Free Expert NFL Picks: Detroit Lions at Dallas Cowboys Odds and Predictions
by Alan Matthews - 12/31/2014
Much like the networks that broadcast the Major League Baseball playoffs hope that the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox each make the playoffs because they are huge draws, I guarantee you that Fox (which owns NFC rights) is thrilled that the NFC East champion Dallas Cowboys are back in the postseason for the first time since the 2009 season, which happens to be the last time Dallas won the division. This game against the Loins on Sunday will do monster ratings and take the most action at sportsbooks of all four wild-card games.
Detroit, under first-year coach Jim Caldwell, is back in the playoffs for the first time since 2011 and only the second time this century. The Lions haven't won a playoff game since beating Dallas in the divisional round in the 1991 season. Detroit has lost seven straight since then, six on the road.
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The Lions and Cowboys didn't play in the regular season. They did Week 8 of last season at Ford Field, and the Lions won a shootout 31-30. It was an awesome game unless you are a Cowboys backer. Dallas was up 27-17 with four minutes left and 30-24 with under a minute left, but the Lions won it on Matthew Stafford's 1-yard keeper with 14 seconds remaining. He threw for a career-high 448 yards, while Calvin Johnson had 14 catches for 329 yards and a touchdown. The yardage was 8 shy of breaking the single-game NFL record. Tony Romo threw for 206 yards and three scores. DeMarco Murray didn't play in that game.
If the Lions win, they go to Seattle next week, a team Detroit also didn't play this year. If Dallas wins, it heads to Green Bay. Those teams didn't play, either. Dallas is the third-favorite at +450 at Bovada to win the NFC with Detroit at +2200.
Lions at Cowboys Betting Story Lines
I have been starting these previews with injury updates, but first I want to deal with a huge win for the Lions. In a moderate surprise, the team's best defensive player, tackle Ndamukong Suh, won his appeal of a one-game suspension for stepping on the foot of Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers in Week 17. Most experts thought Suh didn't deserve a suspension as it wasn't anything like what center Domonic Raiola had done the previous week that earned him a suspension. Certainly Suh's checkered past in the league played a role in the suspension, but now the Lions can breathe a huge sigh of relief. Their next loss is likely his last game as the team is a bit fed up with Suh's antics even as good as he is. Suh will become a free agent, and most believe he won't be back in Motown.
Suh leads the Lions with 8.5 sacks and ranks third in the NFL with 21 tackles for loss. He is the anchor of the NFL's No. 1 run defense. Teams averaged 4.12 yards per rush when Suh was off the field this season and 2.84 when on it. The Cowboys may have the best offensive line in football and ranked No. 2 on the ground behind 2014 rushing king Murray.
The Lions offensive line will get Raiola back, but right guard Larry Warford, probably the best guy up there, is questionable with a knee injury suffered in Week 17. Warford missed three games earlier this season with a knee injury and was replaced in the lineup by rookie Travis Swanson. It was Swanson who moved to center last week. Only one of the Lions' starting linemen -- left guard Rob Sims -- started all 16 games this season.
The Detroit defense should do its part, but what about the Dallas native Stafford? The guy has yet to win a big game, and he's why I picked Green Bay to cover Week 17 against the Lions (which the Packers did). Yes, Stafford had three TDs against Green Bay but completed only 48.4 percent of his passes. He hasn't topped 243 yards in the past three games.
The Dallas defense will for sure be missing starting defensive tackle Henry Melton as he was put on season-ending injured reserve on Tuesday. Melton had started every game and finished with five sacks (none in final seven games) but also just 10 tackles. Rookie linebacker Anthony Hitchens, who has started 11 games, is questionable with a high-ankle sprain. Linebacker Rolando McClain missed Week 17 with the flu but will return. Right tackle Doug Free has missed the past two games but is likely to play.
Romo had his best season and deserves some MVP votes. He led the NFL in rating at 113.2 and with a completion percentage of 69.9. Both were career bests. Romo tossed 34 TDs and nine picks, just one interception in the final four games compared to 12 touchdowns. Murray will also get MVP votes after setting Cowboys records for rushing yards and 100-yard games. Dez Bryant led the NFL with a team-record 16 TD catches.
As noted above, Detroit led the NFL by far against the rush (69.3 ypg), was No. 2 in total defense (300.9 ypg), No. 3 in scoring (17.6 ppg) and No. 13 against the pass (231.6 ypg). First-year coordinator Teryl Austin will get some head coaching interviews.
Detroit Lions at Dallas Cowboys NFL Wild Card Betting Odds and Trends
At 5Dimes , the Cowboys are 8-point favorites (+120) with alternate lines of 7.5 (+115), 7 (-105) and 6.5 (-125). Dallas is -310 on the moneyline and Detroit +255. The total is 48. The Lions were 7-9 against the spread this season (2-6 on road) and 5-11 "over/under" (1-7 on road). The Cowboys were 10-6 ATS (3-5 at home) and 9-6-1 O/U (2-5-1 at home).
Detroit is 1-6 ATS in its past seven vs. teams with a winning record. Dallas is 4-0 ATS in its past four overall. The Cowboys are 8-1 ATS in their past nine after allowing more than 350 total yards in their previous game. The under is 6-1 in Detroit's past seven after a loss. It is 5-1 in the Lions' past six vs. teams with a winning record. The under is 5-2-1 in Dallas' past eight vs. teams with a winning record. The over is 5-0 in the past five meetings.
Detroit Lions at Dallas Cowboys Expert Picks and Betting Predictions
Neither of these teams have a ton of playoff experience, so that's pretty much a wash. Romo is 1-3 in his playoff career, completing 59.3 percent of his passes for four touchdowns and two interceptions. Stafford wasn't bad in his only playoff game, a 45-28 loss in New Orleans. He threw for 380 yards and three scores while getting picked off twice.
This Suh news changes everything. I was somewhat leaning toward giving the points here, but now I'll take the 8 (that's the highest I've seen it). The Cowboys probably win by a touchdown despite a very average 4-4 home record. The Lions have lost three of their past four on the road, and the offense has largely struggled away from home. So go under.
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