- Win Over/Under: 8.5 (-110/-110)
- Make NFC Playoffs: +150 (40%)
- Win NFC East: +300 (25%)
- Win NFC Championship: +1500 (6%)
- Win Super Bowl: +3000 (3%)
The Action Network’s 2018 Dallas Cowboys Projected Wins: 8.5 (13th)
UPDATE (Aug. 25): The offensive line is in a state of flux with center Travis Frederick (Guillain-Barre syndrome) out indefinitely and the rest of the unit banged up to various degrees. As the O-line is a major strength of their team, I would hold off on betting on their win total until we get more clarity.
More often than not, putting an NFL team under the microscope with an eye toward the upcoming season involves a question about the quality of its quarterback: Can Ryan Tannehill carry a team? Is Sam Darnold a savior? Even the Patriots aren’t immune.
This is especially true in the NFC East: Is Alex Smith an upgrade over Kirk Cousins? (That’s not even the right question.) Is Eli Manning washed up? Can Carson Wentz make it all the way back from his torn ACL, and if he can’t, can Nick Foles sustain last year’s success?
The Cowboys have no such question marks.
Despite being selected in the fourth round of the 2016 NFL draft, Dak Prescott has started every game for the Cowboys, completing 65.2% of his passes for 7.4 yards per attempt with 45 touchdowns and only 17 picks in two seasons. He’s also contributed six rushing touchdowns per season and has finished among the top four in ESPN’s Total QBR (which accounts for a quarterback’s rushing production) both seasons.
Despite being a team the public loves to bet on, the Cowboys have actually been profitable with Dak at the helm, going 18-13-1 against the spread, according to BetLabs. (They were 61-64-3 ATS in Tony Romo’s starts).
And even though the Cowboys finished 9-7 last season, their win total is down to 8.5, likely because of the departures of “X-throwing problem child” Dez Bryant and infamous dad-runner Jason Witten.
But those losses are overstated. The Dak-to-Dez connection resulted in the lowest adjusted yards per attempt of the six players Dak has targeted at least 50 times in his career.
Witten, meanwhile, averaged only 6.4 yards per target and 8.9 yards per catch last season. He was like a tractor at a Ferrari race. Combine his limited mobility with the limited route tree of Terrance Williams, then add in a dash of what Dez (generously?) referred to as “garbage ass” play-calling, and things got so bad that opposing defenses would double-team Cole Beasley, of all people.
The Cowboys’ current group of receivers — Beasley, Williams, Allen Hurns, Tavon Austin, Deonte Thompson and rookie Michael Gallup — won’t blow anyone away, but they are at least competent professionals who can collectively move a lot better than the unit headed by Dez and Witten could. Gallup in particular has flashed in the preseason.
We know Ezekiel Elliott and the offensive line are elite, so the real questions surrounding the 2018 Cowboys are:
- Is clapping a +EV head-coaching strategy?
- Have doctors figured out how to remove the detonator from Sean Lee’s perennially injured body yet?
- Can the defensive line coordinate its inevitable suspensions so they don’t overlap when a pass rush is actually needed to support the not-great-but-not-terrible secondary (now coached by former Legion-of-Boom supervisor and potential Earl Thomas-recruiter Kris Richard)?
The answers to the first two questions are “probably not,” but the defense does have a chance to be solid, especially as long as Lee is on the field.
You have to be careful to pick your spots when betting Cowboys’ futures: After ripping through the ’90s with three Super Bowl titles and a 7-3 record against their win-total over, the Cowboys went 4-6 in the 2000s and are 2-6 so far this decade.
And since Jason Garrett’s first full year as
clapper head coach in 2011, the Cowboys are only 2-5 against the over, failing to hit their win total by a half-point on three separate occasions and coming up short by one win on a fourth.
But for as much criticism as Garrett has drawn, his only losing season came when Romo went down early in 2015. And as far as we know, Dak still has a functional collarbone.
The Cowboys got outscored 92-22 in the first three games of Zeke’s suspension last season, but otherwise had the point differential of a 10.9-win team, and they’ve gone 19-7 with Elliott in the lineup.
This franchise specializes in churning out winning records while missing the playoffs (they’ve done so three times since 2005), so I’m not sure whether you want to take a chance on anything more than their win total. But the Dak-Zeke combo hasn’t had a losing season yet. — Chris Raybon
The Bet: Over 8.5 Wins
Dallas Cowboys 2018 Schedule
- Games Favored: 8
- Avg. Spread: -1.0
- Strength of Schedule: 16th (1 = Easiest, 32 = Hardest)
Survivor Pool 101
- Use the Cowboys: Week 2 vs. NYG, Week 12 vs. WAS, Week 16 vs. TB
- Use Cowboys’ opponents: Week 10 @ PHI
Fantasy Football Outlook
- Top Pick: RB Ezekiel Elliott
- Sleeper: WR Michael Gallup
- Potential Bust: WR Terrance Williams
Best of “I’ll Take That Bet” on ESPN+
“There’s not too much out of the norm on the Cowboys. There is some support on the over, but that’s pretty average. They are like the Cubs in baseball: People always bet the Cowboys.”
– Westgate bookmaker Jeff Sherman to The Action Network’s Michael Leboff
Ezekiel Elliott Over/Under 10.5 Total Touchdowns? (-125/-105)
Through 25 NFL regular-season games, Zeke has scored 25 total touchdowns. And with Bryant no longer there to make things uncomfortable for Dak and the entire sideline when he doesn’t get exactly 100% of the play calls inside the five-yard line, Zeke could hit his prop by the Week 9 bye. Sean Koerner projects Zeke for 12.5 total scores. – Chris Raybon
The Bet: Over 10.5 total touchdowns
DFS Secret Weapon: The Zeke-Dak Stack
Usually the quarterback is the engine that makes an NFL offense move, but the Cowboys aren’t your usual team.
Overall, they’ve averaged an additional 8.5 points per game with Elliott in the lineup over the past two seasons. Per the FantasyLabs NFL Correlations dashboard, quarterbacks have carried only a .10 correlation with their running backs over that span, but Dak and Zeke have an impressive .38 mark. Stack them! — Ian Hartitz