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Week 3 Monday Night Football Preview: Dallas Cowboys vs. Arizona Cardinals Betting Advice

By Peter Brooks in Sports
| September 22, 2017 12:00 am PDT
monday-night-football

This week’s Monday Night Football matchup – the Week 3 edition of ESPN’s flagship prime-time football program – features two teams that fit together hand in glove.

It’s the Cowboys and the Cardinals! The stars and the birds – two things most often seen in the sky, and not coincidentally also two things that cartoon characters see careening about after getting bonked on the head.

  • Who: Dallas Cowboys (1–1) vs. Arizona Cardinals (1–1)
  • Where: University of Phoenix Stadium. Glendale, Arizona
  • When: Monday, September 25, 2017. 8:30 PM (EST) on ESPN

And for football fans, these two teams have been around for the longest in the entire league.

The Dallas Cowboys have been highly competitive since they joined the league in 1960 as an expansion team, enduring multiple eras of enormous success. In fact, so many fans joined the Cowboys bandwagon during the latter part of the 20th century that the Cowboys came to be known generally as “America’s Team.”

However, even if the Cowboys are granted the title “America’s Team,” they can’t lay claim to being “America’s Oldest Team.” That distinction belongs to their opponent on Monday night, the Arizona Cardinals.

While to a certain extent, it depends on who you ask – after all the Bears joined the NFL the same time as the Cardinals, and the Packers were around before either club was formed – the fact remains that the Arizona Cardinals are the oldest continuously run professional football team in the nation, founded all the way back in 1898 as the Morgan Athletic Club.

And now, after having such long and illustrious histories, these two teams find themselves in pretty similar circumstances in the second half of the 2010s.

Two years ago, the Cowboys and Cardinals were essentially the exact same team.

For the four seasons spanning from 2010 to 2013, both the Cowboys and the Cardinals failed to make the playoffs. The Cowboys had one 6–10 season and then went 8–8 three years in a row, while the Cardinals averaged 7 wins per season, and finished last in their division two out of the four opportunities.

After a stretch of mediocrity from 2010-2013, both teams exploded back into relevance.

And in both cases, it was the teams’ quarterbacks who made the difference. For the Cardinals, bringing in Carson Palmer immediately stimulated offensive production, and helped the Cardinals double their win total over the course of a single season. In 2014/15 and 2015/16, the Cardinals made the playoffs in back-to-back seasons, going 13–3 in the latter and making it all the way to the NFC Championship.

For the Cowboys, the team rose and fall on the backs of their quarterbacks: In 2014, the Cowboys won the NFC East and went 12–4 with Tony Romo under center, winning a playoff game for the first time in 5 years. Then in 2015, with Romo injured, the Cowboys plummeted back down to 4–12. And as everyone knows, replacing Tony Romo for Dak Prescott last season due to injury brought Dallas right back up again.

One could say that this year’s Cardinals with Carson Palmer are essentially the Dallas Cowboys of two years ago, wondering whether aging Tony Romo still had it.

In fact, the comparison between Carson Palmer and Tony Romo bears exploring. Both Romo and Palmer entered the league in 2003, and immediately became starters for the next 13 seasons.

And while Romo’s numerous injuries finally forced the Cowboys to part ways with the fan favorite, and he’s now happily settled in the broadcast booth alongside Jim Nantz, Romo is actually 4 months younger than Palmer. And yet Palmer is still going.

Tony Romo retired without ever having won a Super Bowl, and it may be time for Palmer to do the same.

So when we see these two very similar, very old teams face off on Monday Night Football, we’re not just watching to see which team will end up on top for this Week 3 matchup. It isn’t just about which team goes up to 2–1 and which team falls behind to 1–2.

No, even more important is for us to see whether the model of starting a 37-year old quarterback can still work in this league and whether the Cowboys were right to trade in their aged star for a younger model last season.

And in addition to all of this excitement, we’ve also got plenty of wagers to watch unfold in this prime-time matchup. Specifically, we’ll go through and make 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

The stars and the birds! Two of the oldest teams in the league, and two of the most enjoyable to watch. It should be a thriller to see which one of these teams is moving forward, and which one is falling back.

Cowboys vs. Cardinals Betting

FootballMoneyLine
  • Cowboys -165
  • Cardinals +145

In picking games straight up for moneyline odds, our philosophy involves trying to determine which of the two teams will hold and maintain a mental advantage.

In our experience, whichever team is able to keep their momentum on their side all the way to when the final whistle blows is usually the team that is able to pull out the victory. But when a team plays only a 30-minute game or begins letting mental errors creep in, assignments get missed, coverages get blown, turnovers happen, and the team ends up giving away the victory.

In this matchup, we don’t believe that home-field advantage will play a significant role. The Arizona Cardinals are not known for having a particularly strong home field advantage, and the Cowboys were one of the strongest road teams in the league last year.

In this game, we feel that one of the most important mental factors to watch will be the quarterbacks.

The quarterback is the captain of the offense. For many games across all teams in the league, as the quarterback goes, so goes the rest of the team. No other person on or off the 53-man roster lays claim to the same type of power over the general mental state of the team – not even the head coach.

And in the first two games of this young season, it’s been clear that Carson Palmer has been part of the problem for the Arizona Cardinals.

One of the kindest things that one could say about Carson Palmer thus far in 2017/18 is that his play has been “inconsistent.” A more critical eye would say that it has almost looked as though Palmer was intentionally trying to throw the Cardinals’ first game, against the Vikings, ending up with a whopping three interceptions and a 53.1 passer rating despite being sacked only once.

And while the Cardinals eked out a victory against the woeful Indianapolis Colts in Week 2, the play from Palmer didn’t improve much at all.

So far, through two games, the aged quarterback has averaged 42 throws per game for 300 yards but has completed only 54.8% of his passes, and thrown twice as many interceptions (4) as touchdowns (2). This is tied for the 3rd-most interceptions in the entire league so far this season.

We don’t even trust Palmer to play as well as Trevor Siemian did last week.

Going into the Cowboys’ Week 2 matchup against the Denver Broncos, we predicted that Dak Prescott would show signs of regression, with the Cowboys’ first road game without Tony Romo on the sideline serving as Prescott’s first real test as an NFL quarterback (besides, perhaps, the Cowboys’ one playoff game last year, in which Prescott also looked bad and the Cowboys also lost).

Dak Prescott got outplayed by Trevor Siemian in Denver last week. But is Palmer up to the task?

It’s important to note that there are dramatic differences between the team that Carson Palmer will be captaining in Week 3 compared to the squad that Trevor Siemian was playing with in Mile High in Week 2.

The Broncos are a complete team right now, with a dynamic duo of receivers, a full stable of quality running backs, a stout offensive line, and of course one of the best defenses (if not the best defense) in the league to generate defensive stops, bail the offense out on turnovers, and to generate stops and turnovers of their own that give the ball back to Siemian in good field position.

Carson Palmer’s Cardinals are short offensive weapons with the injury to David Johnson, and their defense is not nearly as stout as that of the Denver Broncos.

So between Palmer’s lack of support from the rest of his team and his inability to move the ball down the field with his arm, we’re not very confident that Palmer will be able to take the game away from the Cowboys the way that the Broncos did last week.

It should be noted that Dak Prescott is likely not 100% healthy.

On the final play of the first quarter last week in Denver, Dak Prescott got rolled up on in a pretty gruesome fashion on a scramble play. While it appears that he was able to avoid major injury (and obviously he remained in the game for the duration), it’s possible that his mobility will be limited.

Even without a fully healthy Dak Prescott, however, we still like the Cowboys to bounce back.

The big difference that we’re counting on as far as the mental aspect of this game is the consistency of team identity, which in turn manifests in a consistency of scheme.

The Arizona Cardinals have arguably the best all-around offensive weapon in the game on their team with running back David Johnson. During the course of Johnson’s breakout season last year, the Cardinals came to rely on him more and more heavily, and to build their entire scheme around utilizing him effectively.

With an entire offseason devoted to this game plan, the loss of Johnson to a wrist injury that should keep him off the field for multiple months isn’t just devastating to their offensive production (the team required an overtime period to get up to a measly 16 points against an Indianapolis Colts team that gave up 46 points to the Rams in Week 1), it also changes their entire game plan.

David Johnson is the type of special talent that can be utilized in a hundred different ways, and without him on the field the entire game plan shifts and changes complexion, and defenses play the Cardinals much differently. Without him, the Cardinals have a totally different identity.

Whereas for the Cowboys, nothing about their identity has changed, they simply need to execute better. There’s a big difference between a team that says “we don’t really know what to do now” and between a team that says “we know exactly what we need to do, we just need to go out and do it.”

Pick: Cowboys to win

FootballSpread
  • Cowboys -3.5 (-105)
  • Cardinals +3.5 (-115)

Now that we’ve picked the Dallas Cowboys to win the game on the road against the Arizona Cardinals, it’s now time to turn our attention to whether we believe the Cowboys will win by more than three and a half points, as they are rare road favorites (one of several in a wonky Week 3).

When picking games against the spread, our philosophy is to examine the matchup between the winning team’s offense and the losing team’s defense. In our experience, if the winning team’s offense matches up well against the losing team’s defense, the winning team will often be able to run up the score well above the posted line.

So in this case, the matchup to watch is the offense of the Dallas Cowboys and the defense of the Arizona Cardinals.

The 2017/18 Dallas Cowboys will definitely be attempting to employ the exact same philosophy that they ran to perfection last year: to pound the ball on the ground with Ezekiel Elliott and to control the time of possession so much that they bail out their defense and keep the pressure off of young quarterback Dak Prescott.

Last week, Dallas attempted to execute this exact game plan, only to find that the Denver Broncos ran it even better than they did.

Last week was an anomaly for the Cowboys and a career low for Prescott and Elliott.

At halftime, Ezekiel Elliott went into the locker room with zero yards on four carries. Even late in the third quarter, Zeke still had no yards. Ultimately, by the end of the game, last year’s rushing title winner had only eight yards on nine carries, an average of 0.89 yards per carry, all of which were career lows.

And while it’s some consolation that this same Broncos defense held Chargers stud Melvin Gordon to 54 yards in Week 1, this performance must have been demoralizing for the young man, who has been going through so much off-the-field drama in recent weeks.

But much more concerning for us than his production in Week 2 was Ezekiel Elliott’s attitude.

As the Cowboys were getting blown out – an unfamiliar experience for the team that won 13 games last season – Ezekiel Elliott spent most of the time pouting on the bench, not communicating with his teammates in any way.

Some pundits went even further after the game, going so far as to say that Zeke “quit” on his team and that as a captain and leader he needs to display more poise, confidence, and professionalism even in the face of a terrible loss.

We believe that the Cowboys’ bad loss to the Broncos was a learning experience for both their young running back and their young quarterback and that both will bounce back in Week 3 – assuming they are both able to play.

For Prescott, if he aggravates the hamstring injury that he suffered against Denver, it’s possible that his play will be limited. And for Ezekiel Elliott, if the ongoing battle by the NFL to reinstate his penalty ends up successful, he could end up serving out his 6 game-suspension during the middle of the season.

Injured or not, though, Dak Prescott is going to need to play better if the Cowboys are going to win.

Even with the supposed best offensive line in football, Dak Prescott had very little time to throw in the pocket last week, and even great receivers like Dak Prescott, Terrence Williams, and Cole Beasley were unable to generate separation against Broncos corners Aqib Talib, Chris Harris, and Bradley Roby.

But even over and above these challenges, Prescott’s decision-making was suspect. Dak – who prides himself on his unwillingness to ever give a football to a defensive player, even to his teammates in practice – threw two interceptions (including one that was returned 103 yards for a touchdown with less than a minute remaining in the game), and could have easily been picked off once or even twice more.

All told, the Cowboys got away from their offensive philosophy last week, with Dak Prescott throwing the ball a career-high 50 times, even though the Cowboys couldn’t get above even 100 yards of offense until more than halfway through the third quarter.

If the Cowboys are going to win this game, they’re going to need to get back to playing their style of football, and we believe that the Cardinals will let them.

While Arizona does have some big-time players on their defense, including 6-time Pro Bowl corner Patrick Peterson and exciting young hybrid Safety Tyrann Mathieu, alongside elite pass rusher Chandler Jones (already with three sacks so far this season) and stud defensive lineman Markus Golden (already with 11 quarterback pressures, ranked third in the league amongst 3-4 outside linebackers), we believe that they could still struggle in this game.

With 48 points given up so far this season, Arizona is ranked 26th in the league in scoring defense.

A big part of this has been the fact that their offense has turned the ball over so much that their D is forced to defend a short field, but it’s also important to remember that the Cardinals haven’t exactly been going against world-beaters either. Arizona gave up 35 points to Matt Stafford and the Lions, and 13 points to a luckless, Luck-less Indianapolis Colts team that lost by 37 to the L.A. Rams in Week 1.

We believe that even though the Cardinals are at home, the Cowboys are going to come out with a vengeance to try and establish themselves and get back to playing the type of ground-and-pound, hard-nosed football that won them 13 games in 2016/17.

We believe that the Cardinals will lose the battle in the trenches and that the once-dominant Cowboys offensive line will get back down to business and open up holes for Ezekiel Elliott in the run game, which will, in turn, open up opportunities for Dak Prescott in the play-action passing game.

As the old saying goes, it’s not about whether you fall, but about how you pick yourself up. The Cowboys fell for the first time in a long time last week, and we believe that in Week 3 they are going to pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and get back to playing the only way they know how: dominant.

Pick: Cowboys to win by more than 3.5

FootballTotal Score
  • Over 47 (-105)
  • Under 115 (-115)

Now that we’ve established our pick that the Dallas Cowboys will win this game on the road by more than 3.5 points, reestablishing their ground-and-pound attack from last year, it’s now time for us to turn our attention to the total score over/under bet, and try and determine whether we believe this game will be generally high- or low-scoring.

Our philosophy in picking the total score over/under is to take a look at how the winning team’s defense matches up against the losing team’s offense. Even if a team wins against the spread, if their defense can’t contain the opposing offense, a game can easily turn into a shootout that pushes the total score over.

In the case of this Monday Night Football matchup, we will be watching the way that the Dallas defense matches up against Arizona’s offense.

As we related above, the Cardinals suffered a massive setback to their season when David Johnson injured his left wrist in their first game, against the Colts.

In response, the club re-signed veteran running back Chris Johnson, who at 31 years old has seen his value decline precipitously after being one of the most highly-touted backs in the league early on in his career. In addition to Johnson, the Cardinals will be trying to establish their offensive rhythm using Kerwynn Williams and Andre Ellington out of the backfield.

As can be expected given the loss of David Johnson, the Cardinals have been significantly better in passing offense than they have been in running offense.

Specifically, the Cardinals have gotten excellent production out of wide receiver J.J. Nelson, who had a breakout game last week, recording 120 yards and a touchdown on only five passes, for an average of 24 yards per reception. So far in this young season, Nelson is the only receiver in the entire league with more than 10 receptions who is averaging over 16 yards per catch.

And let’s not forget that Arizona still has ageless wonder Larry Fitzgerald, along with other playmakers.

In this game against the Cowboys, we can expect to see Larry Fitzgerald working out of the slot, using his superb route-running ability and lateral quickness to generate separation, and to see J.J. Nelson trying to stretch the field. With John Brown still out with a quadriceps injury, these will be the primary two targets for the Dallas secondary to worry about.

And it’s important to note that the Cowboys are without several of their premiere playmakers on the defensive side of the ball:

  • Cornerback Morris Claiborne, drafted #6 overall in 2012, departed from the Cowboys this offseason after his rookie contract expired, getting signed by the New York Jets
  • Cornerback Brandon Carr, one of the veteran leaders of the unit last season at 31 years old, also departed in free agency, ending up on the stout defense of the Baltimore Ravens
  • Safety J. J. Wilcox, who was taken by the Cowboys in the third round of the 2013 NFL Draft, found his big payday coming from the Pittsburgh Steelers

Just like that, the Cowboys are now down three of their best defenders, all three of whom were in the defensive secondary.

And while the replacements that the Cowboys have brought in to fill the void certainly held up well in Week 1, allowing their division rival New York Giants only 3 points in front of the home crowd in Dallas, the secondary did not do its job in Week 2, as the Denver Broncos went off for 42 points – a whopping 12 points more than the Cowboys gave up in any of their 16 regular season games last year.

The Giants’ woeful O-line made the Cowboys D look good in Week 1, but Dallas got exposed Week 2.

Besides one lone bright spot – a strip sack fumble from game-wrecker DeMarcus Lawrence, who is quickly emerging as one of the best players on the Cowboys’ D – second-year starter Trevor Siemian had his way with Dallas’s defense, throwing four touchdown passes. The run defense wasn’t much better, as Dallas allowed 118 yards to C. J. Anderson and averaged 4.6 yards allowed per carry overall.

We believe that it’s entirely possible that DeMarcus Lawrence will have an impact in this game. With four sacks already and 13 total QB pressures (making him tied among 4-3 defensive ends alongside Calais Campbell and Melvin Ingram), this is clearly one star still on the rise.

But overall, the Cowboys still have some pieces to puzzle out on D, particularly in the secondary. With the Cardinals furiously trying to come back after a poor showing against an awful team in Week 2, (and in all likelihood playing from behind), we believe that they will have opportunities to move the ball in the passing game against Dallas.

With lots of production from Dallas’s offense and the Cardinals able to answer, take the over.

Pick: Cardinals 24, Cowboys 31

FootballProp Bets

Now that we’ve established our prediction for the game – that the Dallas Cowboys will bounce back from their terrible loss in thrilling fashion and win the game by more than 3.5 points, getting back to last year’s style of football, but that the total score will go under – let’s now see if we can’t profit further off of this prediction for the game by investing in the following prop bets:

  • Ezekiel Elliott as an anytime touchdown scorer. After a week where the young man posted career lows across the board, and with such a dark cloud hanging over his head these days due to off the field drama, we believe that Elliott has to bounce back, and scores at least once.
  • The total number of interceptions in the game to go under. Both of these quarterbacks have been hearing negative messages throughout the entire week, and will undoubtedly make ball security an area of focus. Look for both offenses to employ conservative game plans Monday.
  • Larry Fitzgerald to go over his posted total for yards. This season, Fitz is trying to post his 3rd consecutive 1,000-yard season – the ninth in his 14-year career, but so far he’s off to a very slow start. With 9 catches for 95 yards through 2 games, look for him to gain some ground this week.

In addition to the prop bets above that we’ll be able to watch unfold live, we also believe that there’s good value to be found in the following future bets:

  • The Arizona Cardinals to win the division. Surprisingly, even in a down season last year, the Arizona Cardinals ended up with the best divisional record in the NFC West. With the Seahawks looking vulnerable, if Arizona pulls off a big win we could see a resurgence in Cardinals bets.
  • Ezekiel Elliott not to repeat for the rushing title. Zeke showed himself to be vulnerable last game against the Denver defense, and it’s possible that the Broncos just provided the league with a long-awaited blueprint for how to contain him. This doesn’t bode well for his totals.
  • Cowboys Super Bowl odds. One of the biggest darlings of the offseason, the Dallas Cowboys showed signs of regression from last season in Week 2. If they don’t bounce back strongly and take care of business on Monday, it may be time for gamblers to abandon ship on Dallas.

Experienced gamblers always watch games with an eye for what future bets they might be able to make. Keep an eye out for any information that might confirm the bets we’ve outlined above.

Summary: Best Bets

Week 3’s Monday Night Football matchup features two of the oldest and most storied franchises in the National Football League: the Birds and the Stars. In a sense, the current Arizona Cardinals are the Dallas Cowboys of two seasons ago, wondering whether their aged quarterback still has what it takes to bring the team up to the highest level.

We believe that this game will prove that Carson Palmer (4 months older than broadcaster Tony Romo) does not have what it takes. We’re predicting the Cowboys to bounce back on the road in dramatic fashion from their terrible Week 2 loss in Denver and to reestablish the fierce ground-and-pound clock-chewing offensive game plan that won them 13 games in 2016/17.

To profit off of this view of the game, here are our best bets:

  • Cowboys -165 moneyline
  • Cowboys -3.5 against the spread (-105)
  • The total score to go over 47 (-105)
  • Ezekiel Elliott as an anytime touchdown scorer
  • The total number of interceptions in the game to go under
  • Larry Fitzgerald to go over his posted total for yards

While the Cowboys were forced to turn to Dak Prescott last season due to the injuries to Tony Romo, we believe they made the right choice in sticking with him. And it’s entirely possible that after this Week 3 matchup, the Cardinals might be thinking about trying to do the same thing.

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