The Dallas Cowboys shocked the NFL world on the opening night of the season, but the New York Giants have made up ground over the course of the season. Don't expect a repeat performance when the two NFC East rivals clash on Sunday.
This was the biggest mistake the books made this week. The Cowboys were two point favorites in the look ahead line, and actually opened up as short favorites early on Sunday. Since then the money has come clearly on the Giants (odds from SBRforum). It's pretty obvious who the better team is at this point in the season, so if you get anything below -3, you'll have value.
Injuries often get overblown during the course of the season, but when they start piling up at important positions, the cumulative effect begins to make a difference.
First off, Dan Connor might have the game of his life or Rob Ryan might find a very creative way to scheme the defense, but it's going to be very hard for them to replace Sean Lee's natural athletic ability. He was one of the unsung heros of the Cowboys defense and you can be sure Eli Manning will be looking to take advantage.
The other notables here are the injuries to Costa and Murray. It probably went unnoticed the last few weeks, but Costa has made a big impact in the running game. Now that he joins Murray on the sidelines, a lot more pressure is going to be put on Romo's shoulders.
One of the great thing I like about advanced stats is what can be found in the not-so-obvious department. Side by side, the Cowboys offense and defense aren't that far behind the Giants. Dallas only lag behind in four categories - passing, offensive penalties, defensive drive success, and turnovers.
Yet, a closer look reveals that Dallas has been erratically inconsistent on both offense and defense. They've put up some great numbers against weaker opponents which has skewed the overall picture. When there is this little differential, consistency is a big advantage to have.
"Special" Teams and Special Moments
One more advantage the Giants have in this game is on special teams. The Giants rank in the top 10, while the Cowboys are toiling away near the bottom. This rating from Football Outsiders covers all aspects of the kicking game and return teams. It's not a huge factor in the overall picture, but when we are talking about a spread less than a field goal, these sorts of categories earn extra importance.
The other edge that deserves special mention is the difference between Eli Manning and his group of receivers in comparison to Tony Romo and his set of pass catchers.
I think it's obvious by now that there is no debate here anymore. The Giants receivers have emerged and proved this season that last year was no fluke. Eli Manning is also having a much more impressive season than I expected out of him. Conversely, the same can't be said about the Cowboys. Romo hasn't been horrible, but he hasn't been great either. He continues to be let down by an inconsistent group on the outside, which again puts too much focus on Jason Witten.
In a tough NFC East game filled with a lot of pressure, I have much more faith in the more reliable Giants. Their players and coaches have more moxy in the clutch as well. Dallas might have kicked off the season with a nice win, but that was light years ago. What's transpired since is not a pretty picture for "America's Team". Grab the defending champs at anything less than a field goal.
NFL Pick: NYG -1.853276