Dallas Cowboys at Chicago Bears: 2019 Week 14 NFL Pick

Dallas Cowboys (6-6) at Chicago Bears (6-6)

Much has been made of the Cowboys’ 0-5 record against teams that currently have a winning record, but I don’t think that is that big of a deal. The Cowboys actually won the first down rate battle in 3 of those 5 losses, including last week’s loss to the Bills in which they picked up 32 first downs and got into Buffalo territory on 8 of 10 drives, only to score just 15 points due to two missed field goals, two failed fourth down conversions, and a pair of giveaways. Overall, the Cowboys won the first down rate battle by 7.54% in that game. On the season, they rank 4th in first down rate differential at +5.57%, 7th in DVOA, and 6th in point differential at +74.

The common narrative is that the Cowboys have played an easy schedule, but their opponent’s winning percentage of 48% isn’t bad and is actually tougher than the Bears’ schedule thus far, as the Bears’ opponents have combined for just a 45% winning percentage. Despite that, the Bears rank significantly behind the Cowboys across the board. They’re just 19th in DVOA, 19th in first down rate differential at -1.33%, have just a +4 point differential, and are 19 spots behind the Cowboys in my roster rankings, in part due to new key absences like right tackle Bobby Massie and cornerback Prince Amukamara. 

Despite that, the Cowboys are just 3-point road favorites in this matchup, likely as a result of the fact that these two teams have the same record. My calculated line is Dallas -7, so I like the Cowboys a good amount this week. I haven’t done well picking Thursday games this year, but both of these teams played last Thanksgiving, so both teams are on normal rest, which should lead to a more predictable result. Given that, I’m not worried about betting heavily on a Cowboys team that should at least be able to manage a push in this matchup against a significantly inferior opponent. 

Dallas Cowboys 27 Chicago Bears 20

Pick against the spread: Dallas -3

Confidence: High

Buffalo Bills at Dallas Cowboys: 2019 Week 13 NFL Pick

Buffalo Bills (8-3) at Dallas Cowboys (6-5)

People seem to be souring on the Cowboys as a result of their loss in New England last week, but I don’t really understand why. The Patriots are one of the top few teams in the league once again this season and have been borderline impossible to beat at home over the past two decades. They have just 26 home losses since 2001 and prior to last week they were 51-20 ATS at home in games in which they were not favored by a touchdown or more. The fact that the Cowboys were able to play the game close and cover the 6-point spread is impressive, losing 13-9 in a game they played about even in first down rate (-0.15%) and lost primarily as a result of a blocked punt. 

The common narrative is the Cowboys can’t beat good teams and in fact they are 0-4 against teams that currently have winning records right now, but all of those losses have been close, decided by 20 points combined, and the Cowboys actually won the first down rate battle in two of those losses. All in all, their 5 losses have come by a combined 22 points, while their 6 wins have come by a combined 107 points, giving them a +85 point differential that ranks 4th in the NFL. They also rank 4th in first down rate differential at 5.34% and 4th in my roster rankings.

The Cowboys haven’t faced a tough schedule overall (46% opponents winning percentage), but that’s significantly tougher than the Bills’ schedule, as the Bills’ opponents have a combined 35% winning percentage, 8% less than any other team in the league. Their 8-3 record is a complete farce as the 8 teams that have defeated are a combined 21-67, with their one win against a team that currently has more than 4 wins coming against a Titans team that was starting Marcus Mariota at the time and that missed 4 makeable field goals in a 7-point loss. The Bills’ strength of defeat isn’t all that impressive either, as their 3 losses have come against teams that are a combined 20-13.

The Bills enter this game 6th in first down rate differential at +4.70%, but that’s still behind the Cowboys, despite facing such an easy schedule. My roster rankings have the Bills as a middle of the pack team, ranked 18th overall. The Bills are also in a horrible spot, having to play on the road on a short week against a superior opponent who they aren’t familiar with. Short weeks are tough enough as they are, but they’re easier when you’re at home, when you’re facing an inferior opponent, and when you’re facing a divisional opponent you’re familiar with. Non-divisional road underdogs are 17-36 ATS over the past 30 years on Thursdays, including 9-20 ATS as road underdogs of 4 or more. 

Given the Bills’ disadvantage on a short week and the talent gap between these two teams, I have this line calculated at Dallas -10, so we’re getting good line value with the hosts, especially with the line shifting off of the full touchdown it was at on the early line last week to -6.5 this week, as a result of the public souring on the Cowboys a little bit. About 1 in 10 games are decided by exactly a touchdown, so that’s a big half point. The Cowboys have 6 wins by more than a touchdown this season and should be able to make it seven this week against a Bills team that has barely been tested this season. I like them a lot as favorites of less than a touchdown. I’m also locking in Cincinnati +3.5 early in case in moves and I will have a full write up for that game this weekend with the others as usual.

Dallas Cowboys 27 Buffalo Bills 16

Pick against the spread: Dallas -6.5

Confidence: High

Dallas Cowboys at New England Patriots: 2019 Week 12 NFL Pick

Dallas Cowboys (6-4) at New England Patriots (9-1)

The Cowboys lead the NFC East at 6-4 and they’ve been even better than their record suggests. While their four losses have come by a combined 18 points, their 6 wins have come by a combined 107 points, giving them a point differential of +89 that actually ranks 4th in the NFL. They rank similarly in first down rate differential, with the 4th best in the NFL at 5.69%. They haven’t faced a tough schedule, with the 4th easiest schedule in the NFL so far in terms of DVOA, but, while their schedule gets a lot tougher this week, going on the road to the 9-1 Patriots, the Patriots are actually one of the three teams that have faced an easier schedule than the Cowboys thus far.

That’s not to say this game won’t be hard for the Cowboys, but the Patriots don’t rank that much higher than the Cowboys in first down rate differential (2nd at 7.44%), despite facing a slightly tougher schedule, so it should be a competitive game. My roster rankings have these teams ranked similar as well, as the Patriots rank 2nd, while the Cowboys rank 3rd. Given that, this line seems too high, favoring New England -6.5. My calculated line only has the Patriots favored by 3.5 at home. 

That being said, it’s never a smart idea to bet against Tom Brady at home unless he’s favored by more than a touchdown, as he is 47-17 ATS all-time as at home when he’s not favored by 7 points or more. This line was a touchdown a week ago on the early line, but all the +7s are long gone at this point. If we were getting +7, the Cowboys would be worth a bet, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all if the Patriots were able to pull out a win by a touchdown even if this game is close throughout. 

The Patriots’ offense also gets what could potentially be a big boost this week with left tackle Isaiah Wynn set to return from injury. Their defense is dominant, leading the league with a 27.27% first down rate allowed that is impressive who they’ve played, so if their offense, which ranks just 20th in first down rate despite an easy schedule, can even start to resemble what it has looked like in past years, the Patriots are still a very tough team to play, especially at home. I think the most likely outcome of this game is a New England win by 3 or 4, but I’m not confident enough to bet Dallas at +6.5.

New England Patriots 24 Dallas Cowboys 20

Pick against the spread: Dallas +6.5

Confidence: Low

Dallas Cowboys at Detroit Lions: 2019 Week 11 NFL Pick

Dallas Cowboys (5-4) at Detroit Lions (3-5-1)

The Lions will be without quarterback Matt Stafford for the second straight week, but he’s not their only significant injury situation. The Lions will also be without defensive lineman Da’Shawn Hand, right tackle Ricky Wagner, and could be without safety Tracy Walker, who has missed two games and barely practiced this week, and defensive end Romeo Okwara, who didn’t play last week and was limited in practice this week.

Stafford’s absence is obviously the biggest though, as the drop off from him to backup quarterback Jeff Driskel is immense. Stafford was having a strong season before getting hurt, while Driskel was signed in mid-September and was playing wide receiver for the Bengals this pre-season. Even with Stafford in the lineup, the Lions ranked just 23rd in first down rate differential at -3.00% and now without Stafford I have the Lions 28th in my roster rankings, only ahead of the Redskins, Jets, Bengals, and Dolphins.

Stafford’s absence comes at a bad time this week, with a tough Cowboys team coming to town. The Cowboys’ 5-4 record isn’t overly impressive, but they’ve played better than that suggests. While their 4 losses have come by a combined 18 points, their 5 wins have come by a combined 99 points, giving them a +81 point differential that ranks 4th in the NFL. They also rank 3rd in first down rate differential at +6.07% and 3rd in my roster rankings as well. They’ve faced a relatively easy schedule, 30th in opponent’s DVOA, but their schedule isn’t getting any tougher this week. They should be favored by at least 10, so we’re getting good line value with the Cowboys at -7.

Unfortunately, the Cowboys are in a terrible spot, as they have to go to New England next week, a game in which they are currently 7-point underdogs on the early line. Favorites of 6 or more are 34-62 ATS since 2008 before being underdogs of 6 or more. If this line were to dip below a touchdown, that would probably be enough line value they I’d talk myself into betting the Cowboys even in a bad spot, but at -7 I don’t think they’re worth the risk.

Dallas Cowboys 23 Detroit Lions 13

Pick against the spread: Dallas -7

Confidence: Low

Minnesota Vikings at Dallas Cowboys: 2019 Week 10 NFL Pick

Minnesota Vikings (6-3) at Dallas Cowboys (5-3)

The Cowboys have a solid 5-3 record, but I think they’re even better than that suggests. While their 3 losses have come by a combined 14 points, their 5 wins have come by a combined 99 points, giving them a point differential of +85 that ranks 3rd in the NFL and they’ve done that despite minimal benefit from turnover margins (+1 on the season), which tend to be inconsistent week-to-week. In terms of first down rate differential, they rank 3rd at 7.58% and they actually won the first down rate in two of their three losses and in seven of eight games overall. 

The 6-3 Vikings have played well this season and have faced a slightly tougher schedule than the Cowboys, but the Cowboys still have a significant edge in first down rate differential, with the Vikings coming into this game in 6th at +4.41%, and the Cowboys have an edge in my roster rankings as well, especially with the Vikings missing key defensive tackle Linval Joseph. I have this line calculated at Dallas -5, so we’re getting some line value here with Dallas only favored by a field goal at home.

There is also the matter of Kirk Cousins’ well documented issues in primetime games. Not only are his teams 6-13 straight up in night games, but they haven’t performed well against the spread either at 5-13-1 ATS, including 1-7-1 ATS on the road. The Vikings are more than just Kirk Cousins and have a strong roster around the quarterback, but in a tough matchup like this they will need Cousins to play well it’s entirely possible he just doesn’t play as well in later games. I wouldn’t go crazy with this bet because the Vikings are still a tough opponent, but the Cowboys should be able to win by a field goal or more at home.

Dallas Cowboys 26 Minnesota Vikings 20

Pick against the spread: Dallas -3

Confidence: Medium

Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants: 2019 Week 9 NFL Pick

Dallas Cowboys (4-3) at New York Giants (2-6)

The Giants are just 2-6, but I like their chances of being a competitive team down the stretch. They’ve been without one or more of Saquon Barkley, Golden Tate, Evan Engram, and Sterling Shepard in every game thus far this season, but this week they are all active. They also have no major injuries on defense (and got better defensively at the trade deadline with the acquisition of Leonard Williams) and are one of the healthiest teams in the league overall right now. 

Despite some early season injuries, the Giants actually rank 18th in first down rate differential at -0.80%, with their 2-6 record largely being a product of their -9 turnover margin, 3rd worst in the NFL. Turnover margins tend to be inconsistent on a week-to-week basis, however, and if a healthy Giants team can play turnover neutral football going forward, they won’t be an easy team to beat. 

If the Giants were playing a team other than the Cowboys, I likely would have placed a large bet on them this week, but the Cowboys are also underrated. The narrative on them used to be that they could only beat bad teams, but they blew out the Eagles a couple weeks ago before their bye and the Eagles subsequently blew out the Bills in Buffalo last week. The Cowboys did lose to the Jets three weeks ago, but their other two losses came to the Saints and Packers, who are a combined 14-2, and the Cowboys actually won the first down rate battle in both of those games. 

On the season, the Cowboys rank 4th in point differential at +66, despite an even turnover margin, and they rank 3rd in first down rate differential at +7.07%, only behind the Patriots and 49ers. Despite a less than stellar record, the Cowboys have been one of the better teams in the league this season and, not only are they healthy coming out of their bye, they’re also in a great spot, as teams are 39-11 ATS since 2002 as favorites of 3.5+ after a bye, including 15-3 ATS against a divisional opponent. We’re getting a little bit of line value with the Giants, as I have this line calculated at Dallas -6.5, but that’s hardly anything, so I’m following the trend and taking the Cowboys for pick ‘em purposes.

Dallas Cowboys 31 New York Giants 23

Pick against the spread: Dallas -7

Confidence: None

Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys: 2019 Week 7 NFL Pick

Philadelphia Eagles (3-3) at Dallas Cowboys (3-3)

The conventional wisdom is that the sky is falling in Dallas, with the Cowboys being on a 3-game losing streak. However, the Cowboys actually have a positive first down rate differential across those three games, at +1.98%. Their -4 turnover margin over those 3 games is the primary reason behind their losing streak, but turnover margins tend to be inconsistent on a week-to-week basis. Despite just a 3-3 record, the Cowboys rank 4th in first down rate differential at +6.48%, winning the first down rate battle in every game this season except last week’s loss to the Jets.

Their only three wins thus far have come against easy opponents, but they won all 3 games convincingly, by at least 10 points, winning the first down rate battle by +10.96% across the three games, while all three of their losses could have been wins if a couple things had gone differently. They are also still one of the most talented teams in the league on paper, so I still like their chances going forward. The Eagles also look like one of the most talented teams in the league on paper, but they haven’t played as well, coming into this game ranking just 16th in first down rate differential at 0.21%, very much in line with their 3-3 record. 

The Cowboys also seem to have the better injury situation, though both teams are pretty banged up. The difference is that it looks like most of the Cowboys’ injured players will try to play through their injuries, while the Eagles have ruled out several starters already. Left tackle Jason Peters and top linebacker Nigel Bradham will join top cornerback Ronald Darby, starting defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan, starting cornerback Avonte Maddox, and starting wide receiver DeSean Jackson on the sidelines this week for a Philadelphia team whose injuries are starting to pile up. 

The Cowboys, meanwhile, have ruled out starting cornerback Anthony Brown, but top cornerback Byron Jones, wide receivers Amari Cooper and Randall Cobb, and offensive tackles Tyron Smith and La’El Collins are reportedly likely to play through their injuries, though all could easily be at less than 100% and at risk of in game setbacks. Despite being the better team in the better injury situation, the Cowboys are favored by just 2.5 points here at home, so we are getting good line value with them. I have this line calculated at -5.5. I wouldn’t go crazy with this bet because of all of the injury uncertainty, but this line really seems off.

Dallas Cowboys 28 Philadelphia Eagles 23

Pick against the spread: Dallas -2.5

Confidence: Medium

Dallas Cowboys at New York Jets: 2019 Week 6 NFL Pick

Dallas Cowboys (3-2) at New York Jets (0-4)

The narrative with the Cowboys right now is that they play well against weak competition, but struggle in big games. Their 3 wins have come against teams that are a combined 2-13, while their 2 losses have come against teams that are a combined 8-2, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. In both of their losses, they won the first down rate battle, losing the two games in large part due to a combined -5 turnover margin, which tends to be inconsistent on a week-to-week basis. They also won the first down rate battle by a combined 10.98% in their three wins, which came by an average of 17.7 points per game, so it’s not as if they were barely squeaking out wins against their easier opponents. On the season, they rank 3rd in first down rate differential at 8.86%, only behind the Patriots and 49ers. 

They also get another easy game this week, going to New York to face the 0-4 Jets. The Jets do get quarterback Sam Darnold back this week from a 3-game absence, but I’m not convinced he can turn this team around. Not only might he not be 100% in his first game back, but quarterback is far from the only problem the Jets have. They rank 2nd worst in the NFL with a -13.55% first down rate differential and even with Darnold on the field week 1 they had a -12.41% first down rate differential, in a game they lost at home to the Bills despite winning the turnover battle by 3. 

Their defense remains without top linebacker CJ Mosley and likely remains without their only capable edge defender Jordan Jenkins. Their offensive line and receiving corps both have significant issues that have caused the Jets to pick up just 45 first downs and score just 2 offensive touchdowns in their first 4 games. Getting Darnold back should help even if he’s not at 100%, but him coming back isn’t going to save this team. I still have them ranked 28th in my roster rankings.

I’m concerned the Cowboys will likely be without their two starting offensive tackles Tyron Smith and La’El Collins, who were as good as any duo in the NFL before injuries, but fill-in left tackle Cameron Fleming has experience and the Jets don’t have the edge rushers to exploit the Cowboys’ injuries. Even with Smith and Collins out, I have this line calculated at Dallas -10. There’s not enough here to bet the Cowboys confidently, especially because they could be looking ahead to a matchup with the Eagles next week, but the Jets are in a look ahead spot as well, with the Patriots coming to town next week, and the Cowboys should be the right side.

Dallas Cowboys 26 New York Jets 16

Pick against the spread: Dallas -7

Confidence: Low

Green Bay Packers at Dallas Cowboys: 2019 Week 5 NFL Pick

Green Bay Packers (3-1) at Dallas Cowboys (3-1)

On paper this looks like an exciting matchup between a pair of NFC contenders, but neither team is coming in at 100%. While the Packers will be without #1 wide receiver Davante Adams with injury, the Cowboys will be without left tackle Tyron Smith and could be without right tackle La’El Collins as well. Collins not playing would be a big blow because he’s been one of the best right tackles in the league so far this season, but if the Cowboys are only without Smith I like their injury situation a lot more than the Packers. 

Smith is a great left tackle, but the Cowboys have an experienced and capable backup behind him in Cameron Fleming and a great offensive line beside him, while the Packers completely lack proven wide receivers behind Adams. Much was made this off-season about how Aaron Rodgers doesn’t trust any of his young receivers behind Adams, who has received 29.4% of Rodgers’ non-throwaway targets over the past 2 seasons. 

Rodgers, who has overall not quite been his dominant self so far this season, could struggle on the road against a good Dallas defense, while Dak Prescott should still be sufficiently protected if Collins can suit up. Even with Collins questionable with a back injury, after only getting in one limited practice this week, I have this line calculated at Dallas -6, so assuming Collins can go I will be betting on the Cowboys tomorrow morning.

Sunday Update: Collins is expected to play, so Prescott should be sufficiently protected. He’ll also get wide receiver Michael Gallup back from a 2 game absence and the Packers will be without starting cornerback Kevin King. The Cowboys should be favored by more than a field goal and are worth a bet.

Dallas Cowboys 24 Green Bay Packers 17

Pick against the spread: Dallas -3

Confidence: Medium

Dallas Cowboys at New Orleans Saints: 2019 Week 4 NFL Pick

Dallas Cowboys (3-0) at New Orleans Saints (2-1)

The Cowboys are one of six teams currently 3-0. That’s where they should be, given that their schedule has had them face three of the worst teams in the league (Giants, Redskins, Dolphins) in the first three weeks of the season, but it’s good to see the Cowboys win all 3 games convincingly, by an average of 17.7 points per game, after having just one win by more than eight points all last season. Along with the Patriots, they are one of two teams that have won all three games by double digits so far this season and their first down rate differential of +10.96% is 3rd in the NFL behind the Patriots and 49ers. We’ll see how they look against tougher competition, but I thought they had one of the better rosters in the league going into the season, in large part due to the return of center Travis Frederick, who missed all of last season.

This is when the Cowboys’ schedule is supposed to get tougher, with a trip on New Orleans on the schedule for week 4, but the Cowboys’ good schedule luck continues as they get to face the Saints without starting quarterback Drew Brees, who is out for about 6 weeks with a thumb injury. Backup quarterback Teddy Bridgewater led the Saints to a victory in Seattle in his first start last week, but the Saints lost the first down rate battle in that game by 3.47% and ended up winning by just 6 points despite getting two return touchdowns.

In 18 drives since taking over for Brees, Bridgewater has led the Saints to just 28 first downs and 3 touchdowns on 98 plays, a 31.63% first down rate. By comparison, the Saints had a 43.17% first down rate in 2018. Bridgewater has starting experience and could still turn it around, but he does not look like the same player as he was in his last stint as a starter 2015, when he was one of the more promising young quarterbacks in the league. Given all that’s happened since then, that’s not exactly a surprise.

The Saints have a strong roster around the quarterback, but have not looked impressive since losing Brees, outside of their two return touchdowns last week. Even including their week 1 win over the Texans with Brees healthy, the Saints rank 27th in the NFL with a -4.84% first down rate differential this season, as their defense has struggled without injured defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins, who is unlikely to make his season debut this week and would almost definitely be limited if active. I have this line calculated at Dallas -4, so I like their chances of covering in a game in which they basically just need to win to cover, as 2.5-point favorites. With this line dropping below 3 in most places, the Cowboys are worth a small bet.

Dallas Cowboys 24 New Orleans Saints 20

Pick against the spread: Dallas -2.5

Confidence: Medium