Monday Night Football Predictions: Detroit Lions at Dallas Cowboys Odds & Picks
by Alan Matthews - 12/22/2016
The NFL doesn't want teams on short weeks heading into the playoffs, so there are no Monday night games in Week 17. Thus this week's Lions-Cowboys matchup is it on MNF for 2016. Although I keep hearing there might be an MNF first-round playoff game whenever the league adds a third wild card in each conference. That could happen this offseason. If so, that means only the top seed in the AFC & NFC would get a first-round bye, and it would add two extra games -- i.e. more cash -- in the wild-card round. I think that's a good idea, actually.
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I will get right to the point here: I would hold off on betting this game until after Thursday night's Giants at Eagles matchup. If New York loses that game, which I don't expect to happen, then Dallas has nothing to play for here. The Cowboys (12-2) would be NFC East champions and the conference's No. 1 seed regardless of what happens the final two weeks. Then team officials would have an interesting dilemma: do you want to get Tony Romo some action in the final two weeks in case he is needed in the playoffs should Dak Prescott go down? I would think yes, but you also don't want to be resting all your key guys the rest of the regular season because you also have the first week of the postseason off. It's a delicate balance.
If the Giants win, then the Cowboys have to care for at least one more week and a win here clinches the division and the top seed. Thus I'm sure that the Lions players and coaches will be huge Eagles fans on Thursday. Detroit (9-5) leads Green Bay (8-6) by a game for the NFC North lead and those two play in Week 17 at Ford Field. I believe that will be the game "flexed" to the Sunday night matchup if it's for the division. Incidentally, Green Bay will have 55.5 more hours to prepare than Detroit.
The Packers are likely to win Saturday at home against Minnesota. If they were to lose, the Lions take their first division title since 1993 with a victory here. Detroit can also clinch at least a wild-card spot with a win and a Tampa Bay loss in New Orleans (very possible) on Saturday. The Lions also can clinch a spot before they take the field Monday if the following results happen Saturday: Atlanta must win at Carolina, New Orleans would have to beat Tampa and Chicago would need to beat or tie visiting Washington. Those results would give the Lions all the tiebreakers for the final wild-card spot in the NFC even if they finish the season on a three-game losing streak. BetOnline actually lists the Packers as -115 favorites to win the NFC North with the Lions at -105.
Lions at Cowboys Betting Story Lines
I previewed Detroit's game at the Giants last Sunday here at Doc's and took New York -4.5 and the under 41 in the Giants' 17-6 win. My reasoning was that I didn't trust Matthew Stafford after he messed up his right middle finger the week before in a close win over Chicago. Stafford didn't look great in that game after the dislocation and ligament tear occurred, and I didn't expect he would look very good out in the elements against a good Giants defense, either. Well, he didn't in going 24-for-39 for 273 yards with a pick. Any shot Stafford had at the MVP went out the window there. I am surprised he wasn't named a Pro Bowler this week, but no one really cares about that game.
Stafford's injury and the fact he hasn't been a very good cold-weather quarterback means it's vital for the Lions to get at least one home playoff game. I don't see him winning at the Giants or Packers or Seahawks. Coach Jim Caldwell admitted it will be an issue as long as Stafford continues to wear his four-fingerless glove like he did against the Giants. If the Lions win the division then Stafford may not have to play outdoors again for more than a month. At least Stafford won't have to worry about that in Dallas. But the Lions can't run the ball (81.7 ypg), so if Stafford and the defense (20.4 ppg allowed) aren't both on then this team is going to lose. One key injury to watch for Detroit: top cornerback Darius Slay left the Giants game with a hamstring injury and it's not looking good for him this week.
I have to say I'm tired of previewing Cowboys games, but they being America's Team are always on national TV and bettors love them. Ezekiel Elliott is going to win the rushing title as a rookie and needs two 100-plus yard games to close the season to break Eric Dickerson's rookie record -- if Elliott continues playing, that is. He is the +300 second-favorite at BetOnline to win league MVP honors, behind only Tom Brady (-120). Only Jim Brown won MVP honors as a rookie. Elliott had a season-high 159 yards and a TD in last week's 26-20 win over Tampa Bay.
But the biggest story of that Tampa win was Prescott quieting all those calls for Romo. After back-to-back subpar games, Prescott was an astonishing 32-for-36 (88.9 percent) against the Bucs. That's the second-best passing percentage in NFL history in a game where the QB threw at least 30 passes. Rich Gannon set the mark with a 34-for-38 game (89.5 percent) for Oakland against Denver in 2002. Prescott also set a franchise record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback with his sixth of the year.
Lions at Cowboys Betting Odds and Trends
At 5Dimes , Dallas is an 8-point favorite (+115) with a total of 44.5. On the moneyline, the Cowboys are -330 and the Lions +270. On the alternate lines, Dallas is -7.5 (+110) and -7 (-110). Detroit is 8-6 against the spread (3-4 on road) and 4-10 "over/under" (2-5 on road). Dallas is 9-5 ATS (4-3 at home) and 5-9 O/U (3-4 at home).
The Lions are 5-1 ATS in their past six on Monday. They are 5-2 ATS in their past seven vs. teams with a winning record. The Cowboys are 1-5 ATS in their past six on Monday. They are 0-4 ATS in their past four vs. teams with a winning record. The under has hit in eight straight for the Lions. It's 7-0 in the Cowboys' past seven December games. The underdog is 5-1 ATS in the past six meetings.
Lions at Cowboys Betting Prediction
These teams last played in the wild-card round following the 2014 season. Detroit was a wild-card team and Dallas the NFC East champion. The Cowboys won 24-20 at home, but they were the beneficiaries of one really questionable decision by the referees to call pass interference on a fourth-quarter play on Cowboys linebacker Anthony Hitchens, only to reverse it with no explanation. Detroit was up 20-17 and nearing field-goal range with first down had the call stood. Instead, the Lions punted and the Cowboys drove for the winning TD. I believe the Lions got robbed in that game.
As mentioned above, I would wait on this one until late Thursday night for the Giants-Eagles result. That said, eight points is too many to give. After going 9-1 against the spread in their first 10 games, the Dallas Cowboys have lost four straight against the number. Take those eight and go under the total.
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