Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants: 2020 Week 17 NFL Pick

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

It may not seem like it based off of their records, but the winner of this game will still be alive to win the NFC East and would go on to host a home playoff game next week if Washington loses to Philadelphia on Sunday Night Football. The Giants and Cowboys have both taken winding paths to get to this point, with the Giants being 0-5 and 1-7 at points this season and the Cowboys being 2-7 and 3-9 at points this season, but neither team is in terrible position right now.

The Giants’ 3-7 start wasn’t that bad when you consider that they played 9 out of 10 games against teams that rank in the top-10 in first down rate allowed over expected, the Steelers (2nd), the Rams (1st), Washington twice (3rd), the Eagles twice (9th), the 49ers (5th), the Bears (6th), and the Buccaneers (4th). As healthy as they had been in a while coming out of their week 11 bye, the Giants looked like they would be a good bet going forward.

The Giants’ good health lasted about a half unfortunately, as quarterback Daniel Jones hurt his hamstring early in the third quarter of their first game after their bye, a game in Cincinnati in which the Giants likely would have covered a 6-point spread had Jones not gotten hurt. Backup Colt McCoy held on for the victory, but only barely, as he was a noticeable drop off from Jones. That continued into McCoy’s next start in Seattle, but the Giants pulled the massive upset as 11-point underdogs in an uncharacteristically dominant game for a Giants defense that ranks just 23rd in the NFL overall in first down rate allowed over expected at +1.06%.

Jones returned the following week against Arizona, but looked immobile due to his hamstring injury and struggled mightily, looking possibly even worse than McCoy had. That caused the Giants to go back to McCoy for their next game against the Browns and McCoy’s struggles led to them largely being uncompetitive in that game, managing just a 25.93% first down rate against the Browns’ mediocre defense and losing the first down rate battle by 12.17%. 

At this point, it became clear that a healthy Jones would be a significant upgrade over McCoy,  as he is better in completion percentage, yards per attempt, and yards per carry, despite facing some of the toughest defenses in the league before getting hurt and then playing at far less than 100% against the Cardinals, while McCoy got to face the Bengals (21st in first down rate allowed over expected) for a half, the Seahawks (19th), and the Browns (27th). The issue was how healthy Jones could be. After the Giants’ pathetic showing against the Browns, they decided to put Jones and his injured hamstring to the test against the Ravens.

The Giants lost to the Ravens by 14, but Jones looked a lot better than he did against the Cardinals and there were a lot of good things to take away from that game, most notably that the Giants actually won the first down rate battle in that game by 0.21% and picked up 24 first downs on just 63 plays against a capable Ravens defense. The Giants had trouble sustaining drives because they went just 1 for 10 on third down and 1 for 3 on fourth down, while the Ravens went 8 for 11 on third down and didn’t have to attempt a fourth down, but third and fourth down performance tends to be very inconsistent on a week-to-week basis and it’s very encouraging to see that the Giants got 22 of their 24 first downs on first and second down, as performance on those downs tends to be more predictive. 

Jones might not be quite 100% and the Giants defense is an underwhelming unit that is not nearly as good as they looked against the Seahawks, but I think Jones is underrated by people who just look at his stats and don’t realize that he’s either been significantly hindered by injury and faced with a dominant defensive opponent in pretty much every game he’s played. His only full healthy game against an underwhelming defense came in week 5 in a 37-34 loss against these Cowboys. Now at least resembling full health, I would expect Jones and this offense to play well against a Dallas defense that has been better than their raw stats suggest, but still ranks just 17th in first down rate allowed over expected at -0.50%. 

Dallas’ season has been up and down as well, in large part due to the massive blow this offense was dealt in their first matchup with the Giants, when Dak Prescott went down for the season with a broken ankle. The Cowboys still went on to win that game, but they were just 2-3 even with Prescott healthy through four and a half games and teams that lose their starting quarterback at 2-3 typically don’t go on to compete for playoff spots.

One big thing the Cowboys had in their favor though, aside from their weak division, was that much of their struggles early in the season were a result of the Cowboys losing the turnover consistently, something that usually doesn’t continue long-term. For the Cowboys, it continued for the next two games and then, making matters worse, backup quarterback Andy Dalton got hurt, leaving the Cowboys with practice squad caliber quarterbacks in Ben DiNucci and Garrett Gilbert. 

However, their turnover issue went the other way after week 7, as the Cowboys were -13 through the first 7 games of the season before being +9 in turnovers in the 8 games since. That didn’t do them much good with DiNucci and Gilbert in the lineup in weeks 8 and 9, but Dalton returned after their week 10 bye and the Cowboys have won 4 of 6 games since, to keep themselves alive for a playoff spot.

Turnover margins are highly inconsistent on a week-to-week basis, so I wouldn’t expect them to continue winning the turnover battle like they have in recent weeks, but I definitely wouldn’t expect them to go back to losing the turnover battle as badly as they were earlier in the season and, overall, the Cowboys rank 14th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at +0.49%. Their offense hasn’t been as good at picking up first downs without Dak Prescott and without the offensive linemen that the Cowboys have lost as their season has gone on, but, if we assume they’ll play turnover neutral football, the Cowboys aren’t a bad team. My roster rankings have them ranked a respectable 21st, even with key players missing.

Unfortunately, we’ve lost a lot of line value with the Cowboys in the wake of their big win over the Eagles last week, as this line has shifted from favoring the Giants by 3 to the Cowboys by 1.5. The general public sees that the Cowboys blew out the Eagles last week and that the Giants lost by 14 to the Ravens and don’t realize the Cowboys were aided by a +2 turnover margin against an underwhelming Eagles team that lost its best defensive player in the first half, while the Giants were much more effective on first and second down than third and fourth. My calculated line is Giants -1, so we’re not getting much line value with the Giants either, but they should be the right side for pick ‘em purposes and the money line at +110 isn’t a bad bet as the Giants should be considered no worse than 50/50 to win this game straight up.

New York Giants 24 Dallas Cowboys 23 Upset Pick +110

Pick against the spread: NY Giants +1.5

Confidence: Low

Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys: 2020 Week 16 NFL Pick

Philadelphia Eagles (4-9-1) at Dallas Cowboys (5-9)

A couple weeks ago, I bet the Eagles confidently as 8-point home underdogs against the Saints in Jalen Hurts’ first career start. The Eagles are a solid defensive team and, while I wasn’t sold on Hurts as a starting option, he couldn’t have been worse than Carson Wentz had played this season and the Saints seemed likely to be caught off guard by him, with no pre-season tape on him and a much tougher game on deck for the Saints against the Chiefs. 

Hurts was far from perfect in that game, but played well enough to win, especially hurting the Saints on the ground and, while the Eagles lost last week in Arizona, the Eagles’ offense scored 26 points in a 32-26 loss. The public seems to now be sold on Hurts, as the oddsmakers have boosted this spread from Philadelphia -1 over the Cowboys on the early line last week to Philadelphia -3 this week and the public is betting them, despite their loss in Arizona last week and the Cowboys’ win over the 49ers. 

I am not sold on Hurts, so I think we’re getting some line value with the Cowboys. I think two games into his rookie season is too early to be sold on him, especially since I wasn’t sold on him coming out of college. He caught the Saints off guard in his debut and last week he faced one of the worst defenses in the league in Arizona and underperformed expectations with only a 32.91% first down rate. The Cowboys are also a little underrated because people look at their season long performance and not how they’ve played in recent weeks. 

Turnovers were a big problem for the Cowboys earlier in the season, as they had a league worst -13 turnover margin through the first 7 games of the season, but have been +7 in the past 7 games. Turnover margins are highly inconsistent on a week-to-week basis, so I wouldn’t expect them to continue winning the turnover battle like they have in recent weeks, but I definitely wouldn’t expect them to go back to losing the turnover battle as badly as they were earlier in the season. 

In terms of schedule adjusted first down rate differential, the Cowboys rank 17th at +0.31%. Their offense obviously hasn’t been as effective at moving the chains since losing Dak Prescott four and a half games into the season, but they’ve been better in recent weeks since getting Andy Dalton back and more comfortable in this offense. My roster rankings have these two teams about even, especially with stud defensive tackle Fletcher Cox seemingly likely to be limited after not practicing all week, so we’re getting good line value with the Cowboys as 3-point home underdogs, with at least some fans in the stadium. The Cowboys are a smart bet at +3 and are worth a bet at +140 as they should be considered no worse than 50/50 to win this game.

Dallas Cowboys 22 Philadelphia Eagles 20 Upset Pick +140

Pick against the spread: Dallas +3

Confidence: Medium

San Francisco 49ers at Dallas Cowboys: 2020 Week 15 NFL Pick

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

Confidence: Medium

Dallas Cowboys at Cincinnati Bengals: 2020 Week 14 NFL Pick

Dallas Cowboys (3-9) at Cincinnati Bengals (2-9-1)

This is one of the least appealing games of the week, on a number of levels. The Cowboys have had a very disappointing year and are one of the worst teams in the league due primarily to the amount of key players they have unavailable due to injury, but it doesn’t compare to the Bengals, who were one of the worst teams in the league even before losing quarterback Joe Burrow to injury and replacing him with a bottom of the roster caliber talent in Brandon Allen. The Bengals are also without left tackle Jonah Williams and running back Joe Mixon, two of their best offensive players, among others on defense. As much as the Jets and Jaguars have struggled this season, the Bengals ranked noticeably behind both teams in my roster rankings.

The Cowboys offense actually ranks 8th in first down rate over expected at +1.55% and, while a lot of that is from when they had Dak Prescott healthy, they have shown some ability to move the ball in small chunks consistently with Dalton under center. The big plays haven’t been there, but their lack of pass protection has been the biggest issue, which won’t be nearly as big of an issue against the Bengals and their underwhelming defensive front. That should allow the Cowboys to set up more big plays downfield for their talented receiving corps. 

Unfortunately, this line takes into account the big talent gap between these two teams, favoring the Cowboys by 3.5 points on the road, despite the Bengals having some limited fans in attendance. In fact, this is my exact calculated line, so we’re not getting line value in any direction. The Cowboys should have the motivational edge though as, not only is this Andy Dalton’s return to Cincinnati, but the Cowboys are actually still in the NFC East race technically, while the Bengals have been eliminated. 

The Cowboys may overlook the Bengals a little bit, with a tougher home game on deck against the 49ers (road favorites are just 52-83 ATS since 2008 before being home underdogs), but this is also a must win game, while the Bengals could be looking forward to next week’s big home game against the Steelers. Teams are 50-102 ATS since 2008 before being home underdogs of 7.5 points or more, which the Bengals almost certainly will be next week. I’m taking the Cowboys for pick ‘em purposes, but I have no confidence in them, especially since the Bengals could easily get a backdoor cover and cut the final margin to 3 points or fewer, as 1 in 4 games are decided by 3 points or fewer.

Update: This line has dropped to 3 in most places. I’m more confident in the Cowboys at that number, but not enough to bet them.

Dallas Cowboys 24 Cincinnati Bengals 20

Pick against the spread: Dallas -3

Confidence: Low

Dallas Cowboys at Baltimore Ravens: 2020 Week 13 NFL Pick

Dallas Cowboys (3-8) at Baltimore Ravens (6-5)

The Ravens kept the final score closer than expected in Pittsburgh against the Steelers last week, even missing basically half of their team due to COVID or injury, losing by final score of 19-14, but they didn’t play nearly as well as that suggests, as the Steelers made key mistakes in all three phases, dropping 6 passes on offense (including 3 in the red zone), muffing a punt on special teams that led to Baltimore’s first touchdown, and blowing a coverage on defense that led to Baltimore’s second touchdown to make the score respectable late. The Ravens didn’t move the ball consistently all game, managing just 10 first downs and losing the first down rate battle by 10.58%. 

The Ravens will get Lamar Jackson back from COVID this week, but the Ravens are still missing key players due to COVID, including top pass catcher Mark Andrews, starting wide receiver Willie Snead, edge defender Matt Judon, and they were an overrated team even before their COVID outbreak. Their offense was not catching teams off guard anymore and the absences of right guard Marshal Yanda (retirement), left tackle Ronnie Stanley (injury), and tight end Nick Boyle (injury) hurt them significantly. 

Missing everyone they’re missing, the Ravens rank just 18th in my roster rankings, so they’re overrated as 7-point favorites at home without any fans in the stadium against the Cowboys. The Cowboys, meanwhile, are a little underrated. Their offense has a lot of problems without quarterback Dak Prescott and their top-3 offensive linemen (Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, and La’El Collins), as well as retired center Travis Frederick, who was a big part of this unit in his final season in 2019, but their defense is a lot healthier and is playing a lot better now than they were earlier in the season. 

Top cornerback Chidobe Awuzie (7 games missed), top linebacker Leighton Vander Esch (4 games), and valuable edge rusher Randy Gregory (6 games) have all missed significant time and returned and, despite missing those players for significant time, they still rank a respectable 18th in first down rate allowed over expected at +0.64%. The turnover margin has hurt this team more than anything other than injuries, as they rank 2nd worst in the NFL in turnover margin at -13, but turnover margins tend to be highly inconsistent on a week-to-week basis, so the Cowboys should be better going forward in the turnover battle. 

I have this line calculated at Baltimore -4, giving them just a half point for their minimal homefield advantage, so we’re getting good line value with the Cowboys at +7. Whether or not I decide to bet on the Cowboys depends on the status of a trio of questionable Ravens, cornerback Jimmy Smith, edge defender Jaylon Ferguson, and safety Chuck Clark. All three players did not practice all week, which normally suggests they’re not going to play, but they may have just gotten some extra rest this week, playing on a short week. For now, this is a low confidence pick, but I may decide to bet on the Cowboys depending on the status of the aforementioned players.

Update: It sounds like the aforementioned trio will all play despite not practicing, but they could be less than 100% on a short week and this line has jumped to 8.5 after official word came out that Lamar Jackson would play. I think the Cowboys are worth a bet at that number. I am not that excited about betting on the Cowboys, but the Ravens were overrated even before they started losing key players and they are still missing too much, particularly on offense, to justify being favored by this many points. Dallas’ defense, meanwhile, has been much improved in recent weeks due to predictable regression and improved health.

Baltimore Ravens 22 Dallas Cowboys 17

Pick against the spread: Dallas +8.5

Confidence: Medium

Washington Football Team at Dallas Cowboys: 2020 Week 12 NFL Pick

Washington Football Team (3-7) at Dallas Cowboys (3-7)

Both of these teams are just 3-7, but Washington has been the significantly better team this season. While the Cowboys rank 30th in point differential at -83, Washington ranks a relatively respectable 22nd at -27. On top of that, Washington has struggled in metrics that are inconsistent on a week-to-week basis and could improve going forward, like turnover margin (4th worst in the NFL at -6) and net field goal percentage (-15.71%). In terms of schedule adjusted first down rate, which minimizes the value of outlier snaps, Washington actually ranks 9th at +1.55%.

Washington is led by its defense, ranking 5th in first down rate allowed over expected but just 27th in first down rate over expected, which is the significantly less consistent and predictive side of the ball, so Washington could easily regress on that side of the ball going forward, especially since they have outplayed their defensive talent level and have lost key players like Landon Collins and Matt Ioannidis to injury, but that should be offset somewhat by the fact that their offense has looked much better since Alex Smith took over at quarterback.

Dallas is better than their point differential, as they have also struggled with turnovers (2nd in the NFL at -12), which is something that is very inconsistent week-to-week, and they have played better since getting healthier, with stud right guard Zack Martin (1 game missed), quarterback Andy Dalton (2 games), starting linebackers Leighton Vander Esch (4 games) and Sean Lee (7 games), top cornerback Chidobe Awuzie (7 games), and other minor players returning from injury in recent weeks, but, even with that factored in, they are still behind Washington in my roster rankings and in schedule adjusted first down rate differential. 

In fact, I have Washington 2.5 points better than Dallas overall, which, even with Dallas having some homefield advantage, still gives us a calculated line of Washington -1. Getting the full field goal with Washington at +3 is a great value in a game they could win straight up. Washington is worth betting both against the spread and on the money line. I am also locking in TB +3.5 and TEN +3.5 for later this weekend before those lines move. I will have full write ups for those games with all of this weekend’s picks.

Washington Football Team 20 Dallas Cowboys 19 Upset Pick +130

Pick against the spread: Washington +3

Confidence: Medium

Dallas Cowboys at Minnesota Vikings: 2020 Week 11 NFL Pick

Dallas Cowboys (2-7) at Minnesota Vikings (4-5)

I have picked the Vikings for three straight Pick of the Weeks since their week 7 bye and they have covered in all three games. The metrics that made me think the Vikings were underrated like the field goal percentage against (100%), net 4th down conversion rate (+31.8%), fumble recovery rate (35.71%), and Kirk Cousins interception rate being double his career average (5.3% vs. 2.4%) still have some room for regression, at 95.83%, +16.7%, 38.10%, and 4.5% respectively, so I think they’re still underrated. 

In terms of schedule adjusted first down rate differential, which minimizes the effect of the metrics mentioned above, the Vikings rank 10th at +1.62%, which lines up with my roster rankings, which have them 9th. They were a 4th down conversion from winning in Seattle and they lost by 1 to the Titans in a game in which the Titans hit three field goals from 50+ yards, so they could easily be 6-3 right now, despite a tough schedule.

However, the Vikings aren’t as underrated as they used to be, as this line, favoring them by a touchdown at home, is right about where it should be, given that the Vikings will hardly have any fans at this game. That line being accurate is partially because the Cowboys are underrated themselves though. The Cowboys obviously haven’t had a good start to their season, especially since losing quarterback Dak Prescott for the season, but aside from Prescott, the Cowboys are getting a lot healthier on the rest of this roster, after being decimated by injuries on both sides of the ball. 

Their two stud offensive tackles Tyron Smith and La’El Collins remain out for the season along with Prescott, but backup quarterback Andy Dalton returns from a 2-game absence to at least give them an NFL caliber quarterback under center and they will also benefit from the presence of stud right guard Zack Martin (1 game missed), starting linebackers Leighton Vander Esch (4 games) and Sean Lee (7 games), top cornerback Chidobe Awuzie (7 games), and other minor players who have all returned from injury as well. In fact, my numbers suggest the Cowboys are slightly better than 50/50 to cover this spread against a solid Vikings team. This is a no confidence pick, but if I had to pick a side, I would go with Dallas.

Minnesota Vikings 30 Dallas Cowboys 24

Pick against the spread: Dallas +7

Confidence: None

Pittsburgh Steelers at Dallas Cowboys: 2020 Week 9 NFL Pick

Pittsburgh Steelers (7-0) at Dallas Cowboys (2-5)

Last week, I picked the Cowboys as a low confidence pick as 11-point underdogs. My reasoning was that teams that fail to cover in their first 7 games tend to be solid bets going forward (62% all-time) because books know they can over-inflate their lines, as evidenced by the Cowboys being 11-point underdogs in Philadelphia against a middling at best Eagles team, but I also didn’t want to risk any money on a quarterback in Ben DiNucci who had never played before and might not be good enough to even be a backup in this league, which is why I limited it to a low confidence pick.

Sure enough, the game went as I expected, with the Eagles actually trailing 9-7 late in the third quarter and at one point leading by just 15-9 midway through the fourth quarter with the Cowboys driving, before DiNucci gave up a strip sack fumble that was recovered for a long return touchdown to not just secure the win for the Eagles, but to also push them to a front door cover. The Cowboys were probably the right side in that game because things like return touchdowns tend to be fluky on a week-to-week basis (not to mention that the touchdown easily could have been called back on replay), but I was also right to not bet any money on it, given the untrustworthiness of the Cowboys’ remaining healthy quarterbacks.

This game seems about the same to me, with the Cowboys being 14.5-point home underdogs against the Steelers. The Steelers haven’t lost all season, but they also have just one win by more than 10 points, including competitive games against lesser teams like the Giants, Broncos, and Eagles, so the Cowboys being competitive enough to keep this within two scores is certainly a possibility, especially if the Steelers look past the Cowboys, which they’ve had a tendency to do against lower ranked non-divisional opponents on the road in the Mike Tomlin era. Since Tomlin took over in 2007, the Steelers are just 5-15 ATS as non-divisional road favorites of 4.5 or more and have lost 8 of those 20 games straight up. 

However, even though the Cowboys seem like the right side, I have no desire to place any money on it because I have no faith in whoever will start at quarterback this week, whether it be Cooper Rush or Garrett Gilbert this week, with Ben DiNucci getting the hook after one dismal game. Like last week’s game against the Eagles, this is a low confidence pick on the Cowboys. If they can avoid getting killed in the turnover battle and don’t give up any return touchdowns, I would expect this to be a little closer than most people think, but the Cowboys can’t be trusted to do that right now.

Pittsburgh Steelers 30 Dallas Cowboys 17

Pick against the spread: Dallas +14.5

Confidence: Low

Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles: 2020 Week 8 NFL Pick

Dallas Cowboys (2-5) at Philadelphia Eagles (2-4-1)

I can’t remember a team ever falling in my rankings as fast as the Cowboys. Going into the season, I had pretty high expectations for the Cowboys, who finished last season 6th in point differential at +113 and 5th in first down rate differential at +3.24%, but missed the playoffs at 8-8 because of an 0-5 record in games decided by one score or less. With a similar roster entering the season as last year, the Cowboys looked like one of the better teams in the league, but now the Cowboys rank dead last in my roster rankings. 

Injuries have been a big part of the problem, especially on offense, where the Cowboys are missing their dominant offensive tackle duo of Tyron Smith and La’El Collins and are down to 3rd string quarterback Ben DiNucci, a 7th round rookie making his first career start this season, but the Cowboys also have a lot of players who aren’t injured that just aren’t playing up to expectations, especially on defense, where close to no one is having a good season in the first year of overmatched defensive coordinator Mike Nolan’s scheme. Some of those veteran players have already been benched, traded, or released, while others remain in the starting lineup, but have struggled mightily. 

Outside of their receiving corps and their edge rush duo of DeMarcus Lawrence and Aldon Smith, this team really doesn’t have much going for them and they will be starting one of the least qualified starting quarterbacks the NFL has seen over the past few years. The per play stats show the Cowboys to have been better than their record and final scores have suggested, but much of that is due to an offense that was much better before injuries and primarily only struggled with fumbles, which tend to be fluky. Now without Dak Prescott, Andy Dalton, and others, this offense has plenty of problems beyond their fumbling tendencies, while their defense continues to struggle even as they’ve gotten a few players back that were not available earlier this season, including linebackers Leighton Vander Esch and Sean Lee.

All that being said, I think we’re actually getting some value with the Cowboys this week. The Cowboys are 0-7 ATS on the season and when that happens the odds makers typically boost the spreads more than they should, knowing no one will want to bet on a consistent loser, which leads to those teams covering 62.3% of the time the rest of the way, including 75.0% of the time in their 8th game of the season. Case in point, the Cowboys are whopping 11-point underdogs against an Eagles team that isn’t even middling, ranking 21st in schedule adjusted first down rate differential and 23rd in my roster rankings, even with a couple players due back from injury this week. I have no desire to bet on the Cowboys, but my calculated line is Philadelphia -8 and Dallas should be the right pick if you have to make a pick for pick ‘em purposes.

Philadelphia Eagles 24 Dallas Cowboys 16

Pick against the spread: Dallas +11

Confidence: Low

Dallas Cowboys at Washington Mascots: 2020 Week 7 NFL Pick

Dallas Cowboys (2-4) at Washington Mascots (1-5)

This is a tough one and I’ve been going back and forth on it. On one hand, the Cowboys have all the usual factors for a team that should be better going forward. They have a -12 turnover margin through 6 games and turnover margins are highly unpredictable on a week-to-week basis. At the very least, they should recover more than 28.57% of their fumbles going forward, but their fumble rate is likely to regress as well. 

In addition, they’ve played a tougher than average schedule, which gets significantly easier going forward. They’ve been competitive in most of their losses, within three of four games being one score games in the 4th quarter. With strength of schedule taken into account, the Cowboys rank 11th in first down rate differential at +1.98%. The Cowboys injury situation on offense can’t be ignored, with guard Zack Martin joining quarterback Dak Prescott, tight end Blake Jarwin, and offensive tackles Tyron Smith and La’El Collins on the sidelines. However, the Cowboys are getting healthier on defense with linebacker Leighton Vander Esch returning last week and cornerback Chidobe Awuzie, linebacker Sean Lee, and defensive end Randy Gregory all likely to return this week, and backup quarterback Andy Dalton should theoretically be a capable if underwhelming starter.

The Cowboys were much better in first down rate (4th in the NFL at +4.28%) than their 8-8 record last season, in part due to their tendency to blowout bad teams (7 wins by 18 points or more). The Cowboys have yet to do that this season, but they’ve won their only two games against lower level opponents (Falcons and Giants), despite losing the turnover battle in both games. In those two games, they won the first down rate battle by 10.80% and 12.95% respectively, even though Dalton played a big chunk of the game against the Giants and led the comeback. If they can do that again in this game against a bottom-5 team, they should be able to win fairly easily.

On the other hand, the Cowboys are nowhere near the same team they were last season and the dropoff from Dak Prescott to Andy Dalton looked bigger than expected in Dalton’s debut last week. If that’s the case, the Cowboys, who are poorly coached as well, will likely continue struggling going forward, despite their past success in first down rate differential. I’m still taking the Cowboys for pick ‘em purposes in this game, with the line moving from Dallas -3 on the early line last week to Dallas -1 this week, but I don’t have confidence in them.

Update: It looks like both Lee and Awuzie will miss another week for the Cowboys. I didn’t have any confidence in the Cowboys anyway, so I’m switching this to Washington.

Washington Mascots 24 Dallas Cowboys 23

Pick against the spread: Washington PK

Confidence: None