Respect has been discovered to be in short supply for the Dallas Cowboys. This qualifies as breaking news. For most of the last three decades, the case has been quite the opposite. Win back-to-back games and the national media (more than the local scribes) fill air time with Dallas Super Bowl discussions.
Well, the Cowboys just won back-to-back games and this is what the oddsmakers have made them in response: 3 1/2-point favorites over the Washington Commanders.
Are you kidding me?
Allow me to say first of all that I am in my fifth decade of picking NFL winners against the point spread in this fine newspaper. I pick losers too, but they still choose to employ me in spite of the occasional subpar season. On the other hand, the other nine NFL “experts” were left in my wake a year ago as I raced to the finish line. After three weeks in 2022, a 28-20 record against the line doesn’t necessarily mean I know what I’m talking about, but a person can make a little money in Vegas or legal betting states if they can sustain those numbers.
I don’t know why the line for this game isn’t seven points. I suspect there is only one reason for it, and it is flawed. It is called Dak Prescott, and with the expectation that he will miss another game, the Cowboys are perceived as a badly diminished team. Yet we know after these two games — three if you including a win at Minnesota last season — the team plays on and actually wins with Cooper Rush. And whether it’s the old adage of other players stepping up their games to make up for their fallen quarterback, the offense has functioned about the way it’s likely to function whenever Prescott returns.
The people who set the odds — knowing full well that the Cowboys are a wildly popular bet, anyway — are consistently underestimating this team without Dak. Cincinnati somehow came in as a 7 1/2-point favorite in Week 2. This was after the Bengals lost at home to Pittsburgh and nearly saw Joe Burrow cut in half by the Steelers’ pass rush. Dallas won the game.
Remarkably, the Giants were made a 1 1/2-point favorite Monday night. I recognize New York was 2-0, but Giant bettors were putting enormous faith in a win over Carolina and a first-week victory at Tennessee where Randy Bullock missed a 47-yard field goal try at the buzzer. Dallas won again.
Having attended these affairs, I realize the Cowboys were tied in the fourth quarter of both victories and that they aren’t swatting opponents to the curb the way Troy, Michael and Emmitt once dispatched them. But it’s not just Rush that has surprised us but an offensive line that protected him far better than it did Prescott in the opener. While throwing 31 passes in each game in directing a turnover-free offense, Rush has been sacked once for a five-yard loss.
So now we get Cowboys and Commanders at AT&T Stadium. Dallas leads the NFL in quarterback sacks with 13. Carson Wentz leads all quarterbacks in being on the receiving end of those sacks with 15. On top of that Wentz — trying his luck with his third NFL squad — ranks 24th in QBR just behind the likes of Pittsburgh’s Mitch Trubisky and Denver’s Russell Wilson. Rush ranks sixth just ahead of red-hot Jags quarterback Trevor Lawrence.
We know it’s the NFL and weird things can happen to influence the outcome of the game, but that’s not really the point. The people who set the lines in Vegas (and at Draft Kings and all the other outlets these days) aren’t trying to pick the final score so much as they desire to generate action on both teams. So, at least it would appear, they feel like 3 1/2 points is enough to get a reasonable number of folks to plunk down their money on Riverboat Ron and the Commanders.
It’s not impossible that Washington covers this spot or even wins this game. But you feel like the recognition that some teams continue to play at near capacity level without their starting quarterback — and Dallas is one of them — gets completely overlooked.
Maybe someone out there thinks Dallas-Washington is still a major rivalry even though it hasn’t been for decades. I’m lost to come up with other explanations why a team that plays defense the way the Cowboys do and can control and extend drives with two different running backs fails to earn more respect than a team that was outscored 46-0 in the first half by the Lions and Eagles.
We know the point spread love will return when Prescott is announced to be fit and ready to go. I’m just not sure what the wait is all about.