Cowboys-Rams Betting Preview: Is Dallas Getting Too Much Love as an Underdog?

Cowboys-Rams Betting Preview: Is Dallas Getting Too Much Love as an Underdog? article feature image

USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott (21), Rams RB Todd Gurley (30).

Betting odds: Dallas Cowboys at Los Angeles Rams

  • Spread: Rams -7
  • Over/Under: 50
  • Time: Saturday, 8:15 p.m. ET
  • TV channel: FOX 

>> All odds as of Friday morning. Download The Action Network App to get real-time NFL odds and track your bets

Betting market

The Cowboys are commanding 57% of the spread bets, but the sharper money appears to be on the Rams, if the juice is any indication.

LA -7 is juiced up to -119 at the time of writing, meaning a move to -7.5 could be in store (check live betting data here).

This over/under is definitely the least interesting of the week. Both bets and dollars are within a couple percentage points of 50/50 and the total has only ticked up a half-point from the opener of 49.5. — Mark Gallant

Trends to know

Since the Cowboys’ last Super Bowl win in 1995-96, they are 4-9 straight up and 3-9-1 against the spread in the playoffs. — John Ewing

Underdogs in the Divisional Round have gone 37-21-1 ATS and dogs of seven or more points are 19-11-1 ATS since 2003 according to our Bet Labs data. — Ewing

The Rams earned a first round bye. Under Sean McVay, they are 5-1-1 ATS when they have eight or more days between games (including the first game of the season).

The Rams have covered the spread by 11.9 points per game in those games. — Ewing

The Rams finished the regular season 7-8-1 (46.7%) against the spread. Since 2003, only two teams have played a playoff game off a bye week with a losing record ATS:

  • 2017 Divisional Round: Steelers vs. Jaguars (lost, 42-45)
  • 2003 Super Bowl: Panthers vs. Patriots (lost, 29-32) Evan Abrams

The Cowboys beat the Seahawks — a physical, run-heavy team — in the Wild Card Round. Now they face an offensive, pass-heavy, powerhouse.

Under Jason Garrett, the Cowboys are 3-0 ATS in December or later when playing a team that’s averaging at least 30 points per game.

In those three games, Dallas’ opponents averaged only 11 points per game. — Abrams

Biggest Mismatches

When the Rams have the ball: WR Robert Woods vs. CB Anthony Brown

The Rams rank first in rush offense, and the Cowboys rank fifth in rush defense, so they are fairly evenly matched there.

But the Rams are fifth in pass offense while the Cowboys are merely 16th against the pass. And the Cowboys have been especially weak when defending supplementary (usually slot) receivers, ranking 22nd in Football Outsiders’ pass DVOA defense against the position.

Since Week 11, Woods has been the primary slot receiver for the Rams in the absence of Cooper Kupp (knee, IR), which means that Woods is likely to run most of his routes against Cowboys cornerback Anthony Brown, who plays almost exclusively in the slot.

While Woods leads the Rams with 130 targets, 86 receptions, 1,219 yards receiving and six touchdowns through the air, Brown is last among the three Cowboys corners with his 64.7 PFF coverage grade and 67.8% catch rate allowed.

The Rams tends to spread the ball around, so it’s unlikely that Woods will have double-digit targets, but when quarterback Jared Goff looks the WR’s way, the Rams should be able to exploit his matchup. — Matthew Freedman

When the Cowboys have the ball: Aaron Donald vs. Connor Williams/Joe Looney

The Cowboys are likely to start rookie Connor Williams in place of injured left guard Xavier Su’a-Filo (ankle), who missed last week’s wild-card game.

Additionally, they’ve been starting Joe Looney all season for the All-Pro center Travis Frederick (illness, IR).

Williams and Looney are the weakest players along the Cowboys offensive line, and this weekend they will be tasked with facing Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who has a clear edge against them.

Donald is the only unanimous first-team All-Pro of the 2018 season, and he’s the presumptive Defensive Player of the Year. The Rams rank 28th against the rush in DVOA, but that’s through no fault of Donald’s.

This season he has a team-high 93.0 Pro Football Focus grade in run defense and a league-high 50 run stops among all interior linemen.

Los Angeles Rams defensive end Aaron Donald (99) sacks Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (3) during the first half at CenturyLink Field.
Credit: Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Los Angeles Rams defensive end Aaron Donald (99).

And as a pass rusher, Donald is unrivaled. Even though he plays in the middle of the defensive line, he leads the NFL with his 20.5 sacks.

Williams and Looney have subpar 61.6 and 65.1 PFF grades in pass-blocking, and in the regular season quarterback, Dak Prescott took a career-high 56 sacks, the second-highest mark in the league.

Whether defending the run or rushing the passer, Donald should have his way against Williams and Looney. — Freedman

Who Has the Advantage in Key Areas?

Quarterback: Cowboys

As recently as midseason, this would have been no contest in favor of Goff. But life comes at you fast in the NFL, and things change quickly.

As it stands heading into the Divisional Round, Prescott averages more yards per attempt (7.6) in 10 games with Amari Cooper than Goff in eight without Kupp (7.3).

Prescott has also handled pressure much better than Goff this season, completing 52.6% of his passes with a 9:2 touchdown-to-interception ratio and 87.1 passer rating, third-best in the NFL.

Goff, meanwhile, has completed only 42.3% of his passes with a 5:5 touchdown to interception ratio and 59.8 passer rating under pressure, which ranks 29th.

This will be Prescott’s third postseason start compared to Goff’s second, and thus far, Prescott has acquitted himself far better in January than Goff, with Prescott’s 7.4 yards per attempt and 94.1 passer rating in two starts easily besting Goff’s marks of 6.8 and 77.9, respectively, in his lone playoff appearance.

Home-field advantage is in Goff’s favor, and this will be Prescott’s first postseason start on the road, but Goff has to show he can translate his regular-season success at home (313.1 yards, 2.1 touchdowns per game under McVay) to the postseason better than he did last season before declaring it an X-factor.

While the pendulum has started to swing toward Prescott in this matchup of quarterbacks, Goff is working with one unique advantage not available to Prescott.

Coaching Edge: Rams

We’ve increasingly seen less clapping and more winning from Jason Garrett as of late as Garrett has led his team to a 32-16 record and two playoff appearances over the past three seasons.

Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli and defensive backs coach Kris Richard, a key offseason hire by Garrett, have done an excellent job in turning the defense into the ninth-best unit in the league according to DVOA.

But it’s tough for any team to have a coaching advantage against a Rams staff headed by Sean McVay, who followed up an 11-5 debut season with a 13-3 mark and first-round bye in Year 2.

Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay talks to quarterback Jared Goff (16).

McVay’s offense led the league with 29.9 points per game last season and followed that up with 32.2 this season. The Rams have put 30-plus on the scoreboard in 21-of-32 (65.6%) regular-season games since McVay took over.

And let’s not forget defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, who is essentially the King Midas of defensive coordinators.

If the Rams blow a home playoff game for the second straight season, we may have to knock them down a peg or two, but until then, it will be advantage McVay against every opponent this side of Bill Belichick. — Chris Raybon

Special Teams: Rams

With Greg Zuerlein back, you have to give the edge to the Rams here at kicker. However, it’s worth noting that the Cowboys’ Brett Maher is 6-of-7 from 50-plus yards this season.

  • Maher: 29-of-36 (80.6%) | 32-33 XPs (97.0%)
  • Zuerlein: 27-31 (87.1%) | 35-36 XPs (97.2%)

Dallas is allowing opponents to return kicks 26.5 yards on average — the second-highest in the league. However, that weakness might not hurt them against a Rams team that has struggled in the return game all season (22nd in NFL).

Dallas hasn’t been great in the return game and only returned a league-low 13 kicks during the regular season. I have to give the nod to the Rams here as the Cowboys are almost a minus-5 yards net on kickoffs.

Both teams have below average punt coverage units, but the Rams have the much better punt return team. LA averages 10.2 yards per return (10th), while the Cowboys have a horrid punt return unit that averages the second-fewest yards per return at 5.7.

That five yard differential adds up over the course of a game.

LA will also have an advantage in the punting game with all-world athlete Johnny Hekker (look out for a potential fake as well!). Dallas ranked 22nd in the league with a 40.3 net, while LA ranked in the top-five at 43.9.

The Rams should consistently win the field position battle all game long.  — Stuckey

Injury Report

Which team is healthier? Rams

Todd Gurley (knee) is expected to suit up Saturday despite being limited in practice throughout the week. Still, it remains to be seen just how involved backup RB C.J. Anderson will be.

The Rams are otherwise healthy, as safety Lamarcus Joyner (ankle) was able to practice in full all week.

The Cowboys have a few more question marks to worry about. Starting slot receiver Cole Beasley (ankle) and tight end Blake Jarwin (ankle) should each be considered questionable. No. 4 receiver Allen Hurns (ankle) was lost for the season during the Wild Card Round.

Left guard Xavier Su’a-Filo (ankle) is trending towards a return, but it’s probably not a good idea to rush back a wounded gazelle against Aaron freaking Donald.

The Cowboys are otherwise healthy with the potential exceptions of blocking wide receiver Noah Brown (illness) and defensive tackle Maliek Collins (illness, ankle).

Note: Info as of 6 p.m. ET Thursday. See our Injury Report for daily practice participation and game statuses up until kickoff. — Ian Hartitz

Credit: Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Todd Gurley

DFS Edge

Cowboys: Both Cooper and Prescott possess less-than-ideal home/away splits for the Cowboys’ trip to Los Angeles (per the FantasyLabs NFL Trends Tool).

Still, Prescott could feed his No. 1 receiver more than ever before if Cole Beasley (ankle) and tight end Blake Jarwin (ankle) are ultimately unable to suit up. No. 4 receiver Allen Hurns (ankle) is done for the season.

Gallup is the preferred pivot play off of Cooper thanks to his fantasy-friendly target depth of 14.4 yards.

Prescott also seemingly trusts the rookie receiver near the end zone, as Gallup was fed back-to-back fades during the Cowboys’ wild-card victory over the Seahawks.

Cooper (26.1) and Gallup (14) boast the highest projected ceilings among all Cowboys receiver in our Pro Models on DraftKings. — Hartitz

Rams: The Cowboys were largely picked apart by Russell Wilson last week, although the Seahawks stubbornly continued to try to run the football.

The Dallas defense boasts plenty of speed and talent at all three levels, but they’ve resembled a pass-funnel unit by ranking 16th in DVOA against the pass, compared to fifth against the run.

This is great news for Woods and Brandin Cooks, who are the second- and fourth-highest rated wide receivers in Adam Levitan’s Pro Model on DraftKings. Cooks has the group’s toughest matchup against Byron Jones (PFF’s No. 10 overall cornerback this season).

Meanwhile, Josh Reynolds has more-or-less worked as the passing game’s third option in eight games without Kupp (knee, IR) this season.

  • Woods (65 targets in eight games without Kupp)
  • Cooks (57)
  • Reynolds (47)
  • Todd Gurley (40 – missed 2 games)
  • Gerald Everett (32)
  • Tyler Higbee (18)

Helping matters for everyone involved in the passing game is the fact that Goff has easily been at his best when operating in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum since McVay took over for Jeff Fisher in 2017.

  • On road (16 games): 62% cmp | 7.72 Y/A | 28 TDs, 11 INTs | four games with 300+ yards | four games with 3+ TDs
  • At home (16 games): 64% cmp | 8.38 Y/A | 33 TDs, 8 INTs | nine games with 300+ yards | six games with 3+ TD passes

Still, there’s also been some evidence that Goff simply struggles without his favorite check-down option, as he’s averaged 9.65 yards per attempt in eight games with Kupp this season compared to just 7.32 yards per attempt in eight games without.

DraftKings seems to be siding with the latter narrative, as Goff is priced down to just $5,500. His 58% Leverage Rating is the second-most GPP-friendly mark on DraftKings in the Divisional Round. — Hartitz

Bets to watch

Cowboys +7

This line is simply too high. The Cowboys have been a different team offensively since trading for Cooper. It has allowed Prescott to have a legitimate deep threat, while also using his tight ends more effectively. Ezekiel Elliott looked great against Seattle.

The Cowboys defense has been playing exceptionally well to boot. They can get pressure up front and have two of the league’s best, young linebackers in Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith.

The Rams may well win this game — I expect them to — but laying a touchdown is too much for a team that struggled against the spread this season.

I’d hold off on betting this until you see whether it moves to +7.5. The juice was trending that direction at the time of writing. — BlackJack Fletcher

Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Amari Cooper celebrates. Credit: Tim Heitman, USA TODAY Sports

Rams -7

I’ll tangle with BlackJack here. The Rams covered the spread just 46% of the time during the regular season, so it feels uncomfortable to lay seven points with them this week.

Perhaps that’s why the public is going with the dog here.

“Uncomfortable,” however, is my sweet spot. Teams that cover less than 50% of the time have gone 20-14-2 (58.8%) ATS in the playoffs, a record that improves significantly if the public has lost faith.

In fact, filtering for teams that are also getting less than 50% of bets in the game improves the record to 12-4-2 (75%) ATS. Danny Donahue

Under 50

What we saw from the Cowboys Saturday night against Seattle was a very straightforward gameplan based on running Elliott as much as possible (26 carries), avoiding mistakes, and relying on a great defense.

Kris Richard’s unit did a good job against an admittedly mediocre Seattle offense for most of the game, and I think this defense can travel and play well against the Rams, too.

With the Cowboys now playing in a somewhat more hostile road environment, I don’t expect the plan gets any less conservative.

Two teams that really want to establish the run could create a field-position, clock-control game. I was surprised this wasn’t closer to 47, to be honest.

I’ll take the under. — Ken Barkley

Editor’s note: The opinions on this game are from the individual writers and are based on their research, analysis and perspective. They are independent of, and may not always match with, the algorithm-driven Best Bets from Sports Insights.

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