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Friday, January 2, 2015

NFL Predictions 2015 Wild Card Playoffs: Lions Vs Cowboys

Detroit Lions Vs. Dallas Cowboys: DET +7 (Pinnacle)

Market Watch

This line opened at Cowboys -7, but we've seen a recent move down to -6.5. Some shops are still hanging -7's though, while others have simply adjusted the juice. No matter what side you like, you should be able to get the number you want (for now). 72% of the bets have come in on Dallas.

Bottom Line

We arrive at what will be the most watched, and probably most bet, game of the weekend. With so many bets coming in on the Cowboys, I'm clearly going to be in the minority with this pick.

The narrative for this game will undoubtedly be the "Stafford can't win on the road against good teams" vs "Romo is a choker". Thankfully for our purposes, we don't have to worry too much about that with a spread of -7.  I also think that there will be more important factors to consider in this matchup.

The most important will be the Cowboys running game vs the Detroit rush defense. With Suh back in the lineup, the odds tipped in the Lions favor. The big thing to know here is that the Cowboys running game hasn't been as dominant as earlier in the season. After they bye their YPC dropped a full yard, which is right around league average. Given that this area is the strength of the Detroit defense, Dallas would be better off with a pass-first approach.

But will they?  The Dallas passing game has gone from 14th at the midway point, to 2nd at season's end. And even if they do, who will come up big in the clutch moments? We have a top 10 3rd down/red zone offense vs a top 5 third down/red zone defense.  The Cowboys offense has strangely been better on the road than at home, too (10th vs 1st).

On the flip side, the Detroit running game has climbed from 30th in the league at the halfway mark, to 18th by Week 17.  They haven't been great in the red zone, but neither has the Cowboys red zone defense.  What the Lions do thrive at is sustaining drives, where they rank 5th. The Cowboys rank 28th on third down. And just like the offense, the Dallas defense performed better on the road (27th vs 15th).

The way I see this playing out is dependent on the Lions rush D. If they can force Dallas into third and longs, and disrupt enough drives to keep this game within reach, the Detroit offense should be able to maintain a balanced attack.  This would take pressure off of Stafford, and open things up for CJ and Tate.  It would also force the Dallas defense to be on the field more - something they haven't had to do as much thanks to their dominant offense.

I'll go ahead and take the points. I think this is too much to give to a team with a great defense, and capable offense. If you're stuck with +6.5, I'd likely wait to see if you could get a +7, but even +6.5 is an inflated number IMO. I think the Lions even have a decent chance to pull off the straight up upset, and I wouldn't blame anyone for taking a shot with them on the ML at +250.

NFL pick: DET +7.
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