Market WatchThis line opened at -3 for the Cowboys and there hasn't been a whole lot of movement since. Some sharper books are bringing it down off the 3, but you can still find it if you shop around. If that's not an option, I'd still go with +2.5 since there hasn't been a single game decided by 3 points this preseason. It's just not the same key number that it is in the regular season.
Coaching/MotivationThere is an alarming stat here that could scare off a lot of people. Marvin Lewis is 2-8 in Week 3 of the preseason. Normally I would say that this is a clear indication that Lewis just isn't interested in winning the dress rehearsal game, but given the quality depth that this particular Bengals team has, I'm less concerned about history.
Jason Garrett has only been a head coach for a couple of seasons, but there isn't any clear pattern either way. He's lost a dress rehearsal and won one. Overall he's 6-5 straight up, and 4-7 against the spread.
QuarterbacksIf you've read this blog for any length of time you'll know I'm not that high on Tony Romo. I give him credit for putting up great stats in the regular season, but his problems in the clutch are well-documented. This preseason he only has three points in five possessions.
Behind him is Kyle Orton. He's a decent backup option, but he must do all his work with his arm. He's not going to lead a drive down the field with his feet if the pressure comes (and it will) or a play breaks down.
I really like the Bengals QB situation. Andy Dalton still needs to raise his game and prove he can win some big games, but he's more than capable of leading some scoring drives.
Josh Johnson began 2013 with a great camp and has continued that strong play throughout the preseason. He had a couple snafus last week, but he still managed to put up 14 points during his time in the game. What makes him especially good in the NFLX is his ability to scramble for first downs and escape pressure.
Finally, John Skelton might be the best third option in the NFL. Brian Hoyer or Brady Quinn might have something to say about that, but Skelton is still fighting for a place on the roster and should be ok if he sees any mop-up time.
What to watch for ...A.J Green might play a series or two. Lewis might decide to be cautious and keep him out, but if he does play it will give Dalton a great option on the outside. It also helps that Claiborne is scheduled to sit out.
Mike Zimmer has been ultra-aggressive with his pressure packages through two weeks in the preseason. This is bad news for Romo and Orton. In fact, Cincy might be able to get pressure by just rushing four given how dominating their defensive line can be.
Making matters worse for Dallas is the injury situation on their offensive line. Doug Free is great at right tackle, but in this game he's playing at right guard for the first time. A rookie is starting at center and a guy who specialized in basketball in college will start at right tackle.
Murray is expected to see more snaps in this game. Dallas will need him to have some success on the ground to keep Cincy's defense honest and relieve some pressure off of Romo.
Bottom LineI understand this is the dress rehearsal game and the Cowboys are at home, but I don't see many clear advantages for them to justify this point spread. I'd say the Bengals have more quality depth at the QB position and in many key areas such as offensive/defensive line. Despite Lewis' record in these games, I think this Bengals team is ready to buck that trend.
NFL Pick: CIN +3.