How to handicap Cowboys vs. Cardinals without Dak Prescott

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The Dallas Cowboys (2-3 SU, 0-5 ATS) entered Week 6 in first place in the “NFC Least” but will have to attempt to keep that lead without quarterback Dak Prescott for the rest of the season. Andy Dalton, who went 71-60-2 over nine seasons as a starter with the Cincinnati Bengals, will take over the starting role beginning with Monday night’s game against the visiting Arizona Cardinals.

Dallas is a bit beat up on the offensive line, but Dalton should be used to that from his time in Cincinnati. The Cowboys were short three-point home favorites on the lookahead lines but were adjusted down to three-point home underdogs with the loss of Prescott. Nevertheless, the line has dropped down to +1 or +1.5, depending on your shop.

The Cardinals (3-2 SU, 3-2 ATS) were widely projected to be an improved team behind second-year quarterback Kyler Murray, and the betting market has been high on them all season, but there is still some uncertainty with this team. After going on the road and beating the defending NFC champion 49ers, the Cardinals have had a mixed bag of performances. They beat the Washington Football Team and the Jets but also lost to middling teams, such as the Detroit Lions and Carolina Panthers.

Dallas began the weekend leading the NFL at 488 total yards per game and rated third in scoring (32.6 ppg). Those numbers on offense should take a dip without Prescott, but Dalton does have more weapons around him than he ever did during his tenure in Cincinnati. Ezekiel Elliott (364 rushing yards, 173 receiving yards, six total touchdowns) has been a bit slow out of the gate in terms of piling up yards on the ground, but he did get going last week against the Giants with 91 yards on 19 carries and two rushing touchdowns.

Dak Prescott
Dak PrescottGetty Images

However, the Cowboys defense is 27th in yards allowed (404.4 ypg) and dead last in points allowed (36 ppg). Part of the reason for these porous defensive numbers is because the Cowboys offense is able to score so fast, as its average possession per drive is just 2:17. The return of linebacker Leighton Vander Esch should be a big assist on Monday and going forward to a defensive unit that needs all the help it can get.

Arizona’s defense has improved markedly this season. The Cardinals allowed an NFL-worst 402 ypg last season and are giving up 346.6 ypg (10th) and 20.4 ppg (fifth) this season. Nevertheless, it must be considered that Arizona has faced the two worst offenses in the NFL — Washington and the Jets — within the first five weeks of the season. The defense also suffered some bad injury news of its own with its best pass rusher Chandler Jones going on IR this week due to a biceps injury.

The total for Monday night’s game opened 53.5 but has gone up to as high as 55.5. Dallas has gone Over in four straight games (4-1 to the Over on the season), but Arizona has yet to have one of its games go Over all season (4-0-1 to the Under) so something has to give.

Dallas is usually a very popular team with the betting public, but many sportsbooks actually might be in the rare spot of needing a Cowboys cover and/or an outright win as the public will certainly have less faith in them with their backup quarterback. The Cowboys are not home underdogs very often but are 4-0 ATS their last four times in the role. Arizona is 5-2-1 ATS in its last eight games and 8-2-2 ATS in its last 12 road games.

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