The Cowboys and Panthers are in drastically different places in the standings during their shared Week 7 bye. Dallas is riding high atop the NFC East, while Carolina has begun their conference title defense at 1-5.
Should we expect the young Cowboys core to remain hot after the week off? Will the Panthers rebound? Let’s take a closer look at both squads.
(And don’t forget to check out last week’s look at the Bucs and Vikings before they hit the field this Sunday.)
After three consecutive 8-8 campaigns, the Cowboys went 12-4 in 2014 and 4-12 in 2015 (largely without Tony Romo). When Romo went down in the preseason, another losing season looked inevitable. However, rookies Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott have led Dallas to five straight victories following a 20-19 home loss to the Giants in Week 1. The Cowboys beat Washington 27-23, San Francisco 24-17, and Green Bay 30-16 on the road. They handled Chicago 31-17, and Cincinnati 28-14 at home. They’re an impeccable 5-0-1 against the spread, a product of bettors and books not buying into rookie QBs.
Much of the Cowboys’ success can be credited to their running game. Led by Elliott and the best O-line in the league, Dallas is second in the NFL, rushing for more than 161 yards per game. The offense is in the top-quarter of the league as a result.
The defense has been much better than expected, sitting in the top-quarter in scoring as well. The pass rush is still weak, but the secondary has been solid thanks, in large part, to Morris Claiborne finally living up to his top-ten potential.
Under Jason Garrett, Dallas is 2-3 after bye weeks, and they lost to the Giants last year. However, the five games have been decided by a total of 19 points.
The Cowboys host Philadelphia and travel to Cleveland and Pittsburgh in their next three games. Because Dallas has one of the biggest fan bases in the country, sportsbooks will recognize the excitement about this year’s team, and there might be some value playing against them in the near future. It seems likely that their game against the Eagles will be a tightly contested contest.
In 2002, the Panthers went 7-9. A year, they later went to the Super Bowl and lost. In 2004, they started 1-7 before finishing 7-9. It was a strange three-year stretch. History might be repeating itself.
Two seasons ago, Carolina was 7-8-1. Last year, they went 15-1 and lost the Super Bowl. Following Sunday’s 41-38 loss at New Orleans, this year’s Panthers are now 1-5 (both SU and ATS).
Their lone win came against San Francisco, 46-27. They opened the year with a 21-20 loss at Denver, dropped a 22-10 decision to Minnesota, fell at Atlanta 48-33, and lost to Tampa Bay 17-14 (without Cam Newton). They probably need at least eight wins in their final ten games to return to the playoffs.
If Carolina is going to turn around the season it will start at home against Arizona following their week off. While the Panthers dominated the Cardinals in last year’s NFC title game, and they beat Seattle 27-23 after their 2015 bye, head coach Ron Rivera is just 1-4 after byes. The four losses came by an average margin of more than 13 points.
Carolina’s offense has been fine this season, but their defense, and specifically the secondary, has been a trainwreck. It is hard to support Carolina when facing good aerial teams; they have shown no ability to stop big plays. Luckily the upcoming schedule is favorable; Arizona is a capable passing team but not what they were last year; the next two – Los Angeles and Kansas City – both have run-based attacks.
If bettors are attuned to Carolina’s struggles – and don’t think of them as last year’s Super Bowl runner-up – you could be getting good value in the LA and KC games, two teams that the Panthers should still matchup well against.
Photo credit: Keith Allison (Flickr) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/].
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