The Dallas Cowboys host the Arizona Cardinals on Monday Night Football this week, in a battle of NFC playoff hopefuls.
Wes Reynolds and Matt Youmans preview the game and break down their best bets.
Arizona Cardinals (-1.5, 54.5) at Dallas Cowboys
Reynolds: The Cowboys (2-3 SU, 0-5 ATS) currently lead the NFC "Least” but will have to attempt to keep that lead without quarterback Dak Prescott for the rest of the season. Andy Dalton, who went 71-60-2 over nine seasons as a starter with the Cincinnati Bengals, will take over the starting role. Dallas is a bit beat up on the offensive line, but Dalton should be used to that from his time in Cincinnati. The Cowboys were short three-point home favorites on the lookahead lines but were adjusted down to three-point home underdogs with the loss of Prescott. Nevertheless, the line has moved to PK or Cowboys -1 depending on your shop.
The Cardinals (3-2 SU, 3-2 ATS) were widely projected to be an improved team behind second-year quarterback Kyler Murray and the betting market has been high on them all season, but there is still some uncertainty with this team. After going on the road and beating the defending NFC Champion 49ers, the Cardinals have had a mixed bag of performances. They beat the 1-4 Washington Football Team and the still winless Jets, but also lost to middling teams like Detroit and Carolina.
Dallas currently leads the NFL averaging 488 total yards per game and rates third in scoring (32.6 PPG). Those numbers on offense should take a dip without Prescott, but Dalton does have more weapons around him than he ever did during his tenure in Cincinnati. Ezekiel Elliott (364 rushing yards, 173 receiving yards, 6 total touchdowns) has been a bit slow out of the gate in terms of piling up yards on the ground, but he did get going last week against the Giants with 91 yards on 19 carries and two rushing touchdowns. However, the Cowboys defense is 27th in yards allowed (404.4 YPG) and dead last in points allowed (36 PPG). Part of the reason for these porous defensive numbers is because the Cowboys offense is able to score so fast as its average possession per drive is just 2:17. The return of linebacker Leighton Vander Esch should be a big assist tonight and going forward to a defensive unit that needs all the help it can get.
Arizona's defense has legitimately improved this season. They allowed an NFL-worst 402 YPG last season and are only giving up 346.6 YPG (10th) and 20.4 PPG (fifth) this season. Nevertheless, it must also be considered that the Cardinals have faced the two worst offenses in the NFL -- Washington and the Jets -- within the first five weeks of the season. The defense also suffered so bad injury news of its own with its best pass rusher Chandler Jones going on IR this week due to a bicep injury.
The total for tonight's game opened 53.5 but has gone up to as high as 55.5. Dallas has gone over in four straight games (4-1 to the over on the season), but Arizona has yet to have one of its games go over all season (4-0-1 to the under) so something has to give.
A large amount of exposure on this game should involve teasers as well, as Dallas was + 1 or +1.5 for most of the week.
The Cowboys are not home underdogs ve ry often but are 4-0 ATS their last four times in the role. For Arizona’s part, they are 5-2-1 ATS in its last eight games and are 8-2-2 ATS in its last 12 road games.
Youmans: A season-ending injury to Prescott does not end the Cowboys’ season. Dallas has much bigger problems than Dalton taking over for Prescott, a drop-off that should mean only two points to the betting line. The current line is inflated based on the public perception that Prescott is far more valuable. Dalton was arguably the top backup QB in the league, and the “Red Rifle” showed what he can do by completing 9 of 11 passes for 111 yards and leading the winning drive against the Giants in Week 5.
It’s strange to say, but the switch to Dalton might actually help the Cowboys by forcing a shift in their offensive philosophy. Instead of pushing a fast-paced passing attack, the coaching staff will likely go back to a ball-control approach that gives Elliott more carries. Controlling the ball and clock will help a Dallas defense that ranks last in the NFL in scoring (36.0 PPG).
Of course, the Dallas offensive line is not as dominant as in past years, and the injuries and other issues on a broken defense are not suddenly getting fixed. While the Cowboys have been especially weak with their pass defense, Murray is not setting the world on fire through the air, with eight touchdown passes and six interceptions. Arizona has scored at least 30 points only twice in five games, hitting that number against the Jets and Washington, and its defense has not faced an offense with the Cowboys’ speed and variety of playmakers. The Cardinals are also playing their third consecutive road game. This is a game Dallas, which is 0-5 ATS, needs to win to stay atop the division and should win.
I hoped to see + 3 on the board before kickoff Monday night, but that's not going to happen.
Pick: Cowboys + 2