Was originally considering making Seattle-Cincinnati my featured Sunday game, but how can I not do the glamour matchup of New England and Dallas? This could still be a Super Bowl preview, although the Cowboys (2-2) definitely look off track right now with the injuries to stars Tony Romo and Dez Bryant. The good news for them is that the NFC East is incredibly weak.
So let's say Romo returns Nov. 22 as has been originally projected (that's the first game he can officially return). If the Cowboys can win two of their next five games ahead of that -- this one, bye week, at Giants, vs. Seattle, vs. Philadelphia, at Tampa Bay -- and be 4-5 when Romo and likely Bryant return (he might be back sooner than Romo), there's no reason why they can't win the NFC East. And I see also no reason why Dallas couldn't beat the Eagles and Bucs. The back half of the schedule is easier and it might only take seven wins for the division as it did the NFC South last year. Dallas is +350 on Sportsbook.ag to win the East; the Giants are +150 favorites.
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New England, meanwhile, seems nearly a lock to win the AFC East yet again unless something happens to Tom Brady, who I believe is your NFL MVP at the moment. The Dolphins have totally flopped. Yes, the Jets are better than expected and the Bills not too bad, but do you really trust Ryan Fitzpatrick or Tyrod Taylor to beat out a Brady-led team for the division? Me neither. The Pats are huge -800 favorites for the East. The only negative involving them I can see right now is their bye was this past weekend, and that's really early. Now it's 13 straight weeks of punishment.
Patriots at Cowboys Betting Story Lines
Brady is actually the +200 second-favorite for MVP behind Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers (-120), but Rodgers also has played an extra game. Brady is completing 72.2 percent of his passes for 1,112 yards, nine scores, no picks and a rating of 119.6. He's off to a better start than his 2007 MVP record-breaking season. Brady was named AFC Player of the Month for September. As I mentioned in my NFL Opening Line Report story, this was to be the final game Brady was suspended for "Deflategate". So we were supposed to see Jimmy Garoppolo vs. Tony Romo in an all-Eastern Illinois matchup. Now it's Brady vs. Brandon Weeden.
I'm not sure how much more of a leash Weeden will have. Owner/GM Jerry Jones raved about Weeden's skill level when Romo was first hurt but now has admitted what we all knew: Weeden is "limited." Yes, he leads the NFL with a 76.3 completion percentage. But he's simply throwing short little passes, a la Alex Smith of the Chiefs. Weeden attempted only two passes longer than 15 yards in the air in Sunday's loss to New Orleans. Granted, Weeden, who has now lost 10 straight starts dating to his Browns days, doesn't have much of a receiving group with Bryant out and No. 1 tight end Jason Witten playing through multiple injuries.
Dallas would like to rely more on the running game with Weeden in there, but that's not doing much. And now Lance Dunbar, who has been very good out of the backfield as a receiver with 21 catches for 215 yards, is done for the season with a torn ACL. He also had a 45-yard run on the Cowboys' second play against the Saints and was a good kick returner. Now the Cowboys have to find production out of the backfield in the passing game from Joseph Randle, Darren McFadden and Christine Michael. None is as explosive as Dunbar.
The Dallas defense is 19th in allowing 25.3 points per game but should get much better for this game with the season debuts of new defensive end Greg Hardy, formerly of Carolina, and linebacker Rolando McClain off suspensions. Their first full practice will come Wednesday. Hardy brings the Cowboys some much-needed pass rush with 27 sacks in his past 32 games. In 12 games last season McClain was credited by the Dallas coaches with 108 tackles. The Cowboys might really need McClain this week because linebacker Sean Lee is in the league's concussion protocol. New England is pretty healthy with last week off.
The Cowboys have lost four straight against New England. The last matchup was in Foxborough on Oct. 16, 2011, a 20-16 Pats win. Brady threw an 8-yard touchdown pass with 22 seconds left to a certain tight end named Aaron Hernandez. Brady finished the game 27 of 41 for 289 yards with two touchdowns. Romo was 27 of 41 for 317 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
Patriots at Cowboys Betting Odds and Trends
At 5Dimes, the Patriots are 9-point favorites (+100) with a total of 49. New England is -380 on the moneyline and Dallas +315. On the alternate lines, the Patriots are -8.5 (-105), -8 (-110) and -7.5 (-115). New England is 2-1 against the spread this season and 2-1 "over/under." Dallas is 1-3 ATS and 2-2 O/U.
The Patriots are 4-0 ATS in their past four after a win. They are 5-2 ATS in their past seven road games. The Cowboys are 1-6 ATS in their past seven at home. Same ATS record in past seven in Week 5. The over is 4-0 in the Patriots' past five in October. The under is 7-3-1 in the Cowboys' past 11 vs. teams with a winning record.
NFL Expert Picks Against the Spread: Patriots at Cowboys Betting Predictions
I'm trying to think of a reason to take the points here. Might the Patriots look past Dallas toward next week's game at the Deflategate tattle-tale, Indianapolis? Doubt it. New England is too well-coached. Hardy and McClain are good players, but I still think the Patriots score at least 30. Can Weeden lead the Dallas offense to that many? Negative. Give the 7.5 points and go over the total. Should be something like 31-20.
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