 31.47%, but they’ve allowed opponents to pick up first downs at a 36.59% rate in 10 games since.

After overachieving on defense early in the season, they’ve largely fallen back down to earth in recent weeks, but they’re still considered an elite defense by many because they played their best game on primetime against the Saints. Even with that week 13 upset win over the Saints included, the Cowboys are allowing 22.3 points per game since the bye. They’ve been winning, going 8-2 in their last 10, but all of their wins have been by 8 points or fewer and they are somehow even in point differential over those 10 games. I don’t give them much of a shot to win this game in Los Angeles against the Rams, especially if slot receiver Cole Beasley and tight end Blake Jarwin are both unable to go after not practicing all week.

That being said, it’s hard to be confident in the Rams as 7-point favorites. They have 7 wins by more than a touchdown this year, but 6 of them came against the Raiders, Lions, Cardinals, and 49ers, among the worst teams in the league. The Chargers are the only non-cellar dweller they’ve beaten by more than a touchdown, with teams like the Broncos, Packers and Seahawks (twice), comparable caliber teams to the Cowboys, all keeping their games against the Rams close. I only have this line calculated at Rams -7.5, so I can’t be confident in the Rams at -7 and I may switch this pick to the Cowboys if both Beasley and Jarwin are able to go. A push also seems like a strong possibility.

Los Angeles Rams 26 Dallas Cowboys 17

Pick against the spread: LA Rams -7

Confidence: None

Seattle Seahawks at Dallas Cowboys: 2018 NFC Wild Card Pick

Dallas Cowboys (10-6) at Seattle Seahawks (10-6)

The Seahawks got off to a slow start this year, starting 0-2 and sitting just 4-4 at the season’s midpoint, but they once again finished the season strong, something they’ve done pretty much every year in the Russell Wilson era, going 37-18-1 ATS in the second half of the regular season since 2012. The Seahawks went 6-2 straight up and ATS over the final 8 games of the 2018 season to finish at 10-6 and they rank 9th in first down rate differential since week 10 at +3.24%, after ranking 25th at -3.39% prior to week 10. This Seahawks team is not as talented as they were earlier in the Russell Wilson era, but they’re well coached and quarterbacked and there’s no reason to believe they will suddenly revert to their early season form in the playoffs, where they are 8-4 straight up since 2012.

The Cowboys have also had a strong second half of the season record wise, going 7-1 after a 3-5 start, but they actually rank just 21st in first down rate differential at -1.54%. Somewhat remarkably, all 7 of the Cowboys wins over that time period came by 8 points or fewer, while their one loss came by 23, giving them a point differential of just +12 over that time period (as opposed to +49 for the Seahawks).

Their offense has been better since acquiring Amari Cooper, picking up first downs at a 35.73% rate since week 10, as opposed to 34.03% prior to week 10, but their defense has gone in the opposite direction, allowing a first down rate of 37.27% since week 10, after allowing a first down rate of 32.73% before week 10. Their defense overperformed early in the season, but, aside from their nationally televised game against the Saints, they’ve largely fallen back to earth in recent weeks, allowing 23.3 points per game in their other 7 games. I think they’re a little overrated right now because casual bettors think they have an elite defense as a result of that Saints game.

The Seahawks also have the talent and experience edge. Not only is Russell Wilson going into his 13th playoff game with Pete Carroll already, but Carroll has also been a head coach in 5 other playoff games without Wilson (10-7 overall). On the other side, Jason Garrett is in just his 4th playoff game (1-2) and just his 2nd with Dak Prescott, who lost his first career playoff start in 2016. At +2, we’re not getting quite enough line value to take the Seahawks against the spread (especially since I will have bets on the other 3 games this week), but I like their chances of winning this game. Games rarely are decided by 1 point exactly, so the money line is a smarter play if you want to bet this game.

Seattle Seahawks 19 Dallas Cowboys 17 Upset Pick +110

Pick against the spread: Seattle +2

Confidence: Low

Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants: 2018 Week 17 NFL Pick

Dallas Cowboys (9-6) at New York Giants (5-10)

This is another game with motivational uncertainty. The Cowboys are locked into the #4 seed in the NFC and have rested starts with nothing to play for in the past, but Jason Garrett at least publicly says he’s treating this as a real game because the Cowboys still have issues they need to work through. That makes some sense, as the last time the Cowboys rested starters it was with a first round bye locked up, but the Cowboys have also been giving more reps to backups at practice this week, including practice squad running back Darius Jackson, who could split carries with backup Rod Smith this week if Ezekiel Elliott sits on the sidelines, with his rushing title all but wrapped up.

If Elliott sits, you have to figure banged up offensive linemen Tyron Smith and Zack Martin also won’t play and, without those two and Elliott, it doesn’t make much sense to have Dak Prescott or any other stars play for more than a quarter or so. This line also seems to expect the Cowboys to mail it in, favoring the Giants by 6. The Giants are also missing a pair of stars though, without stud safety Landon Collins and #1 wide receiver Odell Beckham due to injury, so I’m taking the Cowboys for pick ‘em purposes and hoping they don’t completely mail it in.

New York Giants 24 Dallas Cowboys 20

Pick against the spread: Dallas +6

Confidence: None

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Dallas Cowboys: 2018 Week 16 NFL Pick

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-9) at Dallas Cowboys (8-6)

The Cowboys were shut out in Indianapolis last week, ending their 5-game winning streak. That was a tough spot for them though, on the road against a strong Indianapolis team, without their top offensive lineman Zack Martin, after back-to-back tough wins over the Saints and Eagles. This week, they are at home with an easier matchup against the Buccaneers, they probably are getting Martin back, and they should be more focused after last week’s loss humbled them.

That being said, I’m still leaning towards the Buccaneers as 7-point underdogs. The Cowboys have had offensive issues all season and that has kept them from blowing out their opponents, with 7 of their 8 wins coming by 8 points or fewer. Even if Martin is back, he likely won’t be at 100%, which could be a major problem for this offense. The Buccaneers, meanwhile, have also played a lot of close games in recent years, with 12 of their 20 losses over the past 2 seasons coming by 8 points or fewer.

The Buccaneers have defensive issues (6th in first down rate allowed at 41.02%) and they start one of the more turnover prone quarterbacks in the league in Jameis Winston, but their offense moves the ball well (30th in first down rate at 41.28%) and is more than capable of getting a backdoor cover if needed. There’s not enough here to take the Buccaneers with any confidence and we’re not really getting any line value with the Buccaneers, but this could easily be another close game for these teams, so I like the Buccaneers for pick ‘em purposes.

Dallas Cowboys 26 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 20

Pick against the spread: Tampa Bay +7

Confidence: None

Dallas Cowboys at Indianapolis Colts: 2018 Week 15 NFL Pick

Dallas Cowboys (8-5) at Indianapolis Colts (7-6)

The Cowboys are obviously better offensively since acquiring wide receiver Amari Cooper, who has revitalized his career in Dallas, helping the Cowboys win 5 straight games and take control of the NFC East. I expect that streak to end this week though. Coming off of a huge upset win over the Saints and an overtime win over the Eagles that essentially clinched the division, the Cowboys probably won’t bring the same effort this week, especially since they’re basically locked into the #4 seed in the NFC, needing the Bears to lose twice in three games to have a chance to jump them.

Their seeding might be part of the reason why the Cowboys are resting right guard Zach Martin this week, as the All-Pro has dealt with injuries to both knees this season. That’s a huge loss, especially for an offensive line that could also sit left tackle Tyron Smith, who is also dealing with multiple injuries and did not practice in full this week. On defense, the Cowboys could hold out linebacker Sean Lee again, after he was limited all week in practice as well, and even if he does he play he’d likely have a limited role. They’ll also be without edge rush specialist Randy Gregory for personal reasons, also a big loss the way he’s been playing.

The Colts have injury issues as well, with left tackle Mark Glowinski and possibly safety Clayton Geathers and wide receiver TY Hilton out this week with injuries. They’ve had injury issues all season though and, if Hilton can play as a gametime decision, they’ll actually be much healthier this week than they have been for much of the season. Center Ryan Kelly is the most recent player to return to the lineup and he’ll be a big re-addition after a 3-game absence.

Despite injuries, the Colts have been better than their 7-6 record this season, as they rank 11th in point differential at +49 and 7th in first down rate differential at 3.39%. Injuries were part of the reason why they started 1-5, but they’ve since won 6 of 7 games. They are +12 in offensive touchdowns, as opposed to +2 for Dallas, and have 4 wins by more than a touchdown, as opposed to just 1 for Dallas.

The Colts haven’t faced the toughest schedule, but they’re still the 2nd toughest team the Cowboys have faced on their winning streak, outside of the Saints, who it took an incredible effort to beat in Dallas. In a much less meaningful game, out of conference, at much less than 100%, I don’t expect that same effort this week from the Cowboys. This is a medium confidence pick for now, but if Hilton plays and the line stays at -3, I’ll bump this up to high confidence.

Sunday Update: As promised, I’m bumping this up to high confidence with TY Hilton active and the line remaining at 3. The Cowboys got good news Sunday morning as well, with Tyron Smith, Sean Lee, and Randy Gregory active, but the Colts also have Clayton Geathers active and are as healthy as they’ve been all season with Hilton, Geathers, and Ryan Kelly active. The Cowboys, meanwhile, will be without stud right guard Zack Martin in a game that doesn’t mean as much for them as it does for the Colts.

Indianapolis Colts 24 Dallas Cowboys 17

Pick against the spread: Indianapolis -3

Confidence: High

Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys: 2018 Week 14 NFL Pick

Philadelphia Eagles (6-6) at Dallas Cowboys (7-5)

The Cowboys got a huge win last week, pulling the upset as 7.5-point favorites against the Saints, a win that helps them as they try to win the NFC East. However, they have another huge game this week against the Eagles, who are their biggest competition for the division title. If the Cowboys win this game, they’ll have a two game lead and the tiebreaker over the Eagles with 3 games to play, but if the Eagles win they’ll pull into a tie and have control of the tiebreaker, due to their superior divisional record.

The Cowboys’ win last week was impressive, but it doesn’t necessarily bode well for their chances of covering this week, as teams are 38-51 ATS since 2002 after winning as 6+ point home underdogs. The Cowboys played last week like it was their Super Bowl and might find it hard to play like that for two weeks in a row. The Cowboys also have already beaten the Eagles this season, pulling the 27-20 upset back in week 10, but that doesn’t necessarily bode well for their chances of covering this week either. Divisional home favorites are just 41-68 ATS since 2002 against teams they’ve previously beaten that season as divisional road underdogs. In rematches like this, the loser of the previous game wins about 45% of the time over that same time period, despite being underdogs.

The Eagles could have easily won that week 10 game anyway, as they won the first down rate battle by 2.09%, but failed on two 4th downs and threw an interception, while the Cowboys’ picked up a 4th down and played turnover free football. That’s one of two games the Eagles have lost this season despite winning the first down rate battle, with the other coming in a 2-point loss to the Vikings in which they allowed a long defensive touchdown. The Eagles obviously haven’t been as good as they were last season, but they still rank 9th in first down rate differential at +3.19%.

On the season, they are -8 in point differential, but that’s despite a 41-point loss in New Orleans and a -8 turnover margin. Turnover margins tend to be inconsistent on a week-to-week basis and, if the Eagles can play turnover neutral football the rest of the way, that should be noticeable on the scoreboard. Despite that, the Eagles are underdogs of more than a field goal here in Dallas, suggesting the Cowboys are the better of these two teams right now. I have this line calculated at closer to even and I like the Eagles’ chances of pulling the straight up upset in a revenge spot against a team that might be a little overconfident after a huge win. At +3.5, this is my Pick of the Week.

Philadelphia Eagles 24 Dallas Cowboys 23 Upset Pick +155

Pick against the spread: Philadelphia +3.5

Confidence: Pick of the Week

New Orleans Saints at Dallas Cowboys: 2018 Week 13 NFL Pick

New Orleans Saints (10-1) at Dallas Cowboys (6-5)

Going into their week 8 bye, the Cowboys were a 3-4 team with a strong defense, but an underwhelming offense. They ranked 4th in first down rate allowed at 31.47%, but just 23rd in first down rate at 33.81%. In order to remedy this, the Cowboys made an aggressive move to acquire slumping former Pro-Bowl receiver Amari Cooper from the Raiders for a 2019 1st round pick, potentially giving this offense #1 receiver it sorely lacked.

It was a risky move, but it’s gone well so far, as Cooper has 22 catches for 349 yards and already leads the team with 3 receiving touchdowns, despite being with the team for just 4 games. In addition, his 19 receiving first downs are 2nd on the team. The offense hasn’t been great or anything since he arrived, but they have moved the chains at a 35.94% rate in his 4 games, about league average, which is noticeably better than before the bye.

However, the Cowboys’ defense has gone in the opposite direction, allowing opponents to move the chains at a 38.06% rate in 4 games since the bye. They are 3-1 in those 4 games, but they have just a +4 point differential and have lost the first down rate battle in every game except last week’s home game against a backup quarterback. Injuries are the biggest reason for their defensive decline, particularly the injury to linebacker Sean Lee, who went down early in the Cowboys’ first game out of the bye against the Titans, coinciding with their defensive decline.

Lee is one of the most injury prone players in the league and the Cowboys have always been significantly worse defensively with him out of the lineup. They are better prepared for his absence this season, with young linebackers Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith capable of playing every down, but this team is noticeably better when they have all three linebackers together. In the 4 healthy games that Lee has played this season (not including the game against the Titans which he left early in the first half), the Cowboys have allowed a 30.43% first down rate, as opposed to 35.93% in their other 7 games. Starting defensive end Taco Charlton, who also went down in their first game after the bye, is expected to return this week, but their offense could be without stud left tackle Tyron Smith, which would be a big blow.

The Saints are obviously a dominant team, but we’re not getting line value with them like we were earlier in the season, as they are -7.5 in Dallas this week (remember when they were +3 in Baltimore and -3 in New York against the Giants). In fact, if Smith ends up playing and this line doesn’t move, we’re getting a little bit of line value with the Cowboys. Unfortunately, Smith is a gametime decision, so we might not know until inactives are announced. For now, I’m taking the Cowboys for a no confidence pick, but I’ll almost definitely have an update before gametime.

Thursday Update: Smith looks unlikely to play, after not practicing all week. With him out, we aren’t getting any line value with the Cowboys, so I’m switching this pick to the Saints. This remains a no confidence pick as this line is about right.

New Orleans Saints 24 Dallas Cowboys 16

Pick against the spread: New Orleans -7.5

Confidence: None