I don't want to say I am reveling in the injury problems the Dallas Cowboys are having already this season ... but, yeah, I am reveling in them.
Certainly no team has been hit harder thus far by the injury bug, yet there Dallas is at 2-0 and atop the NFC East. At 5Dimes, the Cowboys are -185 to win the division again, and the field is +160. I don't see Dallas winning it, but then again no one else in the East has looked very good yet.
An early front-runner for NFL Coach of the Year has to be Atlanta's Dan Quinn, the former Seahawks defensive coordinator. The Falcons had losing records the previous two years under former coach Mike Smith but are tied atop the NFC South at 2-0 with defending division champion Carolina. I do like the Falcons to win that -- I thought New Orleans before the season, but the Saints have flopped. The Falcons are -120 to win the South, and the field is +100.
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Falcons at Cowboys Betting Story Lines
I think it's fair to say that the Cowboys' three best offensive players are quarterback Tony Romo, receiver Dez Bryant and tight end Jason Witten. Bryant was lost in Week 1 to a broken foot and won't be back for at least two months and probably longer. In last week's surprising 20-10 win at Philadelphia (I was surprised), Romo was lost to a broken left collarbone. Romo won't need surgery but has been placed on short-term injured reserve. That means he can't return until Nov. 22 against the Miami Dolphins. Assuming he's back then, Romo will miss seven games because of the Cowboys' Oct. 18 bye week.
Thus, Brandon Weeden is your new starting quarterback in Dallas, and to hear owner/GM Jerry Jones rave about Weeden, you'd think the guy was a young John Elway. Weeden did look good in place of Romo vs. the Eagles, going 7-for-7 for 73 yards and a touchdown. But the former first-round pick was a total bust in his first two seasons in the NFL with Cleveland. I'm not expecting much from him. This situation reminds of 1998 with the Cowboys when Troy Aikman was lost to a broken collarbone in Week 2. Backup Jason Garrett, the team's current head coach, replaced Aikman and kept the team afloat until he returned. The Cowboys did trade for Buffalo's Matt Cassel to serve as Weeden's backup.
Clearly the Cowboys are going to have to run the ball more now. Good luck with that. The Cowboys have just two runs of 10 yards or more this season. No team has fewer. Joseph Randle is averaging 3.4 yards on 34 carries while Darren McFadden is averaging 2.9 yards on 16 carries. The Cowboys are averaging just 3.41 yards per carry on first down, 27th in the league. Of course, last year Dallas was the NFL's best running team with DeMarco Murray. The Falcons rank 29th in pass defense, allowing 313.5 yards per game, but ninth in run defense (80.0 ypg).
As for Witten, he has missed just one game in his Hall of Fame-caliber career. But he has two sprained ankles and a sprained knee and is questionable for Sunday. If anyone can play through the pain it's Witten, who once played through a ruptured spleen. Witten's 133 consecutive starts rank first among active NFL tight ends, and only Texans punter Shane Lechler (208) has played in more consecutive games than the 189 straight he has appeared in for the Cowboys.
New England's Tom Brady is probably your early NFL MVP leader, but not far behind him has to be Atlanta receiver Julio Jones. He caught nine balls for 141 yards and two scores in the Week 1 win over the Eagles and then 13 balls for 135 yards in last week's 24-20 win over the Giants. With less than two minutes left, Jones caught a 37-yard pass from Matt Ryan to set up Devonta Freeman's game-winning 2-yard TD run. Freeman should get plenty of carries here because rookie running back Tevin Coleman fractured his rib against the Giants and likely will miss a few weeks. He had won the starting job over Freeman. The Falcons' Devin Hester, probably the greatest returner in NFL history, has missed the first two games with a turf toe injury and is questionable for Dallas.
This is the first meeting between the teams since Week 9 of the 2012 season at the Georgia Dome. Atlanta won that won 19-13 -- that was the year the Falcons were the top seed in the NFC. Matt Bryant kicked four field goals for the Falcons. Ryan was 24-for-34 for 342 yards but no TDs. Jones caught five passes for 129 yards and Roddy White seven for 118. Romo was 25-for-35 for 321 yards and a score. Bryant had just one catch for 15 yards.
Falcons at Cowboys Betting Odds and Trends
At 5Dimes, this is a pick'em (Falcons -120) with a total of 45. There is thus no moneyline. There is one alternate line so far: Falcons -1 (-110). Atlanta is 2-0 against the spread this season and 0-2 "over/under." Dallas is 1-1 ATS and 1-1 O/U.
The Falcons are 5-1 ATS in their past six vs. the NFC. They are 4-1 ATS in their past five road games. The Cowboys are 5-2 ATS in their past seven after a win. They are 1-5 ATS in their past six at home. The under has hit in five straight Falcons games. It is 6-1 in their past seven on the road. The under is 4-1-1 in the Cowboys' past six at home. The favorite has covered five of the past six meetings.
Free NFL Picks: Falcons at Cowboys Betting Predictions
In the early Week 3 lines before last week's games, Dallas was a 4.5-point favorite, so you can see how much Romo's absence changes things. One service revised Dallas' season wins total from 9.5 to 8.5 following the injury.
I just don't see how Dallas can score more than maybe 17 points here. Who scares the Falcons defense on that offense now? I also don't believe the Cowboys will hold Atlanta under 20. Thus take the Falcons and go under.
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Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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