Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants (+3.5, 47 o/u)
The Dallas Cowboys (11-1 SU, 9-2-1 ATS) were the first team in the league to clinch a playoff spot last week, and can now wrap-up their division with a victory over the only team to beat them this season: the New York Giants (8-4 SU, 5-5-2 ATS). Dak Prescott and the NFL-leading Cowboys will have vengeance on their minds this Sunday night (December 11, 8:30 PM ET) when they head to MetLife Stadium to take on Eli Manning and company.
You already have my pick for this game, but let me elaborate a little more.
The Giants are fresh off having their six-game winning streak snapped in Pittsburgh, getting yet another unimpressive performance from Eli Manning. But the entire fault cannot be placed on the two-time Super Bowl champion, since he didn’t have the help of a run game, which has been the case the majority of the season.
New York has rushed for fewer than 65 yards in six of its 12 games this season, and their 930 yards on the ground rank 31st in the league. While they have been better through the air, they haven’t been great. Eli and the gang rank 16th in passing offense, and haven’t recorded more than 250 net yards passing since Week 6. Eli’s quick release and refusal to take a sack has masked the offensive line woes, but Manning hasn’t always helped himself. The pivot has been responsible for 14 of the team’s 21 turnovers.
The biggest surprise of the Giants season has been the quick turnaround on defense. After a season where they ranked last in total defense and 30th in scoring, the unit has improved to 17th and ninth, respectively. It will be hard-pressed to sustain this success the rest of the season, though, as they’ll be without Jason Pierre-Paul going forward.
For the Cowboys, the dream season continues. Since losing in Week 1 to the Giants, the team has come of age quickly and evolved into the league’s best. Their 11-game win streak has seen a few scares along the way, most recently against the Vikings, but they continue to look more complete every week.
The bulk of the credit has to go to the offensive line, which has paved the way for Dallas’ two prized rookies to shine. Ezekiel Elliott leads the league in rushing, with more than a 200-yard cushion over his closest competitor, and Dak Prescott only trails Tom Brady and Matt Ryan in passer rating.
The youngsters have the offense firing on all cylinders and controlling the tempo of every game. As a result, the Cowboys offense ranks fourth in both scoring and yards. The most impressive part of it all is how well the offense has protected the ball with two rookies responsible for handling the rock (nine turnovers; fifth).
In spite of the Cowboys defense grading out 26th in DVOA, according to Football Outsiders, the unit ranks 18th in total defense and fifth in scoring. In effect, the offense has functioned as an arm of the defense, building up early leads with clock-churning drives and forcing opponents to become one-dimensional. Rod Marinelli’s group has been able to use that to its advantage.
Strangely, one of the best performances from New York’s anemic ground game came against these Cowboys back in Week 1. New York totaled 113 yards on the ground on 24 carries. The Giants also held the Cowboys to just 101 yards rushing on 30 carries, Dallas’ worst total of the season.
New York’s defense has proven that wasn’t an anomaly, as they currently rank fifth against the rush and third in yards per carry (3.6). But Dallas’ offense has grown significantly since then. Elliott was missing his holes and Scott Linehan’s play-calling was extremely conservative, not allowing Dak to push the ball down the field. Now, Elliott looks like the best back in the league and Dak has the complete trust of his coaching staff.
Dallas will take the lead early and force Eli to play from behind. If the Giants are going to have a shot, Manning will have to avoid the bad decisions that have haunted him lately and get the ball in the hands of Odell Beckham Jr. as much as possible. I don’t like the chances of that, though, as Eli’s passer rating drops to 79.2 in the month of December (worst of any month).
The Cowboys have won four of their last six trips to MetLife and will have a statement to make on this particular trip.
Pick: Cowboys (-3.5)
Photo credit: Keith Allison (flickr) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/].