You wouldn’t know it by the venomous hate spit at Tony Romo on a weekly basis, but the 2013 Dallas Cowboys were the fifth-highest scoring offense in franchise history. In fact, a Romo-led offense has two of the top five scoring outputs in franchise history. On the flip side, for the second time in four years, the Cowboys gave up over 430 points. The 2013 version was one touchdown away from setting a new franchise record for points allowed.
The Cowboys defense gave up 6,635 yards, nearly 300 more than any other team. Only the Minnesota Vikings and Washington Redskins gave up more touchdowns. The opposition ran 134 more plays than the Cowboys because they ranked 25th in third-down conversion rate offensively and 29th in stopping third-down conversions defensively. The defense allowed 20 more opposition first downs than any other team. The Cowboys also had the second-worst red zone defense.
Sweeping changes didn’t take place in the offseason. It remains to be seen whether the vote of confidence in the coaching staff will be a good thing or a major failure, but it’s clear what areas of the team need to be improved and which areas just need to be refined. One certainty is that a proud fan base with a storied history is running out of patience.
After three straight 8-8 seasons, it’s not particularly surprising the oddsmakers at the South Point Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas have the Cowboys win total posted at 8. Sportsbook.ag has the Cowboys win total posted at 8 with -115 on both sides.
Lines courtesy of CG Technologies:
|3||@ St. Louis||PK|
|7||New York Giants||-3.5|
|10||@ Jacksonville (London)||-10|
|12||@ New York Giants||+2.5|
|14||@ Chicago (Thu)||+4.5|
Along with the NFC East, the Cowboys take on the NFC West and AFC South with Chicago and New Orleans thrown into the mix. The Cowboys play six of their eight home games before their Week 10 trip to London, which will paint a very clear picture of the Cowboys’ chances this season.
According to the oddsmakers, the Cowboys have a rather favorable schedule following their Week Four matchup with New Orleans. The Cowboys are favored in seven of their last 11 lined games and could also be favored at Washington to end the season depending on the state of both teams. There are some very interesting lines, especially the Arizona, New Orleans, and St. Louis lines.
It’s tough to set lines for Dallas because of their inconsistency. The Cowboys have shown a penchant for playing up to quality competition and playing down to inferior competition. With a front-loaded home schedule and five road games in seven weeks after the bye, this schedule is certainly a challenge, both for the Cowboys and for handicappers.
Why bet the over?
The Cowboys are such an enigmatic team that they’ve actually become more and more difficult to line on a weekly basis. There’s a very negative perception of Tony Romo among fans and the Cowboys always draw action on Sundays. Looking past Romo for a second, some really positive developments happened for the Cowboys that should lead to optimism. DeMarco Murray became a quality NFL back as he averaged 5.1 yards per carry, a full yard better than last season, and he also improved as a pass catcher. Having a running back that can catch is an absolute necessity in the NFL and Murray’s progress, which should continue, is big.
Back to Romo, he posted a 17/3 TD/INT ratio in the seven losses he played in. The narrative about Romo being the reason the Cowboys lose is out of control. That is a stellar ratio. Of the Cowboys eight losses last season, five were by three or fewer points and four of the five were by less than three points. The Cowboys suffered three losses by one point. Romo’s play is magnified in crunch time, but he’s probably a top 10 quarterback in the league all things considered. Ignore the narratives and view him for what he is.
Is the Cowboys receiving corps undervalued entering the season? Terrance Williams proved to be a big play threat with his speed and Jason Witten and Dez Bryant did their thing. Fifth-rounder Devin Street could be an impact player at 6’3” with a frame to grow into. It will be interesting to see what Street can do with a competent NFL quarterback throwing to him instead of what he had at Pittsburgh for so many years.
The defense was undoubtedly atrocious last season, but Sean Lee and Morris Claiborne each missed significant time with hamstring injuries and the Cowboys lacked quality depth. Those are two key cogs that play crucial roles on the defensive side of the ball. A lot of teams would have had trouble overcoming losses like that. Henry Melton, if healthy, should be a quality contributor on the interior of the defensive line.
Why bet the under?
Whether Lee and Claiborne are healthy or not, this defense projects to be bad yet again. The Cowboys were 29th in third down defense, second-worst in red zone defense, and managed only 34 sacks despite the fourth-most passing attempts against. Rushing the quarterback will be a problem yet again. The team loses 17 of their 34 sacks from last season with the departures of Jason Hatcher and DeMarcus Ware from the defensive line.
If Romo is worthy of any kind of criticism, it could be his decisions on third down. With a lot of weapons and a potent offense, the Cowboys finished 26th in third down conversions. A case could be made that offensive coordinator Bill Callahan doesn’t run the ball enough. In his last four seasons as an offensive coordinator, his teams have ranked 21st or worse in rushing attempts. The Cowboys were 31st last season, but eighth in yards per carry. If Callahan is unwilling to change even though he has a quality back in Murray and a quarterback under a lot of pressure, the Cowboys will keep holding themselves back offensively.
The Cowboys did very little to get better this offseason and one could argue that they are worse with the departures of Hatcher and Ware. Zack Martin was a safe pick in the first round and will help with the offensive line, but the defense’s shortcomings weren’t addressed much in free agency and won’t magically get better. DeMarcus Lawrence may be an impact player one day, but it’s hard to see it being this season. The Cowboys gave up over 430 yards eight times last season and went 2-6 in those games. It’s hard to see much improvement.
The situation with Jason Garrett will make things very uncomfortable throughout the season. Garrett is firmly on the hot seat and the best part (if you can call it that) of the Cowboys schedule is in the first 10 weeks. Jerry Jones might have a quick trigger finger on Garrett and his staff with a slow start and the Cowboys will have no shot at an 8-8 season with so much turmoil and the brutal end of the schedule.
Pick: Under 8 (-115)
It will probably be another year of wasting talent in Big D. The offense has the ability to outscore teams, but the NFC West presents four high quality defenses and shootouts with New Orleans, Philadelphia, and Chicago are hardly best-case scenarios. If the Giants and Redskins improve, somebody has to lose games in the NFC East and that somebody would be the Cowboys. Neither team is guaranteed to improve and everybody in the NFC East has their warts and problem areas. That said, the defensive losses coupled with Bill Callahan’s unwillingness to change his mindset will hold the Cowboys back.
Realistically, the likely result for the Cowboys is to go 8-8 again, but with the schedule, the Garrett factor, and the defense, the value side is probably going to be the under. There are better bets on the board than this one, especially because the Cowboys are maddeningly inconsistent. They could easily go 11-5 or 6-10. They’ll win games that they should lose and lose games that they should win. Avoid the frustration and the hassle and just look for something better to invest in.
Adam Burke is a freelance writer and amateur handicapper with a knack for finding value through matchup analysis and a deep understanding of the sports betting market. His main area of expertise is baseball, with a background in sabermetrics and advanced statistics. He is the host of The Gridiron Gambling Report and our college football and college basketball BangTheBook.com podcasts on the BlogTalkRadio Network.