Cowboys vs. 49ers Odds & Picks: The First-Half Angle To Bet Sunday
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images. Pictured: Kyle Shanahan
Cowboys vs. 49ers Odds
Sports fans have experienced just about everything in 2020. Yet, with two more weeks left in the calendar year, there was still time for one more surprise.
For the first time since the NFL’s introduction of flex scheduling in 2007, the Dallas Cowboys were bumped from the Sunday night game. They’ll now host the 49ers as part of one of the early games in a crowded afternoon time slot.
What once was a premier matchup of two of the winningest franchises in NFL history has taken a severe hit, as the Cowboys and 49ers have a combined 9-17 record this season. Each have been decimated by injuries, as evidenced by the two backup quarterbacks who will start on Sunday.
Deciding on a side in this game is more like picking between the lesser of two evils. While I’m not sure I can trust either quarterback for the full 60 minutes, a first-half play could provide an opportunity to target a Cowboys weakness at home.
San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers (5-8) have one more win than the Cowboys (4-9) despite playing a tougher schedule. TeamRankings lists the 49ers with the second-toughest schedule this season behind only the Buccaneers. That’s quite the contrast when you compare them to the Cowboys, who are ranked 18th.
Surprisingly, the majority of San Francisco’s wins have come on the road, where the Niners are 4-2 straight up (SU) and against the spread (ATS). Over its last 10 road games, San Francisco is 7-3 ATS as the road favorite.
Those numbers bode well for a team that hasn’t been at its best during its recent “home” games. The 49ers and their families have had to temporarily relocate to Arizona due to a suspension of all contact sports in Santa Clara County as a way to combat a recent surge of COVID-19 cases in California. At this point, an actual away game is probably the best thing for the 49ers — it’s a distraction from the move to Arizona.
Injuries have prevented the Niners from playing their brand of football, which is centered around the run game. Their top-two running backs, Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson Jr., have spent time this season on the injured reserve but are now back.
Last year, only the Ravens had a higher percentage of running plays (54.07%) than the 49ers (51.39%). No other team in the league even attempted to run the ball 50% of the time. This year, there’s been quite a drop-off as San Francisco is running the ball only 41.02% of the time. This is more about personnel on the field rather than the Niners being forced to abandon the run when trailing. It’s important to note that their point differential is only -11 on the season.
One of the bright spots for San Francisco has been its defense. Per Football Outsiders, the Niners are ranked 10th in defensive DVOA. They’re sixth in allowing their opponents just 5.2 yards per play and eighth in allowing red-zone touchdowns on 55.88% of their opponents’ trips inside the 20.
The Cowboys’ running game, which was once a strength, hasn’t been as effective this season. In 2019, Dallas was fifth in the league with 4.8 yards per rush, but in 2020 the Cowboys are ranked 21st with 4.2 yards per rush.
As far as injury news is concerned, the Niners still have some starters on injured reserve like tight end George Kittle and quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. They will also be without Deebo Samuel, who injured his hamstring on the opening play of last week’s game.
Center Hroniss Grasu is ruled out with a knee injury, while cornerbacks Emmanuel Moseley and K’Waun Williams are both listed as questionable despite being full participants in Friday’s practice. Linebacker Fred Warner is also questionable, but he also practiced without any restrictions on Friday.
It’s difficult to find many stats that would paint a rosy picture for the 2020 Cowboys.
They’re 27th in total DVOA, 27th in rush defense DVOA and have a negative-0.5 net yards per play average compared to the 49ers, who have actually out-gained opponents by 0.4 yards per play. This stat comparison really highlights the difference in quality between these two teams, especially when you consider that San Francisco has only one more win than Dallas while playing a much tougher schedule.
The Cowboys almost seem like the perfect opponent at the right time for the Niners. Dallas is seemingly last in every run defensive category: The Cowboys are last in opponents’ run play percentage, rushing attempts per game, rushing yards per game and rushing yards per carry.
Dallas’ front seven has particularly struggled to set the edge, and that is something 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan will likely look to exploit with his creative run schemes. This game should provide a great opportunity for the Niners to rediscover their rushing attack and get back to a more balanced run play percentage — even if it’s only for one game.
Dallas’s defense is quite a drop-off from three of San Francisco’s last four opponents, all of which are ranked in the top four of defensive DVOA. The Niners rushed for only 3.8 yards per carry over their last three games, below their season average of 4.1.
Dallas could be further hampered in this game with Ezekiel Elliott listed as questionable with a calf injury. He was been unable to practice in the buildup to the game. Like Elliott, cornerback Rashard Robinson did not practice this week and is also questionable. Safety Xavier Woods is also questionable. The only Cowboys player on the injury report who has been ruled out is backup cornerback Deante Burton.
Given Dallas’ woeful numbers against the run, I would expect to see a heavy ground attack by San Francisco right from the start.
I’m not too thrilled with having to pick a side in this game that features two backup quarterbacks. One option I would consider instead is a first-half play. If the 49ers are able to control the time of possession by running the football, I like their chances of holding the lead at halftime.
The Niners will also come out more focused given the success they’ve had on the road this season.
As for the Cowboys, things haven’t really gone well for them in the first half of home games. Our Bet Labs data shows that they’re 51-72-3 against the spread (ATS) for a loss of 25.71 units in this particular spot.
This season alone, Dallas is 1-4-1 ATS at home in the first half. BetMGM has the best number on the board with San Francisco as a -0.5-point favorite. This looks like a good spot to back the 49ers against America’s Team.
Pick: 49ers 1H -0.5