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Tuesday, October 1, 2013

NFL Predictions 2013 Week 5: Broncos vs Cowboys

Denver Broncos vs Dallas Cowboys: DEN -7 (Bet365)

Market Watch

Before Denver's ass-whoop of the Eagles, the Broncos were only -3.5 point favorites in this game in the LVH look-ahead line. After Sunday, the line re-opened at -6.5/-7, depending on where you looked.

Sharp books like Pinnacle and 5Dimes wasted no time in putting this up over a touchdown, knowing that people are unlikely to fade Denver anytime soon. Bodog, a square book (great for underdogs), didn't even hesitate shooting it up all the way to -8.5.  Most books still have the game at -7, but they've added a bit extra juice on it.

Unless a lot of sharp money comes in Dallas later in the week, I don't see this line staying on -7 for very long. 88% of bets have come in on Denver so far.

When the Broncos have the ball

I feel as if I could just skip over this analysis. Denver's offense has compiled 20 offensive touchdowns through four games. The numbers they are putting up are so far ahead of the rest of the league, it's enough to just say that they are unstoppable in their current form.

Only Mathew Stafford (2.24 sec) is getting the ball out quicker than Peyton Manning (2.35 sec). This not only puts tremendous pressure on a defense, but it alleviates a lot of issues from the offensive line.  It's no surprise then that Peyton is facing the least amount of pressure in the NFL.

The two areas that Peyton is causing the most damage in is in the short pass range, and the second halves of games.  All four of his TD's last week was completed less than 10 yards beyond the line of scrimmage. After halftime he went 15 for 16 for 158 yards, three TDs, and nine first downs.

So which receiver should the Cowboys focus on?  Thomas, Welker, and Decker have 38, 37, and 35 targets this year.

The best hope for Dallas comes up front. Ware and Selvie are among the top graded DE duos in the league after one month. But as mentioned, not a lot of teams have had success disrupting Manning this year. With so little time between snap and release, much of the pass rush is negated.

Yet, will it matter? The real concern for the Cowboys comes from their coverage of the back seven. Bruce Carter was exposed and picked on last week. Nine of the 10 targets sent his way were completed, two of them for touchdowns.  He was benched and replaced by Ernie Sims. At safety, Will Allen was replaced by rookie J.J. Wilcox. Morris Claiborne had another bad game against the Chargers, but what can they do about it? They aren't ready to put in rookie B.W. Webb as a replacement.

As if this wasn't enough to worry about, do they have a plan for keeping Trindon Holliday in check?

When the Cowboys have the ball

Many Dallas game recaps begin like this, "Tony Romo had a solid game, but ...". When are people going to realize that this Dallas team is a lot like the team we've seen in years prior?  It's fine to switch the coaches around, and sometimes that's enough to make the next leap, but often times it's a situation of what you see is what you get.

You can have star names on the backs of your jersey, but what stands out to me with this Dallas offense is their production in "make-or-break" situations. On third down and in the red zone, this offense ranks near the bottom of the league.

Miles Austin is still not practicing, so his status is murky heading into the weekend. Even if he does play, how effective can he be?  Most of the attention will continue to be on Dez Bryant. The issue is who else is going to step up?  Will the Cowboys try to keep Peyton off the field and run the ball all game? Given how the play-calling is with this team, I'd be surprised if 1) they stuck to that plan, and 2) if they are capable of succeeding.

Defensively, the Broncos have done great in the absence of Von Miller and Champ Bailey. Rogers-Cromartie has excelled in Bailey's spot, and Phillips and Ayers have done enough in combination to rush the passer.

It's also a lot easier to defend and tee off on opposing quarterbacks when you are always playing with a lead.

Bottom Line

At what point does Denver slip up? Even laying double digit spreads in three of the four weeks so far, Denver has covered or pushed in all of them (OAK line closed -16 offshore).

As good as Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers are, there isn't an offense in the NFL hotter than Denver.  Thus far the Monte Kiffin experiment has had mixed results. Their biggest liability is in their secondary with an injured/struggling Morris Claiborne and dreadful safety play. That's not good news if you're a fan of America's team.

For Tony Romo and company, the question is whether or not they can keep up? Bryant looks dominant and Murray is producing in the run game, but like we saw last week Jason Garrett abandons the run when they get behind a couple scores.  Even though the Cowboys are 2-0 at home this year, they haven't enjoyed a great home field advantage since opening the new stadium.

Until I see a reason not to, I'll go ahead and lay the points and take my chances.

NFL Pick: DEN -7.
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