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NFL Week 2: Dallas Cowboys @ Philadelphia Eagles

Dallas Cowboys +5.5 (-115) @ Philadelphia Eagles [Upgraded to Dallas +7.5 (-145)]

Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

September 20, 2015, 1:25pm EDT

After it was determined that the Cowboys standout Wide Receiver, Dez Bryant, broke a bone in his right foot in week 1 and would require surgery, the betting line at CG Technology shot up from Dallas +3 to +4.5. On the one hand, the move is understandable considering that Bryant is among the premier receivers in the league.

The following chart from FiveThirtyEight illustrates how Bryant compares to his ball-catching peers in the NFL. Note that Dez's performance indeed qualifies him as elite at his position. He is targeted somewhat less than A.J. Green of the Cincinnati Bengals, who was the most relied upon receiver in the league last year, but Bryant is more productive than Green on the basis of yards per attempt. And while Bryant's gain per toss figure pales in comparison to the high water mark for last year, set by Washington's DeSean Jackson, Dez is more a focal point of his team's offense than is Jackson.

The FiveThirtyEight article from which the chart is excerpted also reminds readers that the more often a receiver is targeted, the more difficulty he typically encounters producing consistently above average numbers (this might be true because defensive schemes tend to zero in on key players, limiting easy opportunities). Thus receivers such as Dez Bryant, A.J. Green, Demaryius Thomas, Calvin Johnson and a few others that continue to post big numbers in spite of carrying heavy workloads, are truly in a class of their own.

But, importantly, America's Team is not necessarily doomed without their star receiver. The same FiveThirtyEight piece notes that the Dez Bryant's and Demaryius Thomas' of the world, as good as they are, also benefit from being fed by elite quarterbacks such as Tony Romo and Peyton Manning. Romo, after all, boasts the highest QBR of the league for the season illustrated in the previous graphic. Further, as the next chart (also from FiveThirtyEight) shows, Romo was doing OK before his emotional, superstar receiver burst onto the scene.

Thus, we think the market overreacted in the immediate aftermath of Bryant's absence. To wit, in Dallas' week 1 match-up with the New York Giants, after Eli Manning's mental lapse gave the Boys the ball with 1:27 left in the 4th, Romo orchestrated a beautiful possession that climaxed with an 11 yard touchdown pass to TE Jason Witten with 7 ticks left. That game-deciding drive unfolded after Dez Bryant was sidelined. Moreover, Romo was 36-45 for 356 yards and 3 TDs in that outing. Dez was on the receiving end of only 5 of those 36 completed passes and accounted for a modest 48 of Romo's yards in the air.

Against this backdrop, we are not shaken as our models overwhelmingly endorse the Cowboys to cover versus the Eagles in week 2. FPI makes the Eagles to be 1.7 points better than the Cowboys Sunday, suggesting 3.9 points of value. Other power rankings approaches we monitor send similar signals. FiveThirtyEight Elo ratings hint at 4.5 points of value, while TeamRankings.com Power Ratings and the Massey-Peabody approach both call for Dallas to win outright tomorrow.

Our favorite two simulation routines also agree that Dallas should cover as 5.5 point underdogs. These systems give Philly a 2.5/4.8 point edge straight up.

Additionally, more recent changes in the betting line corroborate our thesis. We indicated earlier that the line adjusted by 1.5 points immediately after news of the severity of Bryant's injury broke. Per VegasInsider, the spread continued to widen up to Dallas +6.0 by Tuesday. Since that point though, Cowboys supporters have pressured the number back down to 5. We regard the change over the last few days as consistent with our thinking that a Cowboys cover is most probable Sunday.

The Eagles fell to the Falcons 24-26 last week, earning losses both straight up and against the spread (as we predicted). Philly's offense was essentially impotent in the first half of play, registering but a lowly field goal in the 2nd quarter. However, the Philadelphia gave Atlanta a run for their money in the 3rd and 4th quarters, during which Sam Bradford and company recorded 14 and 7 points, respectively. In the end though two fourth quarter field goals from Falcon's Kicker, Matt Ryan, were adequate to stave Philly off.

At 55, this contest sports the highest total on week 2 the schedule, so the market seems to be expecting a shootout. This outlook appears consistent with these teams' character. For at least the past five seasons Dallas has defended the aerial attack poorly. The Cowboys, for instance, ranked #30 and #28 in opponents passing yards allowed in 2013 and 2014, respectively (Dallas is better though at guarding the run, which might not bode well for DeMarco Murray's first time meeting his former team).

The Eagles too have dwelled at the bottom of the passing yards allowed list in recent years, claiming the #30 spot last year and #31 the season before. As such, some real gun slinging might be on tap tomorrow. We think the Romo-led Cowboys, even without Bryant, are equipped to cover in such a game. Look for Jason Witten to come up big again, and for Darren McFadden to be more effective on the ground, as the Eagles history suggests at best, an average ability to stifle opponents running game. Taking Dallas +5.5.

Happy betting!!

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