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Week 5 America’s Game of the Week Preview: Green Bay Packers vs. Dallas Cowboys Betting Advice

By Peter Brooks in Sports
| October 6, 2017 12:00 am PDT
packers-cowboys

One of our favorite things to watch in the National Football League is rematch games.

When you hear the players talk in locker room interviews about how meaningful it is to play a team that they lost to last year or to revisit a certain stadium where they had a particularly bad experience, they’re usually very quick to chock it up to superstition and nonsense. Players will often say that it’s a completely new season, that it’s two completely different teams, and that the past counts for nothing.

But even though the players say it doesn’t matter, the next time the Falcons visit NRG Stadium, they’ll feel a little queasy; and the Cowboys have to be little scared of the Packers coming to town.

  • Who: Green Bay Packers (3–1) vs. Dallas Cowboys (2–2)
  • Where: AT&T Stadium. Arlington, Texas
  • When: Sunday, October 8, 2017. 4:25 PM (EST) on FOX

Last year, in the divisional round of the playoffs, the Green Bay Packers went down to AT&T Stadium and ended the Cowboys’ 13–3 season in Dallas’s first playoff game.

And for those of us who were lucky enough to watch that divisional playoff game last January, not only did we see some excellent football on the field, but we also saw a few clues that will clue us in to how America’s Game of the Week will play out in Week 5, when the Packers head back down to Arlington.

Players are right to say that these are two new teams. But the outcome of their last matchup matters.

By the end of the week leading up to the game, Dallas was a 5-point favorite, and the over/under was set at 52.5 points. And after the Cowboys received the opening kickoff and marched down the field to kick a field goal on their opening drive, it seemed like the odds-makers had every right to be confident in the Cowboys.

But the first major turning point in last year’s NFC divisional playoff game between the Packers and the Cowboys came in the Packers’ first offensive drive.

Though Dallas had ended up ranked #5 in scoring defense through the 2016/17 NFL regular season, taking pride in their ability to generate stops, Aaron Rodgers went through them like a hot knife through butter, marching 75 yards down the field and scoring a touchdown on one of his patented free play touchdowns in less than 2-and-a-half minutes of game time.

Early on in their last meeting, Aaron Rodgers made the Cowboys’ defense look slow and flat-footed.

Subsequently, with the score at 7–3 through the opening possessions for both teams, the Cowboys and the Packers went punt-TD-punt-TD for the next four possessions, and all of the sudden the Packers were leading 21–3 midway through the second quarter.

After starting out with a 73.3% probability of winning the game, the Cowboys’ chances had dwindled all the way down to 8.6%.

At this point, the game entered into a period of stalemate. The Packers started to play more conservatively, focusing more on working the game clock and protecting their three-possession lead than on taking chances.

The Cowboys finally started to take advantage of Green Bay’s depleted defensive secondary, scoring a quick touchdown on two consecutive passes to Dez Bryant – one for 21 yards and one for 40. With a pair of Packers punts and a Cowboys field goal, the two teams went into the half with a score of 21–13, and the Packers then scored on their opening possession of the second half to bring it back to a two-score game.

The second major turning point in the game came when the Cowboys remembered how to run the ball.

Capitalizing on a rare Aaron Rodgers pick to score another TD and bring the game to a one-possession deficit, with a score of 20–28, a tackle by Sean Lee and a sack by Barry Church gave the ball back to Dallas, and on the ensuing 5-minute touchdown drive (to both tie the game and bring it down to 4 minutes remaining), the Cowboys ran the ball on 6 of their 13 plays, and Ezekiel Elliott had 34 of the 80 yards.

Of course, everyone knows how the game ended: With the score tied at 31, Rodgers threw a picture-perfect pass to Jared Cook to set up the game-winning field goal.

The Cowboys’ incredible turnaround season had ended, in AT&T Stadium, at the hands of Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. And now, we get to watch the rematch. And even though some things have changed over the offseason separating this season from last season, what we saw in last year’s divisional round certainly helps us make predictions for this upcoming game on Sunday afternoon.

Specifically, below you’ll find our predictions for the following bets:

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

There’s nothing quite like the rematch in the National Football League, and in the Week 5 edition of America’s Game of the Week, we get a great one.

Packers vs. Cowboys Betting

FootballMoneyLine
  • Packers +105
  • Cowboys -125

When picking games straight-up for moneyline odds, our philosophy is to try and determine which team will have a mental advantage in the game.

In our experience, the team that is able to stay mentally tough for the entire 60-minute contest is generally the team that ends up winning. When a team loses focus and the mental edge goes to their opponent, they often start making those key mistakes that pile up and end up causing a loss.

These mistakes can range anywhere from errant throws, dropped balls, pre-snap communication issues, and penalties on the offensive side of the ball all the way to a general lack of discipline and gap soundness, not to mention blown coverages and missed assignments, on the defensive side of the ball.

One of the factors we usually look at to assign a mental advantage is home field advantage.

While it’s undoubtedly true that Cowboys fans will be out in full force on Sunday afternoon, the fact that the Cowboys lost last week at home combined with the fact that the Packers beat them at home last year indicates to us that home-field advantage shouldn’t play that big of a role in this game.

And in any event, if you think about how home field advantage operates, it’s simply not very applicable in this game, due to the strength of Green Bay’s O-line.

It’s true that the Packers have recently sustained some injuries on the offensive line, and inexperienced offensive linemen are usually among the most prime candidates to be susceptible to the negative effects of crowd noise, in terms of pre-snap penalties and errors in pass protection.

However, first of all, it’s entirely possible that coming off of 10 days rest the Packers will have their starting five O-linemen on the field on Sunday for the first time this season, looking at the injury report. And second of all, the starting center and starting quarterback for the Packers are both healthy, which is by far the most important component in terms of offensive line errors caused by home field advantage.

Noting that home field advantage shouldn’t play a major role, we next look to leadership presence.

At this point, after four games, even though there are still three-quarters of the season left to be played, the Cowboys are at a pretty critical juncture. If they lose in this game, they go into their Week 6 bye with a record of 2–3. Meanwhile, if the Eagles take care of business against the Cardinals at home this week, they’ll lead the division at 4–1.

Let’s not forget, too, that even though the New York Giants are more or less out of the running for the NFC East title at 0–4, the Washington Redskins are currently even with the Cowboys at 2–2, and clearly look like the better team. Going against tough AFC West teams on the road, Dallas got walloped 17–42 in Denver and Washington could have easily beaten Kansas City.

And Cowboys fans should be particularly frightened of coming out of this Sunday afternoon matchup at 2–3 considering the strength of their remaining schedule:

  • Week 7: @San Francisco 49ers
  • Week 8: @Washington Redskins
  • Week 9: Kansas City Chiefs
  • Week 10: @Atlanta Falcons
  • Week 11: Philadelphia Eagles
  • Week 12: Los Angeles Chargers
  • Week 13: Washington Redskins
  • Week 14: @New York Giants
  • Week 15: @Oakland Raiders
  • Week 16: Seattle Seahawks
  • Week 17: @Philadelphia Eagles

Even if we concede that three of those games look like guaranteed wins at this point (@49ers, Chargers, @Giants), this only puts the Cowboys at 5–3 if they lose to Green Bay this Sunday. So to get up to 10 wins, they’d need to win 5 of the other 8 games listed above, and as things look right now we’re hard-pressed to believe they could pull that off.

The point is, there’s a case at this point that the Cowboys go 8–8, based solely on their schedule.

And if we can see this, you better believe that the Cowboys’ coaches and players can see it too. It’s in these critical moments during a season when key team leaders have to look at each other and say, This is a must-win game; we’ll do whatever it takes. Even though you continue to tell the media that you’re “just taking it one game at a time,” experienced leaders know that sometimes you need to go all out.

But even though we see this game as a must-win for Dallas, we don’t see the team having the kind of leadership necessary to reverse what happened last year.

Even though a few players have changed on both rosters, the Packers still have the dynamic passing attack that matched up so well against Dallas in last year’s divisional round that they went up 21–3 in the early portion of the game, and this Cowboys team doesn’t have nearly the same grit to come back from such a deficit and tie the game.

With Sean Lee probably out for this game, Tony Romo off the team and no longer helping to marshal the troops, several veterans gone in free agency in the secondary, and both Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott looking considerably more mortal this season compared to last, we don’t think that the Cowboys’ roster has the kind of identity that can overcome the sizable challenge of once again facing Aaron Rodgers.

We predict the Packers to take an early lead in this game using their dynamic passing attack, just like last year. We predict that even after going down, Jason Garrett will still play as if he has a lead, just like last year. But the big difference this time around is that we don’t see Dallas coming back.

Pick: Packers to win

FootballSpread
  • Packers +2 (-110)
  • Cowboys -2 (-110)

Now that we’ve made our prediction for the Green Bay Packers to win this game because of the current dearth of leadership in the Cowboys’ locker room, it’s now time for us to turn our attention to the bet against the spread.

Naturally, given the fact that the Green Bay Packers are underdogs in this game, the fact that we have picked them to win straight-up means that we have also picked them to win against the spread.

But in order to shore up our case for a Packers victory, let’s take a look at the way that the Packers’ offense matches up against the Cowboys’ defense. If this rematch game truly is going to end up as a repeat of last season’s playoff game, as we predicted above, then this is the key matchup to watch.

After four games, the story so far for Green Bay’s offense has been managing injuries.

Let’s start with the offensive line. The Packers lost starting left tackle David Bakhtiari to a hamstring injury after he did the splits unintentionally in their Week 1 game against the Seahawks. They lost their starting right tackle Bryan Bulaga to an ankle injury suffered in the preseason.

For most teams, the loss of both starting tackles would be enough to seriously impact their offense (just ask the New Orleans Saints).

But in this case, to add insult to injury (literally), the Packers also lost their number one backup lineman (Don Barclay), their number two backup tackle (Kyle Murphy), and their number three backup tackle (Jason Spriggs) as well, with the latter three players all ending up on injured reserve.

But even with so many injuries on the offensive line, the Packers offense has still done enough to win.

So far, through one-quarter of the season, the Packers are ranked 8th in total points, averaging 25.5 per game, and are dead center in the middle of the league in terms of yardage, with 335.3 yards of offense per game.

While they do lead the league in passing touchdowns (no surprise with Aaron Rodgers at the helm), being ranked 21st in the league in net yards per pass attempt and 25th in the league in average yards per rushing attempt clearly indicates that the offense is not operating up to its full potential.

Luckily for Packer fans, in their first practice back from the 10-day break following their Thursday Night win over the Bears, the team saw several key injured players return to the practice field.

Specifically, on the offensive side of the ball, Green Bay saw both starting tackles back with limited participation in practice, #1 and #2 running backs Ty Montgomery and Jamaal Williams back in practice, and most importantly, last year’s #2 receiving TD leader Davante Adams back on the practice field after being hospitalized with a concussion following a vicious hit by Danny Trevathan.

And speaking of injuries, the Cowboys’ defense has had some issues there as well.

Sean Lee, unquestionably the captain of the defense, the most important player on the defense, the signal caller and emotional leader of the defense, and certainly the most important matchup consideration against the Green Bay Packers, is likely out of this game with a hamstring injury. Lee did not participate in the first day of Cowboys’ practice this week.

Last year, against the Packers, Sean Lee led the team in tackles. This year, he’s probably not playing.

And when you really look at the way that the Packers’ offense matches up against Rod Marinelli and the Cowboys’ defense, you understand just how important Lee is to their ability to stop Green Bay.

The strength of the Dallas Cowboys’ defense is their defensive line, a unit that will be happy to welcome back defensive tackle David Irving, who wreaked havoc on the Packers’ offensive line during their divisional playoff game last season.

The scheme that Rod Marinelli employs in Dallas centers around the ability of the defensive line to generate pass rush using only three-man pressures.

Rushing three guys, and with a duo of safeties patrolling the back end, the Cowboys then have six guys to scatter throughout the middle of the field. Usually (especially in passing situations), this means five defensive backs to match up one-on-one against receivers, and a free linebacker “matched up” against the quarterback, spying in the middle of the field.

Usually, this free linebacker in the middle of the field is Sean Lee, one of the smartest players in the NFL.

However, with Lee out, the Cowboys have been relying on 22-year old Jaylon Smith, their second-round pick from a year ago who spent his first season recuperating from a bad left knee injury suffered in his last college game that left him with lasting nerve damage (and seems to have maybe even inalterably lowered his ceiling as a player).

By no fault of his own, at 22-years old Jaylon Smith is not the same level as Sean Lee.

The big concern for Packer fans this week has been the multiple broken ribs of running back Ty Montgomery, and how this somehow means that the Packers will be unable to run the ball against the Cowboys.

But the fact of the matter is that the Packers won’t need to run the ball to win this game.

The Packers have a full stable of receiving threats, so the Cowboys’ secondary will have its hands full matching up one-on-one in coverage against Jordy Nelson (NFL TD leader from a season ago), Davante Adams (provided he clears the concussion protocol, which seems likely), Randall Cobb (current team reception leader), and Geronimo Allison (leading the team in yards per reception with 16.2).

And let’s not forget that the Cowboys lost their three top secondary players from a season ago.

So with the secondary completely devoted to matching up in coverage against the dynamic wideouts for the Packers, it opens up an opportunity in the middle of the field.

And with Smith in instead of Lee, we think it’s pretty clear that the Packers will be able to utilize two-tight end sets, with offseason acquisitions Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks joining incumbent Richard Rodgers, to open up the middle of the field. And with Cobb and Allison also very effective over the middle, Smith will have his hands full.

And assuming the Packers get their two starting tackles back in the lineup (and even if they don’t), we don’t foresee Dallas’s three-man pressures getting home all too often. DeMarcus Lawrence may have 7.5 sacks this season, but 4.5 of those have come against the offensive lines of the New York Giants and the Arizona Cardinals, which are nowhere near the caliber of Green Bay’s unit.

With sufficient protection, Aaron Rodgers will be able to move around inside and outside the pocket for long enough to let his receivers uncover, and the Packers should be able to move the ball on offense.

Pick: Packers to win, covering the spread

FootballTotal Score
  • Over 52.5 (-110)
  • Under 52.5 (-110)

Having established our prediction for this game, for the Packers to win because of the dearth of leadership for the Cowboys, and for the Packers to score points because of the way their passing attack matches up against the short-handed Cowboys’ defense, let’s now turn our attention to the question of whether this game will be generally high- or low-scoring.

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

In our experience, when the winning team is able to score points on offense and generate stops on defense, they can often control the flow of the game to the degree that the game ends up going under. However, if the losing team’s offense matches up well enough against the winning team’s defense to be able to score points, the game can often turn into a shootout that pushes the total score over.

For the over/under bet, we’re looking at how Green Bay’s defense matches up against Dallas’ offense.

Over the course of the first quarter of the season, we’ve learned two key facts about the Packers’ defense: that the secondary is improved, and that Mike Daniels is vital.

First, we’ve learned that the Packers are significantly improved in the defensive secondary. Last season, the Packers went through a stretch of games in the month of November during which they surrendered an obscene number of points, and the issue rested almost entirely on the play of the defensive secondary (and specifically the cornerback group, which had been completely decimated by injuries).

But with their first two picks in the 2017 NFL Draft used on a long, lanky cornerback (Kevin King) and a hard-hitting hybrid safety (Josh Jones), not to mention the return of a former Packers draft pick, cornerback Davon House, in free agency from the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Packers look to be significantly improved on the back end.

The second thing we’ve learned about the Green Bay Packers’ defense this season is how important Mike Daniels is to the unit.

After limiting the Seattle offense to only 90 yards on the ground in Week 1 with Daniels at full strength, the Packers lost Daniels to a hip injury in Week 2 against the Falcons and subsequently have given up more than 100 rushing yards in each of their last three games.

It’s clear that Mike Daniels’ presence in the middle of the D-line has a huge impact on the whole scheme.

We don’t yet know if Daniels will be back for this Week 5 matchup; he has been limited in his participation in practice thus far. If Daniels is available, the Packers should fare significantly better against the Cowboys’ dynamic rushing attack with Ezekiel Elliott.

Even if Daniels plays, though, we like the Cowboys to be able to move the ball.

The Dallas Cowboys are a run-first team. Last season, with their dynamic offensive line, the Cowboys did enough to make Ezekiel Elliott the NFL rushing leader.

This season, even though the fans might have wanted to see their offense include more of a dynamic down-the-field passing game, it doesn’t seem like it’s going to happen. Dez Bryant, at 28 years old, doesn’t seem to have the same type of explosive ability that we have seen out of him in the past.

Star tight end Jason Witten, meanwhile, is 35, and while savvy enough to find holes in zone coverage, and still possessing the physical tools necessary to come down with contested catches, he is no longer shifty enough to compete with the game’s new type of speedy hybrid safeties.

The Cowboys don’t have the type of down-the-field passing weapons to test the Packers’ secondary.

In this game, for the Week 5 edition of America’s Game of the Week, we foresee the Packers jumping out to an early lead using their dynamic passing attack. At this point, Jason Garrett and the Cowboys have one of two options: to continue what they do best, and run the ball with Ezekiel Elliott, or to try and make up the difference by throwing the ball.

Importantly, though, we believe that either way, the only way that the Cowboys will be able to move the ball on offense will be through the ground game.

Having seen enough game film on Jason Garrett to know that he’s likely to continue managing the game as if he were leading, and to continue to stick to the run (like he did last year in the divisional playoff game against the Packers), we’re envisioning the Cowboys running the ball throughout the game.

And given the fact that the Packers should have a lead, we foresee Green Bay head coach Mike McCarthy just giving the Cowboys their yards on the ground, and allowing them to grind down the clock.

Look for the Packers to jump out to a lead of around 14-17 points late in the game, not having the defense necessary to stop Ezekiel Elliott and the ground game, and giving up both running plays and quarterback scrambles to allow the Cowboys an offensive touchdown late.

But with the Packers also able to score point of their own on the other side of the ball, look for the game to push into the range of a shootout, and go over.

Pick: Cowboys 24, Packers 31

FootballProp Bets

Now that we’ve established our overall prediction for the game, that the Green Bay Packers will win because of the lack of a leadership presence for the Cowboys, that the Packers’ passing games will overwhelm the Cowboys defense without Sean Lee, and that the Packers won’t be able to do enough on defense to keep the game from going over, let’s take a look at some prop bets.

Specifically, we believe that the following bets hold value:

  • Martellus Bennett as an anytime touchdown scorer. As an offseason acquisition from the Patriots, it has taken Bennett some time to get comfortable with Aaron Rodgers. Already tied for the team lead in targets, and 3rd in receptions, Bennett gets his first TD as a Packer in this game.
  • DeMarcus Lawrence to go over his posted total for sacks. Aaron Rodgers has been sacked the third-most in the league (15 times in 4 games), and DeMarcus Lawrence leads the league in sacks (7.5 in 4 games). With multiple key injuries on the O-line, look for sacks in this game.
  • Cowboys to score last in the game. We envision the game going Green Bay’s way early on, putting them up by multiple scores in the fourth quarter. With the Cowboys relying on their run game and the Packers giving them yards to run out the clock, look for Dallas to score last.

In addition to the wagers above that we will have the opportunity to watch unfold live during the game, we also believe that the following future bets could potentially hold value:

  • Green Bay Packers to win the NFC Championship, Super Bowl. Tied with the Patriots for the longest consecutive streak of playoff appearances, the Packers are perennial contenders. With the second-best chances to win it all in the NFC based on statistical projections, pick the Pack.
  • Dallas Cowboys to miss the playoffs. While this one may seem like a long-shot, think about it: If the Cowboys lose in this game they’re down to 2–3, and if the Eagles beat the Cardinals next week they’re at 4–1. Washington is also better than Dallas right now; they may end up at 8–8.
  • Jordy Nelson to win for receiving touchdowns. The Nelson-Rodgers combination is just plain special. Nelson led the league in touchdowns last year, and he’s already leading the league this year with 5 TDs in only 4 games played. If both stay healthy, there’s a very good chance he wins.

Veteran gamblers know that it’s not enough to just watch the games. In order to really turn a profit, you have to be able to use what you’re seeing in film study to make informed future bets. Keep an eye out for the ones above, and thank us later.

Summary: Best Bets

One of our favorite things to watch in the NFL is the rematch. Last season, after going 13–3 and earning the number one seed in the NFC, the Dallas Cowboys played only one playoff game in the divisional round, with the Green Bay Packers coming into town and beating them in a thriller.

This season, though the teams have changed a bit, we don’t foresee the outcome being any different. We believe that the Packers’ passing attack will overwhelm the Cowboys defense, with that the absence of Sean Lee will make things difficult for Dallas, and that the Packers won’t be able to do enough to keep the Cowboys from scoring points.

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

  • Packers +105 moneyline
  • Packers +2 against the spread (-110)
  • The total score to go over 52.5 (-110)
  • Martellus Bennett as an anytime touchdown scorer
  • DeMarcus Lawrence to go over his posted total for sacks
  • Cowboys to score last in the game

Even though players around the league will say that every season is different and that the past doesn’t matter, we’re hard-pressed to believe that both of these teams won’t be thinking about their matchup last year. And unfortunately for the Cowboys, we don’t believe the outcome will be any different.

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