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It’s never hard to drum up preseason hype on the Dallas Cowboys. It might be thicker than usual this year.
Perhaps the most surprising point spread for Week 1 in the NFL is one of the marquee games. The Dallas Cowboys travel to face the Los Angeles Rams in the first game at new SoFi Stadium, and the Cowboys are 2.5-point road favorites according to BetMGM’s lines. If we assume a standard 3-point home-field advantage, that means if the game was in Dallas then the Cowboys would be favored by 8.5. And Dallas is favored in L.A. despite uncertainty over when or if Dak Prescott will be under contract.
The Rams were 9-7 last season and arguably the best team in the NFL to not make the playoffs. The Cowboys were 8-8.
The Cowboys had a nice draft, but that came after a rough start to the offseason. So why are the Cowboys getting that much love?
Cowboys had an up and down offseason
There are a few factors that have to be considered on that surprising Week 1 line. The Rams lost a lot of talent in the offseason, and the line might say more about them than the Cowboys. There might not be any fans at SoFi Stadium, which would presumably eliminate home-field advantage. And sportsbooks can sometimes shade lines toward public teams — it’s not like BetMGM would ever have trouble finding Cowboys fans to bet on their team no matter the spread.
Still, the Cowboys are getting some respect.
The offseason was a mixed bag. Dallas lost cornerback Byron Jones and pass rusher Robert Quinn, and then had center Travis Frederick retire. Other pieces like defensive tackle Maliek Collins and receiver Randall Cobb left, too. The Cowboys acquired some reinforcements like defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and cornerback Anthony Brown, but lost more than they gained and it wasn’t close.
Then they had a fantastic draft that was universally applauded. The 2017 New Orleans Saints and 2018 Indianapolis Colts got huge bumps from great rookie classes, and maybe this is a similar class for the Cowboys. The offense in particular is loaded with stars (though, again, Prescott still needs to sign an extension or his franchise tag).
The ledger still doesn’t show a team that did enough in the offseason to transform itself from 8-8 to a contender.
Dallas underachieved in 2019
The biggest clue to the point spread might be that Dallas was better in 2019 than that 8-8 record would indicate.
The Cowboys’ metrics in 2019 profiled more like an 11-5 team than an 8-8 team. They were very unlucky in close games, losing them all. But they had a plus-113 scoring margin, tied for the second-highest scoring margin for a team that went 8-8 or worse in NFL history.
Football Outsiders’ DVOA per-play metric had the Cowboys ranked sixth in the NFL. The next four teams on that list were the Minnesota Vikings, Seattle Seahawks, Tennessee Titans and Green Bay Packers. The Vikings and Seahawks were in the divisional round of the NFL playoffs, and the Titans and Packers lost conference championship games. Simply put, the Cowboys should have been much better than 8-8.
That leads into the Jason Garrett factor. If you believe, as nearly every Cowboys fan seems to, that Garrett was holding Dallas back, then there should be an improvement. Mike McCarthy had his own issues near the end with the Green Bay Packers, but a change probably can’t hurt.
At BetMGM, the Cowboys are the favorites to win the NFC East (+110), and only six teams (Baltimore Ravens, Kansas City Chiefs, San Francisco 49ers, New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and curiously the Philadelphia Eagles) have better Super Bowl odds than the Cowboys at 20-to-1. The Cowboys’ over/under win total is 9.5 and getting a lot of action on the over, considering it’s -175 to take the over. BetMGM might have to push that total 10 before the season starts.
Better things are expected from the Cowboys, though that’s not unusual. We’ll find out if they can deliver on the hype, starting right away with the Rams in Week 1.
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