These two heralded squads come into this game with playoff spots clinched, yet in very different situations as far as seeding goes. The Cowboys have clinched the NFC East, and earned a guaranteed home playoff game. On the other hand the Cardinals with only a 11.8% chance of winning a division crown, are all but locked in to the 5 seed, with an 80.9% of landing there according to Football Outsiders Models. You can draw your own conclusion on if there is a motivational edge there, knowing technically the Cowboys have “more” to play for (a seeding from 1 through 4, vs. being locked in to the 5 seed), but given the fact Head Coach Mike McCarthy sat a few key players late in the game last week, leads me to believe he could play a conservative game with his starters. Not to mention the extra day of rest the Cardinals get to prepare, if there was a situational/motivational edge here, it probably goes to Arizona.
Ryan’s Season Totals
Assigned Games: 24-18-1
Best Bets: 29-17, Up 1458%
- Opening Line: Dallas -2.5
- Current Line: Dallas -5.5
- Over/Under: 51.5
- Location: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, TX
- Start Time: 4:25 PM EST, SUN 1/2
- Last Meeting: Cardinals 38, Cowboys 10 in Dallas last year
Very little about the QB Dak Presscott and the Cowboys offense has surprised those in the analytics community this season, but what has raised an eyebrow (and no it’s not McCarthy “learning analytics”) has been how well their defense has played. Coming into the season, Football Outsiders had projected an Offensive ranking of 8th and defensive ranking or 18th for the Cowboys (improving from their 23rd rank in 2020). Believe it or not, right now the Cowboys have the #1 rated defense in the NFL (8th offense)! Much of this improvement has been propelled by the #1 pass defense (only 19th vs the run), or better yet, their elite pass rushing unit, which boasts 3 of the top 21 graded pass rushers in the NFL by PFF (min. 100 pass rushes): Micah Parsons (2nd), Randy Gregory (13th) and Demarcus Lawrence (21st).
The Cardinals started off the season red hot, yet, almost eerily similar to the last few years seem to be fizzling out with three straight losses (including the lowly Lions). Frankly, many had predicted an overall increase in team success from the onset given their likely “3rd Down Rebound”, possessing the 32nd ranked NET 3rd down efficiency compared.early downs (on both sides of the ball). The Cardinals have rebounded (expectedly) from 28th (offense) and 17th (defense) DVOAs on 3rd/4th Downs in 2020, to 5th and 4th respectively in 2021.
Yet most of the late season fall can be attributed to two things: Kyler Murray’s injury affecting his accuracy (85% On Target Rate before the injury, 77% since) and the absence of DeAndre Hopkins (Kyler Murray goes from .31 EPA/play to -.01 EPA/play with and without Hopkins on the field). The latter has also caused a semi-personality crisis on offense, as the team has all but stopped using their famed 10 personnel without Hopkins on the field (dropping from 22% to 7%).
- Arizona has nine wins in 15 games against the spread this year.
- The Cardinals are unbeaten ATS (1-0) as a 5.5-point underdog or greater this year.
- Against the spread as 5.5-point favorites or more, the Cowboys are 6-3.
It’s tough not to see a growing gap between these two teams in the past 3 weeks. One team, the Cowboys, are proving to many they are legitimate contenders. While the other, the Cardinals, are doing just the opposite, seeming to prove right all those doubters that didn’t think this team was built for playoff success. And then there’s the fact that the Cowboys may rest players at some point in the game. All of this is not to mention this matchup has had a significant ATS line movement (for a “non covid” game, SO FAR), moving 3 points in the Cowboys favor in just a couple days. This means the math says to go with the Cardinals, especially if it gets to 6 (and absolutely if it gets to 7), but personally I would shy away or play the Cowboys. Much of this play has to do with the NET QB vs Blitz angle, which we profited from back in week 15. Basically, Dak AND Kyler both have a higher positive play rate WHEN BLITZED. And since the Cardinals blitz a lot (4th most) and Cowboys rarely (21st), this can be seen as a legitimate edge for the Cowboys QB.
*There’s also a smaller “matchup based” angle here (siding with the Cowboys): Kyler Murray is 10.7 success rate percentage points WORSE vs. MFC defenses (Middle Field Closed), and the Cowboys run MFC at the 6th highest rate in the league. I’m not “officially” including it as we have not tested this play in the long run yet.