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It’s Dak’s time to thrive in Big D

The Dallas Cowboys will win Super Bowl LV.

If I had said that in any other year in the last two decades, you would have laughed at me and called me nuts (you still might). But in 2020? Anything is possible.

The main reason I am so high on the Cowboys this year is their path through the NFC East and potentially a No. 1 seed in the conference. Dallas has a great shot to sweep their six division games en route to a comfortable division crown.

Last week, I wrote about New Orleans’ schedule and the unbelievable stretch that the Saints have after Week 8. San Francisco should be very good again, but the 49ers play in a tough division and lost some key pieces from last year’s squad. Not many people expect the NFC North to produce a championship-caliber team.

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“So James, you’re saying that Dallas is going to go from an 8-8 team to a 12-4 team?!”

Kinda, but not really. By every advanced metric, Dallas was an 11-win team last year. They were No. 2 in the league in offensive efficiency and finished with a better DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) than seven playoff teams from last year (courtesy Football Outsiders). The Cowboys went 1-6 in one-score games and just kept finding ways to lose.

Do I really think Dallas is the best team in the NFL? No. But I think there is a pretty reasonable scenario where the rest of the NFC beats itself up and the Cowboys find themselves in an advantageous situation.

Here are this week’s selections in Week 1:

Thursday

Chiefs -9 vs. Texans: Speed kills. How much live tackling has Houston done during training camp? How many full-speed reps do the Texans’ defensive backs have? It is extremely hard to replicate the speed that Houston is going to see on Thursday night in a practice setting.

Every NFL team is essentially going from 0-to-100 mph this weekend. Facing Kansas City on the road in Week 1 is like going from 0-to-1000. CHIEFS

Sunday

Raiders -3 at Panthers: I certainly liked this a little more at -1 a couple weeks ago, but I think the move is justified.

Say what you want about Jon Gruden and the Raiders, but they are usually prepared for season openers. The Raiders have won three of their last four openers, and in the game that they lost, outgained their opponent and led at halftime.

With the exception of injured receiver Tyrell Williams, Las Vegas returns its entire offense from last season and adds first round talent in Henry Ruggs III. Carolina is introducing a new coach, offensive coordinator and quarterback. RAIDERS

Packers at Vikings, Total 45.5: In their last six meetings, these two teams are averaging 36.3 points per game, and that includes an overtime contest.

Minnesota was No. 4 in run-play percentage last season. After shipping Stefon Diggs to Buffalo, the Vikings are likely to be focused on the run again this year. Both teams value control of the clock. They know each other well. UNDER

Colts at Jaguars, Total 45: The Colts have a new quarterback, rookie running back and rookie wide receiver. Continuity takes time.

Jacksonville’s depth chart on offense will make you shake your head. Good luck Gardner Minshew. UNDER

Cardinals +7 at 49ers: San Francisco wide receivers Jalen Hurd, Tavon Austin and J.J. Nelson have all been placed on the injured list, while Travis Benjamin opted out for this season. Rookie wideout Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel have both missed a large chunk of training camp with ailments. Running back Matt Breida is gone. Center Weston Richburg is still recovering from a torn patellar tendon, and his backup Ben Garland has not been practicing either.

Let’s put this line into a different perspective. Arizona was +10 at San Francisco in November of last year. San Francisco was riding high at 8-1 heading into that game, and there were fans in the stands. With no fans, no travel fatigue for Arizona and half of San Francisco’s offense on the injury report ... you can still get +7. That is appealing. CARDINALS

Monday

Steelers at Giants, Total 47.5: With a spread of -6 (up from 4.5)and a total of 47.5 (down from 48), the implied score is 27-21. Is New York scoring three touchdowns on Monday night? The Giants are starting two rookies on the offensive line against an aggressive Pittsburgh defense. 

Plus, the Giants have a rookie head coach in Joe Judge on the sidelines in his first game. UNDER