Dallas and the rest of the NFC East are in a dead heat for one of the few remaining playoff spots. That makes this Sunday’s game against the New Orleans Saints a must win for the Dallas Cowboys. Both teams are coming off wins, the Saints 41-0 over the Buccaneers and the Cowboys 27-24OT over the Steelers. Lately the Saints have been taking beatings from really good teams and their defeat of Tampa Bay last weekend could have been more about the collapse of the Buccaneers than a resurgence from the Saints. Meanwhile the Cowboys have been scraping by each week, arriving in this game 8-6 and in a three-way tie for first in the NFC East.

The Cowboys are favored to win this game by a narrow margin of a 3 point spread and an over/under of 51 points

Here are three quick reasons to pick the Cowboys this week. First, the Cowboys are 4-3 at home this season and the Saints are 2-5 on the road this season. Second, the two teams average about the same offensive production, in yards, each game; but the Saints give up about 100 yards more per game than the Cowboys do. With the explosiveness of Dallas QB Tony Romo and New Orleans QB Drew Brees, those extra yards given up can really make a difference. Third, the Cowboys returned RB DeMarco Murray last week and he made a huge contribution to balancing the Cowboys’ offensive attack. Back again this week, Murray will again add that extra dimension to keep the Saints’ vulnerable defense at bay.

That final factor, the return of Murray, really underlines the problem and subsequent solution that the Cowboys have been waiting to resolve for weeks. They have a terrific passing game but without Murray they have struggled to be consistent. The offensive line was negatively affected and the play calling had to difficult without a reliable run game. Against the Steelers last week Murray had 14 carries for 81 yards, a TD and had 4 catches for 31 yards. That was against the best pass defense in the league and the 4th best run defense in the league. The Saints are the 31st ranked pass and run defense in the league; they give up 27.1 points on average each game. The Cowboys also expect star WR Dez Bryant to play this week against the Saints.

The Saints have the 2nd best passing offense in the league and the 24th ranked run offense in the league. They will be facing the 14th best pass defense and the 15th best run defense in the league. Against evenly balanced defenses, the Saints have not won many games this year. But they do seem to be able to put up around 26 points which is also their average points scored on the road.

That leads one to think this will indeed be a very competitive game. The odds are suggesting a 27-24 game for the Cowboys. The analysis here shows the game could be closer. Betting for a team to cover the spread this week is a big risk. The most likely scenario where the Cowboys cover the spread would still be a high scoring game where the Cowboys run away with it; so the over bet seems solid. The Cowboys to win also seems solid as they have the most to play for and they have those three factors boosting their performance this week.

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