Give Jerry Jones credit: He keeps the Dallas Cowboys in the national conversation. You could argue that the Cowboys remain “America’s Team” even though they have exactly one playoff victory in the past 15 years: a 2009 wild-card victory over the Eagles. Yet Cowboys games usually are among the highest-rated each season on NFL telecasts. Dallas will have a minimum of five nationally televised games this season (four prime-time, Thanksgiving Day) starting with Wednesday’s season opener at the Super Bowl Champion Giants.
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Because Dallas still moves the betting needle, let’s take a look at the available Cowboys player props on both Bovada and Sportsbook.ag.
Is Tony Romo an elite quarterback in the NFL? If elite means Top 5, I would say no. Yet do you realize Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning are the only active quarterbacks with a higher career completion percentage than Romo? That his career 96.9 rating is among the best ever (and slightly better than Tom Brady’s)?
Romo does get as much press as anyone because that’s what Cowboys QBs generally do – much like the starting QB at Notre Dame. And that’s really what the Cowboys and Irish have in common: you either love or hate them and there’s no in between. But you will watch.
At Bovada, Romo is 18/1 to lead the NFL in passing yards and 22/1 to win the NFL MVP. His “over/under” totals for the season are 4,100 yards (over a -125 favorite), 27.5 touchdowns (over a -130 favorite) and 12.5 interceptions (both -115). At Sportsbook.ag, you can bet on Romo’s passing yards against Atlanta’s Matt Ryan (Romo -80.5 yards) and against New England’s Tom Brady (Romo +400.5). On the touchdown passes vs. Ryan, Romo is -1.5 and vs. Brady he is +4.5. You can also wager on Romo’s TDs vs. Eli Manning’s, with Romo at -1.5 (even).
Romo has been just OK in durability, playing all 16 games in four of his six seasons as the starter. Last season, he threw for 4,184 yards, 31 touchdowns and just 10 picks. The interceptions were one shy of a career low in a full season, while his career high in yards is 4,483 (2009) and his top TD mark was 36 (2007).
On the bright side for Romo, he has two good receivers in Miles Austin and Dez Bryant and an excellent tight end in Jason Witten. Austin and Bryant do have a checkered injury past and Bryant is a knucklehead who seems to always be on the verge of a suspension for some off-field incident. Witten has been one of the NFL’s best at his position and has missed just one game in his career. But he is dealing with a lacerated spleen and might miss the opener. Witten still hasn’t been cleared. So that could work against Romo. And I wonder if the Cowboys will throw as much this year – Romo threw 522 times a year ago – because of the emergence of running back DeMarco Murray last season before he got hurt. In addition, Romo’s offensive line isn’t exactly the best in the NFL.
For what it’s worth, the Cowboys play the No. 11 strength of schedule by opponents’ 2011 winning percentage (.504). Outside of the NFC East, the Cowboys face three of the NFL’s Top-7 overall defenses from a year ago in the Steelers, Ravens and Bengals.
I see no chance that Romo leads the NFL in yards or wins an MVP. I would take over all those totals, although sometimes the smart bet is to take the under because if Romo (or any player) misses multiple games then you are a winner. But I am going to presume full health. I would take Matt Ryan on the yards (much easier schedule) but Romo on the touchdowns. Take Brady on both (Pats have easiest schedule in NFL and throw more than almost any team) vs. Romo and Eli on the touchdowns because the Giants can’t run the ball much so Manning will be chucking it often.
There are also Bovada props on Murray: 20/1 to lead NFL in rushing yards, over/under 1,050 yards and seven touchdowns (all -115). I am a big Murray fan. He burst onto the scene last Oct. 23, rushing for a franchise-record 253 yards against the Rams. He finished the season with 897 yards and two scores on 164 carries in 13 games – he wasn’t a starter to begin the year and missed the tail end of the season with a broken leg. That 5.5-yards-per-carry number is pretty impressive. Even if it drops to 5.0 in 2012, Murray would only need 211 carries to surpass 1,050 yards. That’s a little more than 13 carries a game. And he would beat seven TDs by scoring every other game. If Murray is healthy, I could see 1,300 yards and 10 TDs. So go over on both.
Finally, if you dare bet on Bryant you can also do that at Bovada. He is 30/1 to lead the NFL in receiving yards, with over/unders of 1,000 yards and 8.5 touchdowns (all -115). The Cowboys made news this week with the “Dez Bryant Rules” where he can’t drink or go to strip clubs, has a midnight curfew and will have a security detail 24/7. Bryant played a full 16 games a year ago and had 63 catches for 928 yards and nine scores. It helped his numbers that Miles Austin was limited to 10 games due to injury, as Bryant became Romo’s No. 1 WR. Austin seems to be trending downward after his breakout 2009 season.
I do like Bryant to go slightly over those numbers as he’s reportedly in the best shape of his career – if he stays on the field. It appears Bryant has avoided a suspension after being arrested for reportedly striking his mother this summer, but one more off-field problem and he’s probably gone at least two games. I think Bryant stays a good boy because of the security and that the former Oklahoma State star will most likely be released with one more issue.
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