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Week 10 America’s Game of the Week Preview: Dallas Cowboys vs. Atlanta Falcons Betting Advice

By Peter Brooks in Sports
| November 10, 2017 12:00 am PDT
cowboys-falcons

It’s amazing how quickly things change in the National Football League. Last season the Dallas Cowboys and the Atlanta Falcons were the top two seeds in the NFC, and yet here were are one short year later, in Week 10, with both teams fighting to keep their playoff hopes alive on America’s Game of the Week.

Both the Falcons and the Cowboys look like different teams compared to what we saw last season.

On the side of the Atlanta Falcons, it’s seemed clear so far this season that the loss of offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan (who took the head coaching position with the San Francisco 49ers) has significantly impacted the play of their offense, as new O-coordinator Steve Sarkisian doesn’t seem nearly as well-equipped to utilize all of the various weapons that the Falcons have on offense.

On the side of the Dallas Cowboys, the biggest changes are threefold: Tony Romo formally left the team, making Dak Prescott the only locker room leader at the quarterback position; two of the team’s starting five offensive linemen left the team, leaving them more vulnerable at times; and finally, last year’s league leader in rush yards, Ezekiel Elliott, has been flirting with a 6-game suspension all year.

Now that the Cowboys have officially played half of their games and are at the midpoint of the season, we feel it’s high time to give a full recap of the legal saga that Elliott has undergone. Let’s start from the beginning:

  • February 12, 2016: Ezekiel Elliott’s ex-girlfriend, who called the then-20-year old running back a “friend with benefits,” calls the Florida police after an argument with Elliott, claiming that he pushed her against a wall multiple times while drunk and hurt her shoulder, leaving bruises.
  • April 28, 2016: Ezekiel Elliott is drafted by the Cowboys with the #4 pick overall. According to Jerry Jones, Elliott’s conduct with women and the specific incident above was never discussed.
  • July 22, 2016: Elliott’s accuser goes back to the police to report five separate incidents of domestic violence that had taken place during the week of July 17, including striking, throwing against a wall, choking, cursing, threats, dragging, and more spread across five separate days.

    It’s very important to note that the accuracy of each of these reports were contested by Elliott.

  • September 5, 2016: Ezekiel Elliott, now just about to begin his rookie season, files a harassment report against his accuser, claiming among other things that he had called her 50 times in a day.
  • March 11, 2017: Elliott pulls down the top of a woman during a St. Patrick’s Day parade, exposing her bare breast. While no charges were filed, this incident contributed to the NFL’s case against Elliott, claiming that his behavior “suggests a pattern of poor judgment.”
  • June 26, 2017: Four independent advisors met with Elliott after reviewing all of the exhibits provided by the NFL. After hearing Elliott’s side of the story, the advisors met separately with Roger Goodell to give their opinions, with Goodell being the one who would ultimately decide.
  • August 11, 2017: The NFL suspends Ezekiel Elliott for the first six games of the 2017/18 season, under the sole decision-making discretion of Roger Goodell. The league’s main reason that it provided to Elliott was evidence that he had been physical three times in the week of July 17.
  • August 15, 2017: the NFL Players Association officially files an appeal of the suspension, with the intention of establishing that Elliott’s accuser was not a credible source of information.
  • August 29, 2017: Elliott’s appeal hearing is held in New York, lasting three days, less than a week away from the Cowboys’ season-opener. Elliott and the NFLPA sue the NFL for conspiracy.
  • September 5, 2017: Elliott’s suspension is upheld, but he is allowed to play in Week 1 while the NFLPA waits for a ruling on their attempt to block the suspension (to get an injunction).
  • September 8, 2017: A judge grants the NFLPA’s request for an injunction, allowing him to play.
  • October 12, 2017: The 5th Circuit rules to vacate the ruling, allowing the NFL to begin enforcing the suspension. However, it was the Cowboys’ bye week, so he did not miss a game that week.
  • October 30, 2017: Elliott appeals the decision to reinstate his suspension, and the appeal is finally heard in a court hearing in New York. Up to that point, Elliott had been able to play because the judge who was supposed to hear the case had been out of town for a week.
  • November 3, 2017: Elliott and the NFLPA is granted an emergency stay, enabling him to play last week’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs. At this point, he has played in all 8 games.
  • November 9, 2017: Elliott attends a hearing in New York to grant him an injunction that would allow him to keep playing while his case works its way through the court system.

This brings us to the present moment, where, as of the time of this writing, Elliott’s November 9th hearing has just concluded moments ago, and the 2nd Circuit panel of judges issued a decision to deny his injunction.

To the best that we can follow this long and circuitous legal mess, this means that Zeke is now out.

Obviously, as the timeline above demonstrates, this issue has followed Elliott around for some time now, and since it has been made public this past August, it has been an almost weekly battle between lawyers on the side of the NFL and on the side of the NFLPA. Finally, it seems that Elliott is going to miss the next five games: this game against the Falcons, then the Chargers, Redskins, Giants, and Raiders.

  • Who: Dallas Cowboys (5–3) vs. Atlanta Falcons (4–4)
  • Where: Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Atlanta, Georgia
  • When: Sunday, November 12, 2017. 4:25 PM (EST) on FOX

But in any event, the show goes on this Sunday on America’s Game of the Week. And now that we’ve established (as best we can) our assumption that Zeke is out against Atlanta, below we’ll provide any and all additional information that you need to make informed gambling decisions on the following bets;

  • Moneyline bets
  • Bets against the spread
  • The total score over/under bet
  • Any prop bets or futures that could hold value

These two teams look very different from last year. And now we expect that Ezekiel Elliott will be out.

Cowboys vs. Falcons Betting

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  • Cowboys +120
  • Falcons -140

In picking games straight-up for moneyline odds, our philosophy involves taking a look at the way that the two teams match up holistically, in order to assign a mental advantage to one team or the other.

In our experience, whichever team is able to maintain its mental toughness for the entire 60-minute contest generally ends up winning the game. By maintaining their toughness, they are able to keep themselves from committing the mental mistakes that can cost games.

On the other hand, when a team loses their focus, they begin to make mistakes like errant throws, dropped passes, blown protection assignments, blown coverages, missed blocks, penalties, and a general lack of gap-soundness on defense. When these errors pile up, the momentum shifts and the game can spiral out of control.

The first place we look to assign a mental advantage is to see which team is playing at home.

The Atlanta Falcons have a new stadium this year, and they won their home opener against the Green Bay Packers in commanding fashion, scoring 34 points. They have not matched that point total since, however, and their average (21.3 points per game) is well below what they managed in that first home game.

Furthermore, the Falcons have lost their next two games at home, against the Bills in Week 4 (17 points scored) and then the following game against the Dolphins in Week 6 (17 points scored).

This gives Atlanta a record of 1–2 at home so far this season. Their last home game, against the Dolphins, was particularly ugly: Coming off of their bye week, the team took a commanding 17–0 lead at halftime, only to allow Jay Cutler and the Dolphins to come back and win the game 17–20. To fail to score even a single point in front of the home crowd in the second half is pretty embarrassing.

Even though the Falcons are 1–2 at home in their new stadium so far, they’ve just had three consecutive games on the road. Coming back to Atlanta should be a boost.

But importantly, we think that this boost should help the Falcons, not necessarily that it should hurt the Cowboys.

Generally speaking, the mechanism by which home field advantage operates is when a noisy environment impacts a quarterback’s ability to communicate with his offensive line. This is especially true with young quarterbacks (which the Cowboys have) and with bad, injured, or inexperienced offensive lines (which the Cowboys certainly do not have).

And in any event, the Cowboys have already played four games on the road this season and lost three of them, including a key divisional game two weeks ago against the Washington Redskins in which the loud, hostile environment didn’t make a bit of difference for their 33-point offensive production.

In this way, we think that Atlanta should be a little fresher at home, but Dallas shouldn’t be affected.

And quite frankly, Atlanta needs all the help it can get. The Falcons have dropped four of their last five games, bringing them from a hot 3–0 start to a disappointing 4–4.

On the one hand, there’s an argument to be made that Atlanta is better than their record – after all, if Julio Jones doesn’t drop that wide-open touchdown last week, they probably beat Carolina.

But on the other hand, there’s a much better argument to be made that the Falcons should, in fact, be much worse than their record shows. Atlanta came within two last-second plays of being 1–3, with a goal-line drop by a Bears receiver in Week 1 that would have scored the game-tying touchdown, and the game-winning touchdown catch by Golden Tate controversially called short on the field in Detroit.

In addition, there’s also an argument to be made that the Falcons haven’t had a true test yet.

Let’s take a closer look at their games. The Falcons have two wins against the Jets and the Packers – hardly complete teams. Their other two wins are the aforementioned close, last-second, ugly wins against the Bears and the Lions.

Their losses, on the other hand, include the back-to-back home losses to the Bills and the Dolphins, two of the weaker teams in the AFC West, and then two road losses over the last three weeks against the Patriots and the Panthers. And let’s not forget that the game against the Patriots was wonky due to the incredible fog, which could have hypothetically turned a 16-point loss into something much worse.

In this way, it seems to us that this game against the Dallas Cowboys, even though it’s in Atlanta, could actually be the Falcons stiffest test of the entire season thus far.

Meanwhile, the Dallas Cowboys are surging. After a disappointing 1–3 start, the team has finally rediscovered the identity that won them 13 games last season: pound the ball in the running game using their dominant offensive line, and get home in the pass rush.

In their three games following the bye, the Cowboys have averaged over 33 points per game on offense, and have led the league in rushing during that stretch with 188.3 rush yards per game.

The Cowboys have been able to get back to their preferred game plan, and it has shown in their confidence level and their overall mental state. It’s clear that they are playing complementary football, and that their team unity has increased tremendously.

Some people fear that the Cowboys’ running attack will fall apart now that Zeke Elliott is suspended.

However, we don’t think so. Alfred Morris is a quality back, but much more importantly, Elliott is not essential to the team’s offensive success the way that, say, Leonard Fournette is to the Jaguars. The play of the offensive line and of quarterback Dak Prescott matters just as much if not more than Zeke.

In this game, we like the Cowboys to roll and to be too much to handle on both sides for Atlanta.

Pick: Cowboys to win

FootballSpread
  • Cowboys +3 (-130)
  • Falcons -3 (+110)

We’ve now established our pick for the Cowboys to win because of the momentum that they’ve picked up over the last few games, getting back to the style of play with which they were so successful last season. And given the fact that the Cowboys are road underdogs in this game, obviously, we’ve already made our pick against the spread.

Usually, when we pick games against the spread, our philosophy involves taking a look at the way that the winning team’s offense matches up against the losing team’s defense.

In our experience, when a team is both able to stay mentally tough enough to win the game straight-up and also matches up well on offense against the opposing defense, they are generally able to score enough points to win both straight-up and against the spread. On the other hand, when the losing team’s defense is able to generate stops, they’ll often be able to pull off a backdoor cover.

In this case, let’s shore up our case for a Dallas win by looking at how they matchup against Atlanta’s D.

As we mentioned above, the Cowboys have had the most rushing yards in the league since Week 7, when things started to click for them on offense.

But it’s important to note that their success on offense didn’t start in Week 7, after their bye. It actually started in Week 4. After two consecutive games where they failed to get over 100 rushing yards, the team came out against the Los Angeles Rams and ran for 189 yards. After that, it was 163 yards against the Packers, the bye week, and then 265, 169, and 131 against the 49ers, Redskins, and Chiefs.

In these last five games where the rushing attack has been great, the first two were home losses, and the last three were wins – two of them on the road. The difference? Turnovers.

In Week 4 and Week 5, Dallas’s offense turned the ball over a total of five times at home, with no less than two per game. Meanwhile, in Weeks 7-9, the Cowboys have turned it over only once, totals. This tightened up offensive attack has greatly aided the Cowboys, keeping them from giving more opportunities to the opposing team and keeping them from ending drives without points.

This offensive attack has pushed the Cowboys over 28 points per game for the last 6 games, which is more than the Atlanta Falcons’ defense has allowed all season.

For the Falcons’ defense, it has been a very consistent set of numbers thus far this season. The team is ranked 14th in the league in points allowed, averaging 21.5 per game. And so far this season, no games have varied by even 5 points from this number: In eight games they’ve allowed point totals of 17, 23, 26, 23, 20, 23, 20, and 20.

This remarkable consistency in totals shows us two things: a disciplined defense, and a weak offense.

The Falcons have lost four games. Three of these games were by a margin of 3 points, 3 points, and 6 points. Their one other loss, to the New England Patriots, was by a margin of 16. And yet, in each of these four cases, the Falcons still have given up right around three touchdowns to the opposing offense.

When a team is able to lose games – even by multiple possessions – and still keep the opposing team from running up the score with big plays, that’s the sign of a well-disciplined unit.

And it makes sense that Atlanta would have a very well-disciplined defense. Looking back at last season, he season-level statistics for the Falcons’ squad don’t really tell the correct story, because the team significantly improved on defense as the year went on, primarily because of how young they were and how much time their rookie and sophomore players needed to get comfortable.

But in the last quarter of the season and into the playoffs, Atlanta was playing fast and loose on defense and was most effective at using a combination of dynamic pass rush and quick closing speed in the secondary to limit opposing offenses from getting the big play. Their speed-based D required a lot of trust, communication, and discipline.

And while the Falcons lost some players on defense this offseason, they still have the same identity.

And in these last four games, they have also doubled their output in terms of takeaways, generating at least one in each of the last four games except for the Patriots game, with 4 total, after having only one game with a turnover in Weeks 1-4.

Unfortunately for the Falcons in this matchup, however, the fact of the matter is that even as their passing defense has improved, their run defense has gotten worse.

After allowing an average of 93 rushing yards in their first four games, against the Bears, Packers, Lions, and Bills, the Falcons have allowed an average of 136 rushing yards in the last four, against the Dolphins, Patriots, Jets, and Panthers. Last week against the Panthers, the Falcons were gashed for 201 rushing yards, only the second time they’ve allowed 200+ rushing yards in the Dan Quinn era.

The big reason why Atlanta struggled so badly against the run last week was because they couldn’t contain Cam Newton, who rushed for 86 yards on 9 carries (9.6 yards per carry) last week.

And indeed, since Week 7 (the same period during which the Cowboys have led the league in rushing), the Falcons have allowed 30.3 rush yards per game to QBs, which is ranked 4th-most in the league. On the season, Dak Prescott has 195 total rushing yards (24.4 per game) and 4 touchdowns.

In this way, we think there is clearly a case to be made for the Cowboys to run all over the Falcons.

For two years now, Scott Linehan’s offensive scheme has been built around exploiting matchup issues in the run game, including read-option plays. These matchup issues are just what the Falcons have been having trouble with these last few games, particularly in failing to put a spy on the QB. We like Morris and Prescott to surge even with Zeke suspended, and the Cowboys to score enough points to win.

Pick: Cowboys to win, covering the spread

FootballTotal Score
  • Over 50.5 (-110)
  • Under 50.5 (-110)

Now that we’ve established our prediction for the Cowboys to win this game on the road against the Atlanta Falcons because of the fact that they’ve recently established their identity, and to be able to run the ball even without Ezekiel Elliott, let’s now turn our attention to the question of whether this will be a generally high- or low-scoring game.

When picking games for the total score over/under bet, our philosophy involves taking a look at the way that the winning team’s defense matches up against the losing team’s offense.

In our experience, when a team is both able to score enough points to win against the spread (or in this case to win as an underdog) and also matches up well on defense against the losing team’s offense, they’re often able to control the flow and timing of the game to such a degree that the total score will go under.

On the other hand, if the losing team can score points, the game can often turn into a shootout that pushes the total score over.

For this game, the matchup to watch for the over/under is the Cowboys’ D vs. the Falcons’ offense.

One of the biggest storylines of the entire 2017/18 NFL season – a storyline that we predicted time and time again during the offseason – has been the Super Bowl hangover we’ve seen from the Atlanta Falcons, and especially the regression to the mean for Matt Ryan and the Falcons’ offense.

After leading the league in passer rating by a mile last season (117.1 to the next-best player’s 112.2), Ryan is ranked 14th through 8 games with a rating of 92.8 – the biggest drop-off in the league.

And there’s a reason that we point out the difference in passer rating when we could have chosen any of a dozen different statistics that have dropped off precipitously from last season to this.

Matt Ryan’s MVP season was, among so many things, abnormally efficient, and efficiency is almost always a hallmark of an effective scheme. And last season, with Kyle Shanahan, the Falcons undoubtedly had one of the best offensive schemes in the league. After all, Shanahan’s genius at designing offensive plays and at utilizing his quarterbacks effectively is what won him the head coaching job with the 49ers.

One of the things that has been most clear this season about the Falcons’ offense is that new O-coordinator Steve Sarkisian has no idea how to utilize Atlanta’s weapons.

The most infuriating thing for Falcons’ fans this season is that they haven’t really changed their personnel on offense. While there have been a few minor changes, they still have Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Taylor Gabriel, Austin Hooper, Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman, and a stout offensive line to protect Ryan and to open up holes for the running backs.

In fact, the bigger issue for Sarkisian this season may be that they have too many weapons on offense.

Watching the games, it seems clear that after the Falcons get past their first 20 or so scripted plays at the beginning of the game, or once they conclude their first drive of the second half (another situation in which Sarkisian is able to take his time to draw up the offense in advance), there is simply no creativity in the play-calling – no ability to adjust to what defenses are doing, and to fluidly change personnel.

This, in turn, leads to a downward spiral in which the Falcons can’t sustain drives, and thus don’t have as many offensive plays to work with, which in turn gives them fewer options for play calls, and on and on.

And one of the biggest results of this, from a statistical standpoint, is that the Falcons have not been running the football nearly enough. Despite having the 4th-ranked yards-per-carry average in the league (ripping off 4.6 yards every attempt), the Falcons are ranked 20th in the league in attempts. (And the same is true of their passing attack: 4th in the league in net yards per passing attempt; 18th in attempts.)

With back-to-back games of fewer than 50 yards rushing for Devonta Freeman, the Falcons can’t run.

And it isn’t Freeman to blame. Last week against the Carolina Panthers (where the Falcons notched only 53 total rushing yards), it was clear that the offensive line was the issue, giving up way too much penetration to Carolina’s defensive linemen. With big bodies in the backfield disrupting the plays, there was often simply nowhere for the Falcons’ running backs to go.

The Falcons’ offensive line being susceptible to strong D-line play makes this matchup against the Cowboys particularly challenging in terms of running the football.

With DeMarcus Lawrence, who has traded off the league lead for sacks with Calais Campbell all season, and now the emerging David Irving, the Cowboys have one of the better defensive line units in the league. And with Sean Lee in the middle to clean things up, the Cowboys should be more than able to stop Atlanta from running the ball.

It’s astonishing how much better the Cowboys are with Sean Lee in the lineup. When he missed three games with injury, the Cowboys’ defense was worse in every statistical category.

With Sean Lee? 5–1. Without Sean Lee? 0–2. Allowing 18.0 points with Sean Lee; allowing 35.0 without him. And it goes on and on: 307.2 yards per game vs. 377.0; 10 takeaways vs. 1; an opposing quarterback rating of 91.5 with Sean Lee in the game, a rating of 109.5 while he’s out.

Most important in this game: The Cowboys allowed 164.0 rush yards without Lee, only 80.3 with him.

Put this all together, and we foresee a game in which the Cowboys, led by Sean Lee, are well able to stop the Falcons from running the ball, which will put added pressure on Matt Ryan. And with the Cowboys having generated 7 turnovers in the last three games, this could mean trouble for Atlanta.

Tack on the fact that the Falcons could be without Julio Jones in this game, and it does not paint a pretty picture for Atlanta. In the end, we like the Cowboys to control the time of possession with their ability to run the ball and their stout run D, and we like Atlanta to score so little that the total score goes under.

Pick: Falcons 17, Cowboys 28

FootballProp Bets

Now that we’ve established our overall prediction for the game – that the Dallas Cowboys will win because they have momentum, that their rushing offense will surprise both the Falcons and the league with how well it is able to produce without Zeke, and that their defense will make a statement against a struggling Atlanta O – let’s see if we can’t profit off this view of the game by investing in some prop bets.

Specifically, we believe that the following wagers will hold value in this game:

  • Alfred Morris to go over his posted total for rushing yards. With Ezekiel Elliott finally suspended, odds-makers and gamblers alike will overreact and bet on Dallas to fail to run the ball. But remember, it’s about their offensive line. And Atlanta is ranked #23 in yards per carry.
  • Matt Ryan to go under his posted total for passing yards. The Falcons’ offense has been struggling all year and has faced few great defenses. The Cowboys’ defense is surging, and we like Atlanta to struggle mightily in the passing game. Especially if Julio Jones doesn’t play.
  • Dak Prescott to go over his posted total for rushing yards. The Falcons have allowed 30.3 rush yards to QBs per game since Week 7, which is the 4th-most in the league. Meanwhile, Dak Prescott has 195 yards and 4 touchdowns so far through eight games. You do the math!

In addition to the bets above that we’ll be able to watch unfold live on America’s Game of the Week, we would also direct your attention to the following future bets, which we believe also hold value:

  • The Dallas Cowboys to make the playoffs. The Cowboys already have five wins, and if they beat the Falcons they’re at 6 wins. While they do have a tough schedule the remainder of the way, there is probably going to be no better time to snatch up Dallas’s odds while there is still value.
  • The Atlanta Falcons to miss the playoffs. The Falcons are 4–4, and if they lose this week it’s 4–5. With games left against the Seahawks, Vikings, Saints (twice), and Panthers, there’s a strong case for them to end up at 6–10, and 8–8 is probably their best case scenario. They don’t repeat.
  • Sean Lee for Defensive Player of the Year. You may think that this award always goes to a pass rusher, but that’s not true: Luke Kuechly won in 2013. The stats for how much worse the Cowboys’ D was without Sean Lee are astonishing: he may be the MVP in the league on defense.

Experienced gamblers know that it’s not enough to watch games simply to see if your in-game bets pay out. Watch this game on Sunday afternoon with the future bets above in mind, and keep your eyes peeled for any clues.

Summary: Best Bets

Last year, the Dallas Cowboys and the Atlanta Falcons were the #1 and #2 seed in the NFC, respectively. But the postseason didn’t turn out as hoped for either of these teams last season, and this year it’s been a much rockier road. The Cowboys are now officially without Ezekiel Elliott, and the Falcons’ loss of offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan has seen them regress back to the mean on offense.

In this game, we believe that the Cowboys win because of how much more momentum they carry into the game. Dallas has found its identity as a rushing team, and that doesn’t just go away just because Ezekiel Elliott is suspended. Meanwhile, Sean Lee, DeMarcus Lawrence, and David Irving should be more than able to keep the struggling Falcons’ offense from scoring, particularly if Julio Jones doesn’t play.

In order to profit off of this view of the game, here are our best bets:

  • Cowboys +120 moneyline
  • Cowboys +3 against the spread (-130)
  • The total score to go under 50.5 (-110)
  • Alfred Morris to go over his posted total for rushing yards
  • Matt Ryan to go under his posted total for passing yards
  • Dak Prescott to go over his posted total for rushing yards

With eight games still left to play, it’s far too early to start calling games “must-wins.” But at the same time, with the Falcons at 4–4 and the Cowboys at 5–3, if these two teams hope to have the same playoff spots they had last season, they essentially have to win out. Playoff teams start heating up in November, and we get a front row seat to see which team has what it takes on America’s Game of the Week.

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