<![CDATA[By: Alan Payton
The start of the NFL season is two months away, but the odds for all of the Week 1 games from the various sportsbooks have been available for a while now. The toughest week of the season to handicap in the NFL is the first one because we still really aren’t sure where teams are at with their player turnover, injuries, new coaches, etc. That’s why you will rarely see big spreads in Week 1 and the biggest favorites are the Dallas Cowboys at -5.5 against the New York Giants for the Sunday night game on September 13.
Cowboys Nearly Reached NFC Title Game In 2014
Dallas coach Jason Garrett was the betting favorite entering last season to be the first NFL coach fired as the Cowboys had gone 8-8 the previous three seasons and missed the playoffs. Not much more was expected last year. However, the Cowboys went 12-4 — they were the only team to finish unbeaten on the road — to win the NFC East title for the first time since 2009 (Garrett got a big extension). Dallas beat visiting Detroit 24-20 in the wild-card game, albeit in controversial fashion as two questionable calls went the Cowboys’ way.
In the divisional round at Green Bay, the Cowboys were on the wrong end of a controversial call on a Dez Bryant 31-yard catch on fourth-and-2 that would have given Dallas first-and-goal at the Green Bay 1 with about four minutes left in the fourth quarter. It was ruled a catch on the field but overturned on replay when Packers coach Mike McCarthy challenged. Instead of likely taking the lead, the Cowboys’ chances essentially ended there as Green Bay was able to run out the clock and win 26-21.
The team largely rode running back DeMarco Murray to that division title last season as he led the NFL with a franchise-record 1,845 yards and added 13 touchdowns. Murray had a whopping 392 carries as well as 57 catches. No player was used more in the NFL. But the Cowboys never made a big attempt to re-sign Murray as a free agent and he signed with division-rival Philadelphia. The Cowboys will go with some combination of Joseph Randle and injury-prone Darren McFadden to replace Murray. That’s a major downgrade, although the team does have the league’s best offensive line. Dallas might have to pass more behind Tony Romo and star receiver Dez Bryant.
Dallas Favored To Repeat
The Cowboys are 2.25 favorites to win the NFC East with the Giants third at 4.00. New York finished third in the division last season at 6-10 and brings pretty much everyone of note back, although star defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul had to have a finger amputated and broke his thumb playing with fireworks on the July 4 holiday. Because it was JPP’s right index finger, it’s actually not expected to hamper his game at all. He should be good to start the season.
The Cowboys swept the Giants last season. Dallas won 31-21 at home in Week 7. Romo threw for 248 yards and three touchdowns,while Murray rushed 28 times for 128 yards and a touchdown. Eli Manning threw for 248 yards and three scores for New York.
Dallas is just 4-5-1 against the spread in its past 10 home games as a favorite vs. the Giants but has covered the past two.]]>