American Thanksgiving is right around the corner and part of that tradition is watching the Dallas Cowboys host a prime-time game. Do they have what it takes to come out on top or will RG3 come in and spoil the celebration? I like "America's Team" in this match-up, so let's take a closer look at the X's and O's.
A week ago, Vegas had the Cowboys favored by six points in this game. After the weekend, the line re-opened at -3.5. Bettors clearly saw something I didn't, because the early money has moved this line to -3.25 at the time of this write-up. This gives us the option to take Washington +3.5 or Dallas -3 with a bit extra juice both ways (odds from SBRforum). I couldn't disagree more with this line movement. The Cowboys should be favored by more than a field goal and it's not very often we find "value" on America's Team. Sign me up.
Who Are the Redskins Anyways?
It wasn't that long ago that Mike Shanahan was writing off the season. Fast forward to the Eagles game and everybody is suddenly believers again? I must have listed five or six glaring flaws on Washington last week, but the biggest reason I like them to cover was because of who they were facing.
I don't upgrade the Skins whatsoever for beating a team that has already given up on themselves. To be honest, Washington didn't really do anything that impressive in their win. RG3 is going to get a lot of accolades and he was all over the highlight film again, but the last time I checked he didn't play defense.
Other than RG3 and Morris, what do the Skins do well? Absolutely nothing. Ok, they have a great turnover differential, but that's a testament to how good RG3 is with his decision making. He has one of the lowest per game interception ratios in the league.
When it comes to the Cowboys, they are anything but a perfect team. They are 0-4 ATS at home this season and now must figure out a way to keep Romo upright after losing LT Tyron Smith. If Romo can get some protection, he'll have to figure out how to avoid the prime-time hex. This guy always makes me nervous anytime a pressure situation is on deck. Dallas also have a pretty poor pass defense and take far too many penalties on both sides of the ball.
That's the bad news.
The good news is this team has performed quite well this season even if it doesn't look pretty on the field. They've played a pretty tough group of defenses this season, but still managed to put up nice numbers in the stat columns. Things bog down once they get inside the red zone, but this isn't an area that the Skins D excels in.
I simply don't see how Washington is going to get enough stops to win this game. Their pass defense is even worse than the Cowboys and they are brutal in all the important categories I consider important. They rank near the bottom of the league in disrupting drives, don't get off the field on third down, and allow more touchdowns than field goals. Dallas is vulnerable up front, but Washington can't rush the passer.
On the other side of the ball, people rave about RG3 (and rightly so), but look closer. They are the worst team in the NFL on third down. This is the make-or-break moment when your QB is supposed to win a game. Washington just doesn't have a good supporting cast right now and a gimpy Pierre Garcon isn't about to transform this offense. Conversely, the Dallas defense actually thrives on third down and sit among the league leaders in this situation. Say what you will about them, but that's an encouraging sign going forward. They also do a pretty good job slowing down opposing running games - something Washington heavily rely on.
What about special teams? The Redskins rank in the bottom half in average starting net field position, as well as every other special teams category - kicking/punting and kick/punt returns. Dallas rate higher in all those areas.
There is a big split between public perception and what is actually going on with these teams in the X's and O's. Perhaps Dallas struggle for a second week in a row and the poll proves me wrong, but I'm sticking with the numbers and what I've seen all season. I think the Cowboys are the better team and they have home field advantage on a short week. They should be favored by -4 at the minimum.
NFL Pick: DAL -3.