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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

NFL Predictions 2013 Week 2: Cowboys vs Chiefs

Dallas Cowboys vs Kansas City Chiefs: KC -2.5 (5Dimes)

Market Watch

Last week this game was a 'pick em' in the look-ahead line. It re-opened with the Chiefs as -2.5 point favorites after Sunday. There are signs this line is going to move to -3, so I'm going to go ahead and lock it in now rather than later.

It's no surprise that 62% of the early bets are on "America's Team", because the first sign that they are on the winning track, everybody jumps on board.

When the Chiefs have the ball

Alex Smith is not going to set the world on fire this year, but he's a perfect fit for what Andy Reid wants out of him. A perfect illustration of this was his stat-line on Sunday. He threw to five different receivers five plus times. With a strong running game and stout defense, this formula is designed for success.
It also helps to have a nice offensive line up front. Everybody had a strong game against Jacksonville, with the only exception being rookie Eric Fisher. He had a big whiff early in the game and had some struggles with run blocking, but he settled down as the game went on and should only get better with more snaps.

That said, the Dallas pass rush is more more dynamic than the Jaguars. There aren't many better at pressuring the QB than Ware, and Hatcher, Selivie, and Hayden also provide a nice push. The Dallas front seven will also test the KC rushing attack because Lee and Carter are a nice fit in this zone scheme. We didn't get a true glimpse of what this group looks like though because Wilson was benched after two fumbles. As good as this front seven played, they'll have their hands full with Jamaal Charles - both on the ground and in the air.

The top concern for the Cowboys is in the secondary. I expect(ed) Morris Claiborne to have a true breakout season, as most top flight rookie cornerbacks make a big jump in year two. Yet, he was thrown at nine times on Sunday, allowing six catches for 139 yards. He also separated his shoulder in the fourth quarter and will be wearing a harness against KC.  With big questions at safety, Alex Smith should have some opportunities in the passing game. Dwayne Bowe can catch balls against anybody and Donnie Avery is a burner. Dexter McCluster is also poised to cause some problems as a utility weapon.

When the Cowboys have the ball

The bigger advantage for the Chiefs comes when the Cowboys offense takes the field.  But first let's start with the good news for Dallas. Jason Witten continues to be a monster in the middle of the field. He might not have the movement he once did, but he knows how to get open and he can also make tough catches in good coverage. A healthy DeMarco Murray is also a nice outlet for Tony Romo. He caught eight balls out of the backfield and made a handful of defenders miss in space.

The problem is the running game still isn't what Cowboys fans expect. Some of this is due to the poor offensive line production in the middle, but when Dallas most needed a sustained drive to close out the game, they couldn't get it down on the ground.

I don't expect that to turn around in Week 2.

Dontari Poe was a monster in Week 1, collapsing the pocket time and time again. He's going to give the Dallas OL some fits.  Derrick Johnson, Tamba Hali, and Justin Houston are going to wreak havoc coming off the edge too. I know it's only Jacksonville, but this unit had six sacks, two interceptions, and a defensive TD. Ignoring YAC, Gabbert only threw for 22 yards the entire game.

The best chance Dallas has will be in the air with Miles Austin and Dez Bryant.  I'm not sure Tony Romo is going to have enough time to go deep though. Even if he does, Dez Bryant still hasn't proven he's over the mental gaffes of a year ago, and now has a foot sprain to contend with.  They also need to think twice about targeting Brandon Flowers. The Jags threw at him 11 times, but only connected five times for 49 yards. KC has a real nice secondary to compliment their front seven, and they'll be chomping at the bit in the home opener.

Bottom Line

I think the hype for both of these teams was too high entering the season, but given a choice I'm a much bigger fan of what's happening in KC. Their defense is primed for a big year if their offense reverses the turnover trend from a year ago (so far so good).

The Cowboys running game is still a work in progress, Dez Bryant is banged up, and they still have offensive line issues to sort out, especially in the interior. The Dallas defensive secondary is also highly questionable. Will Monte Kiffin smooth things out?  The jury is still out, but they'll have to do it in this game with a hampered Morris Claiborne. I like the Chiefs to grind out a win against a team getting too much hype.

NFL Pick: KC -2.5.
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