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Friday, December 27, 2013

NFL Preview 2013 Week 17: Eagles vs Cowboys

Philadelphia Eagles vs Dallas Cowboys

Market Watch

Perceptions are a big driving force behind point spreads in the NFL, and the Week 17 matchup between the Eagles and Cowboys is a perfect example of that.

Before Week 16, Las Vegas listed the Cowboys as -2.5 point favorites in the look-ahead line for this game. Then the Cowboys narrowly escaped Washington with a win, and the Eagles trounced the Bears. This prompted a switch of favorites as the Eagles re-opened as -2.5 point favorites on Monday.

Then came the news that Tony Romo would be done for the year and the line got taken off the board and reset at -6.5.

The question we face is whether or not that was a fair line move.

Thus far, 70 percent of the bets are coming in on the Eagles.

Keep an eye on

Before the injury Tony Romo was rated in the second tier of quarterbacks for the 2013 season. That's pretty good in the grand scheme of things, but his rating has continued to go down during the month of December. I don't really care what some of the stats guys say, because Romo's choke-artist play in big games is a surprise to nobody with eyes.

However, instead of hashing out a debate about Romo's play in the big moments, the focus now shifts to Kyle Orton. No matter how you slice it, this is a downgrade at the QB position. How much of a downgrade? The jury is still out on that. He hasn't started a regular season game since Week 17 of 2011 when he was on the Chiefs.

In truth, this could turn out to be a blessing in disguise. Often times, the rest of a roster will elevate their game to compensate for the loss of a star. We also see soccer teams rise to the challenge when they go down to 10 men. Instead of relying on Romo, the play-calling might become more balanced as well.  The Eagles are pretty good against the run, but DeMarco Murray is the kind of back that can control a game if given the snaps he deserves.  With more focus on the Dallas running game, opportunities should be there for Bryant and Witten.

Another uncertainty is the Eagles secondary. They put up one of their best efforts on national TV last week when they demolished the Bears, but it might not matter if they don't follow it up on Sunday night.

For the Philly offense, it will once again come down to Nick Foles and LeSean McCoy. The first time that Foles played the Cowboys it didn't go so well. He couldn't move the offense and left the game with a concussion. It's hard to imagine him being that bad this Sunday, but can he be as good as he's been since that time?

The Cowboys defense is flat-out brutal. Throw a dart at any of the important statistical categories, and you'll find a ranking that is below average. The three most important are how they play against the pass, on third down, and in the red zone. They aren't good in any of them, and they've continued to trend downwards during December. The Cowboys defense is also dead last in drive efficiency. Opposing offenses convert more first downs and scores per drive against Dallas than any other defense in the NFL.

Things look even worse with Sean Lee out with an injury. Stopping McCoy is hard enough when you have all your best players on the field, but it becomes nearly impossible when you're deploying backups.

It's stating a case of the obvious when I say they need Ware, Carr, and Scandrick to have big games.

Bottom Line

If you're looking at the Dallas side, you'll be happy to know that you can find +7 if you want it. If you like the Eagles, you can lay -6.5.

Personally, I'm taking a pass on this game. The line is inflated and it might be asking too much of Philadelphia to win by a touchdown. They are not among the upper tier teams this season. At the same time, I have very little faith in the Cowboys defense, and it's anyone's guess as to what we'll see from Kyle Orton.

With no Tony Romo, the pressure is squarely on the Eagles. Instead of being a coin flip, Philadelphia is expected to win this game. That could turn out to work in the Cowboys favor, and in an underdog spot, home field advantage could be a monumental factor.

In terms of value, Dallas is the right side, but I wouldn't be shocked if they imploded in yet another disappointing season.
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