Anderson: Why You Should Back the Dallas Cowboys Right Now to Win the NFC East

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Tom Pennington/Getty Images. Pictured: The Cowboys celebrate Greg Zuerlein’s (No. 2) winning field goal in Week 2.

The NFC East is a dumpster fire wrapped in an enigma engulfed by a wet fart.

(At least it certainly seems that way so far.)

The New York Giants are scoring under 12 PPG and have yet to win a game. The Washington Football Team won Week 1 against a divisional opponent but lost by two touchdowns in all three games since. The Dallas Cowboys have only one win and needed a miracle meltdown and onside kick to get it. And the Philadelphia Eagles settled for a tie against last year’s worst team and didn’t win until this week, yet somehow lead the entire division.

The whole division is a mess. The NFC East is an ugly 3-12-1 right now as a whole. One of those wins barely even counts since it came against another NFC East team, one was that Dallas miracle, and the third was a clenched-teeth victory by the Eagles against mostly 49ers backups.

The NFC East is so bad right now that DraftKings has now listed a special bet for just that division allowing you to bet on the number of games won by the division winner (excluding playoffs). The over/under is listed at 8.5, and honestly, that feels generous, especially since the over is currently a sizable favorite at -167. You can bet the under and hope for a .500-or-worse division champ at +137.

Really, that seems insane. No team in this division has more than one win. Well, technically the Eagles have 1.5 wins, counting that tie. That means any NFC East team can still win seven more times and still not hit the over. An over means one of these teams has to win at least eight times, or go 8-4 the rest of the season. That would be… quite an improvement.

So what are we to make of this godforsaken division as bettors? Is there any angle worth playing? Let’s check in on each NFC East team from least to most likely betting favorite.

New York Giants (+3300)

The Giants are 0-4, but they’ve faced a really difficult schedule so far. New York has lost games to the Steelers, Bears, 49ers and Rams. Those teams are a combined 12-4 and all expected to contend for a playoff spot. The schedule gets easier from here, in part because they still get to play the whole division.

The Giants offense has yet to show up for the season. New York has not recorded 300 yards of offense in a single game, though if you reread that list of opponents above, it’s been a difficult schedule. The Giants average 2.0 turnovers per game and force only 1.0.  By Football Outsiders’ DVOA, the Giants ranked dead last in rushing attack, offense, and overall.

The Giants have exactly one (1) definitely good football player and it’s Saquon Barkley, who is out for the year. Daniel Jones is playing like a young quarterback with no help. The Giants have a rookie head coach in Joe Judge. They should improve as Judge and Jones figure things out together, but not enough to matter.

Washington Football Team (+900)

Like the Giants, Washington’s schedule has been relatively difficult so far. The Football Team beat the Eagles in Week 1 but then lost to the Cardinals, Browns and Ravens, who are a combined 8-4. Washington’s offense hasn’t been much better than New York’s. Washington has the 29th-ranked DVOA offense and the 31st-ranked passing attack.

Perhaps that’s what led Washington to make a change at quarterback this week, dumping last year’s No. 15 pick Dwayne Haskins after 11 starts for the unproven Kyle Allen. Allen went 5-7 last year for Ron Rivera in Carolina, so he knows Rivera’s system and Washington hopes he’ll at least bring competence. But the truth is that the Football Team just has precious little to build around offensively outside of budding star receiver, Terry McLaurin.

The good news for Washington is their passing defense, which ranks third in DVOA thus far. It’s led by an excellent pass rush highlighted by No. 2 overall pick Chase Young. A strong pass defense can help keep things close and give the offense a chance. And there’s a hope that Allen may just be a placeholder for Alex Smith at quarterback after his long road back.

Smith is legitimately good. If he’s healthy and Washington can combine competent QB play with an above-average defense, that could be enough in this division. Washington plays the Rams this week but then faces the Giants, Cowboys, Giants, Lions, Bengals and Cowboys. That’s six games in a row against sub-.500 opponents and a real chance to make a run if Washington can settle things.

Philadelphia Eagles (+140)

The Eagles lead the division at 1-2-1. They opened with a surprising loss to Washington, losing the turnover battle, 3-0, and struggling to move the ball the whole second half. That turned out to be the norm instead of an anomaly. Philadelphia’s offense has not gotten the wheels turning yet, and Carson Wentz continues to have huge struggles with turnovers.

Philadelphia was blown out by the Rams in Week 2, struggled to a listless tie against the Bengals, and then finally eked out a Sunday night win against a 49ers team missing a litany of key players to injury. The Eagles have a long list of injuries themselves. Their offensive line is decimated, with two players out for the season and every starter banged up or questionable. Their receiving corps is, likewise, in shambles, and the secondary is in big trouble, too. Philadelphia has struggled at all three positions for a long time, and nothing can tank a team quite like injuries on the O-line or at corner.

That puts a lot of pressure on Carson Wentz to carry the Eagles, and it doesn’t look like he’s up to the task. Wentz has been the worst-rated quarterback in football by many metrics, behind even Mitchell Trubisky and Haskins, both of whom have been benched.

Football Outsiders measures a stat called Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement (DYAR) to show how well a quarterback is translating opportunity into yardage. Aaron Rodgers leads the league at +535, and 24 quarterbacks are above 0. Wentz is at -490. He ranks dead last, actually 33rd in a league of 32 teams. The Eagles are averaging 122.5 fewer yards per game than they’d get with a replacement level because of Wentz’s ineptitude, and that’s not even accounting for the turnover problems.

The Eagles passing offense ranks dead last in DVOA. The offense is 30th overall. The receivers should get healthier but the offensive line remains a wreck. And unlike their division foes, Philly’s schedule doesn’t get any easier. The Steelers and Ravens are up next, and they still have a stretch later this season against the Browns, Seahawks, Packers, Saints and Cardinals, who are all .500 or better.

The Eagles are in big trouble. DraftKings has adjusted their team win total over/under to 6.5 — and the under is getting action.

So if New York, Washington, and Philadelphia can’t win the division, then that leaves…

Dallas Cowboys (-125)

Somehow the Cowboys are both wildly disappointing and yet still the rightful favorites to win the NFC East.

Like Philadelphia, Dallas has been plagued by injuries at key positions. Its once-vaunted offensive line is in rough shape and may not get much better this year. They lost both starting tackles for the season over the last week and are already missing longtime starting center Travis Frederick to retirement. They also lost starting tight end Blake Jarwin for the season. Ezekiel Elliott is going to find life much more difficult with all that blocking missing.

Dallas is also banged up on defense. Its corners were already a weak spot after Byron Jones left in free agency, and now they can’t stay healthy. The linebackers are also in rough shape with Sean Lee and Leighton Vander Esch out. The good news is those defensive injuries look short-term for the most part. And that’s why Dallas is still the NFC East favorite.

Dallas’ defense has been more bad than terrible so far. They’re No. 24 in defensive DVOA, but they’ve also faced the Rams, Falcons, Seahawks and Browns thus far, all very talented offensive attacks. Any defense would struggle against that schedule, though Dallas has allowed 38 points three times already.

Do you know what the best solution is for a bad defense? Facing bad offenses. If you paid attention above, you may have noticed that the other three teams in this division rank 30th, 31st and 32nd in passing offense. All three are in the bottom five overall in offensive DVOA, and they have three of the five worst quarterbacks in football so far.

There’s more good news: Dallas gets to play those three division opponents six times still. Their schedule has been difficult thus far, but it’s about to open up in a big way. The Giants, Cardinals, Football Team and Eagles are next. That’s four very beatable opponents, all in the bottom quarter of the NFL in offensive DVOA. Dallas has seven games left against teams in the bottom eight on offense. They do not face another current top-10 DVOA offense this season.

Dallas doesn’t need to be great to win this division. They might not even need to be good. Remember, the presumed second-best team in this division is the Eagles, and they’re laying odds at under 6.5 wins. Any NFC East team that gets to even 8-8 will have a great shot at winning the division.

The Cowboys have the best quarterback in the division by a wide margin in Dak Prescott. They have the best running back in Ezekiel Elliott. Their third-best receiver would be a welcome No. 1 target on the Eagles or Giants. And the defense is going to get healthier.

Look at those next four games again: New York Giants, Arizona, Washington, Philadelphia. Dallas will be favored in all four games. They have an excellent shot at emerging 4-4 or even 5-3 with a strangehold on the division, especially because they might also have beaten up on their division opponents.

And remember, while the Cowboys face this easy slate, the Eagles are up against the Steelers and Ravens next. If favorites hold up, the Cowboys will be 3-3 in two weeks while the Eagles will be 1-4-1.

The window to bet Dallas is right now, before Week 5 plays out.

Bet the Cowboys to win the NFC East, even as slight favorites.

If you love the schedule and really believe, consider betting the Dallas team over at DraftKings, where you can bet over 8.5 wins at +137.

If you just can’t buy the Cowboys, your best bet might be that NFC East division winner prop, with the division winner under 8.5 wins at +137. It’s really hard to see any other team in this division winning eight of its final 12. And if you’re fading Dallas, don’t do it for Philly. Their odds aren’t worth the juice. Sprinkle a bit on Washington instead at +900 to win the division and hope for culture change and a quarterback miracle.

But at the end of the day, sometimes you just have to go with the obvious answer staring you right in the face. Remember that old joke about two guys getting chased by a bear? One of them is despondent, knowing he can’t outrun a bear. The second is confident. He doesn’t have to outrun a bear — he just has to outrun his friend.

The mediocrity bear is chasing down the NFC East right now. The Dallas Cowboys might not be very good, but they don’t have to be. They just have to suck a little less than their divisional friends.

Bet on Dallas now while you’re still getting odds.

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