Cincinnati Bengals (-1, 45.5 o/u) at Dallas Cowboys
It felt like deja vu for the Dallas Cowboys (3-1 SU and 3-0-1 ATS) when Tony Romo was lost to a back injury in the preseason. The team went a dismal 4-12 last year, failing to win a game while Romo was on the shelf. The backup QBs just couldn’t get it done. Enter 2016 fourth-round pick Dak Prescott, who has steadied the ship in Romo’s 2016 absence. After a tough, one-point loss to open the year, Prescott has reeled off three straight to keep his team in the NFC East hunt. He’ll get his toughest test yet, though, when the Cincinnati Bengals (2-2 SU and 1-2 ATS) visit AT&T Stadium on Sunday (1:00 PM Eastern).
Prescott (1,012 yards, three touchdowns, zero interceptions) has had the luxury of facing some pretty terrible defenses so far, leading the team to wins over Washington, Chicago, and San Francisco. He’s also, of course, had the luxury of a great offensive line and a solid ground game, powered by fellow rookie Ezekiel Elliott (94 carries, 412 yards, three touchdowns).
He’s not likely to have the services of top WR Dez Bryant on Sunday as the wide out is suffering from a leg fracture. But he’s developed good early chemistry with slot receiver Cole Beasley (23 rec., 279 yards) and TE Jason Witten (21 rec., 189 yards).
The Bengals are dealing with a key injury of their own as TE Tyler Eifert remains sidelined. He was set to return this week from an ankle injury, but suffered a back injury in practice on Monday that has his Week 5 status in serious jeopardy.
Cincinnati has really struggled to find the end zone without Eifert’s big body. Andy Dalton has just three touchdowns on the season, despite passing for over 1,200 yards (1,234 yards, three touchdowns, two interceptions, 93.8 passer rating).
Cincy is coming off of a 22-7 demolition of the Dolphins on Thursday Night Football. The game would have been even more lopsided had the Bengals not had to settle for five field goals. The Cincy faithful will be hoping that coach Marvin Lewis will have used the extra couple days to prepare to solve the team’s red zone problems.
The Bengal D-line had its best effort of the season against the Fins, registering five sacks and limiting Miami to just 62 rushing yards. One key matchup to watch on Sunday will be the interior Cincy pass rush against Dallas’ guards. Geno Atkins is ranked third by ProFootballFocus in pass-rush productivity this season. If he can make Prescott uncomfortable in the pocket, the rookie could see his interception-less season come to an end.
While Cincy is on the road, I like them as one-point favorites. Dallas does not have a good defense, either against the run or the pass. It’s been playing above expectations so far, and is still a middling unit statistically. Dalton and AJ Green showed what they can do against lesser secondaries last week (285 yards for Dalton on 22-31 passing; 173 receiving yards and a TD for Green on ten catches). Morris Claiborne is coming into his own on the Cowboys’ back end, but Dallas doesn’t have anyone who can matchup with Green and Cincinnati will exploit that.
With Vontaze Burfict back last week, the Bengal defense also looked much better against the run – and covering underneath routes. Expect Cincinnati (8-1-1 ATS in its last ten road games) to stack the box against Elliott, generate some pressure on Prescott, and leave Dallas (1-3-2 ATS in its last six home games) with a W.
Picks: Bengals -1.
Photo Credit: Navin75 (Flickr) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/].
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