The Cowboys had very little go right for them in Mike McCarthy’s return to the head coaching ranks, including most notably Dak Prescott’s catastrophic leg injury in Week 5. Prescott was easily headed toward the best campaign of his five-year career with 1856 passing yards and nine TD passes in four-plus games. Dallas’ once-dominant offensive line also cratered because of injuries, which heavily contributed to Ezekiel Elliott’s career-worst season. Mike Nolan also proved to be in way over his head as the team’s new defensive coordinator and it was no surprise to see Jerry Jones fire him at the conclusion of the season. The end result was an extremely disappointing 6-10 record (5-11 ATS) with the Cowboys missing the playoffs (+220) for a second consecutive season.
The Cowboys allowed the fifth-most points per game (29.6) and they scored the 16th-fewest points per game (24.7), which resulted in a 9-7 mark toward overs. Dallas ended the year 4-4 in one-score games and 2-4 in contests decided by three scores or more, and they finished with the league’s eighth-worst point differential (-78).
Dallas’ 2021 win total (9.5) didn’t move from last season even with an additional game on the schedule. The Cowboys fell 3.5 wins shy of their 2020 win total and they were the first team in the league to lock in the under with their seventh loss of the season to the Steelers in Week 9. Entering this season, I have the Cowboys power rated as the 19th-best team in the NFL (+2800 to win Super Bowl LVI), as the ninth-best team in the NFC (+1300 to win the conference), and as the second-best team in the NFC East (+125).
Spreads are first-look lines from the SuperBook, which were released in early June.
|1||@Tampa Bay Buccaneers||+6.5||8:20 (Thurs)|
|2||@Los Angeles Chargers||+1.5||4:25|
|3||Philadelphia Eagles||-6.5||8:15 (Mon)|
|5||New York Giants||-5.5||4:25|
|6||@New England Patriots||+1||4:25|
|11||@Kansas City Chiefs||+7.5||4:25|
|12||Las Vegas Raiders||-5.5||4:30 (Thurs)|
|13||@New Orleans Saints||+3.5||8:20 (Thurs)|
|14||@Washington Football Team||+1.5||1|
|15||@New York Giants||-1||1|
|16||Washington Football Team||-5.5||8:20|
The Cowboys will face the seventh-easiest schedule this season based on 2021 win totals (per Sharp Football) and the easiest schedule in the NFC East. They have a friendly stretch in Weeks 3-5 against the Eagles, Panthers, and Giants, who are each lined at 7.5 wins or worse. All three of those games also come at home. They also have a pivotal final five weeks of the season against the Football Team (x2), Giants, Cardinals, and Eagles, who are each lined at eight wins or worse.
The Cowboys are one of four teams to start the season with two road games, and those matchups happen to come against the defending champion Bucs and the up-and-coming Chargers They also have three straight road games in Weeks 13-15 against the Saints, Football Team, and Giants. Dallas has a matchup with the Chiefs in Week 11, as well, but their schedule isn’t too daunting otherwise. As usual, the NFL has scheduled the Cowboys for five primetime games, and they had their bye negated since they’ll be playing an equally rested Vikings squad in Week 8.
Key Off-season Moves
|Carlos Watkins (DE)||Micah Parson (LB)||Andy Dalton (QB, Chi)|
|Keanu Neal (LB)||Kelvin Joseph (CB)||Cameron Erving (OT, Car)|
|C.J. Goodwin (CB)||Osa Odighizuwa (DT)||Aldon Smith (DE, Sea)|
|Damontae Kazee (DB)||Chauncey Golston (DE)||Tyrone Crawford (DE, retired)|
|Tarrell Basham (OLB)||Nashon Wright (CB)||Sean Lee (LB, retired)|
|Brent Urban (DE)||Jabril Cox (LB)||Chidobe Awuzie (CB, Cin)|
|Ty Nsekhe (OT)||Josh Ball (OT)||Xavier Woods (S, Min)|
|Jeremy Sprinkle (TE)||Blake Bell (TE, KC)|
2021 Season Odds
Odds courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook
|Season Win Total (O/U)||9.5 (+105/-133)|
Season Prop Movement
Win Total: 9.5 (+110) in late March to 9.5 (+105)
Super Bowl: +3000 in early February to +2800
Reasons to Bet Over the Season Win Total
Dallas’ 2020 season never really got off the ground because of the devastating leg injury suffered by Dak Prescott in Week 5. Dallas’ once-dominant offensive line also cratered because of injuries with Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, La'el Collins, Cameron Erving, and Joe Looney each missing time, which heavily contributed to Ezekiel Elliott’s career-worst season. Dak averaged 422.5 passing yards per game in his four full games and he was on pace for a record-setting season before his injury. Overall, Dallas had some of the worst injury luck in the league last season as it finished with fifth-most adjusted games lost (per Football Outsiders). The Cowboys should be much healthier this season and there’s plenty of hope that this offense can be one of the best in the league with a healthy Dak. It doesn’t hurt that he’ll still have one of the best WR trios in Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, and Michael Gallup at his disposal.
HC Mike McCarthy made a disastrous decision to hire Mike Nolan as his defensive coordinator last season. The Cowboys brought in Dan Quinn to be the new defensive coordinator and this defense has nowhere to go but up in 2021. Quinn’s defenses finished in the bottom half of the league in DVOA in each of his five-plus seasons in Atlanta but the Falcons also finished in the bottom half of the league in defensive cap dollars spent in each of those seasons. The Cowboys at least have one of the most athletic linebacker corps in the league after drafting Micah Parsons at No. 12 overall to play alongside Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch.
Reasons to Bet Under the Season Win Total
McCarthy and the Cowboys were certainly snake-bitten last season with their offensive injuries last season, but his teams have a history of underperforming compared to their expectations. McCarthy is now 6-8 toward unders in his 14-year career despite having Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers at his disposal for his first 13 seasons as a head coach. It’s too early to make sweeping judgments about McCarthy’s tenure in Dallas, but expectations are certainly low for the veteran coach as he’s the favorite to be the first coach fired this season at +700 odds.
The Cowboys spent the off-season reshaping their defense since they have an offense that’s ready to contend this season. The Cowboys spent their first six picks in the draft on defensive players, including on stud LB Parsons. Even with all of the draft capital they spent on defense, the Cowboys figure to have one of the worst defenses once again this season after allowing 29.6 points per game (5th-most). Dallas needs rookie CBs Kelvin Joseph and Nashon Wright to make immediate impacts next to Trevon Diggs, and their defensive line needs to improve after allowing the second-most rushing yards per game (158.8). The Cowboys also need their once-dominant offensive line to bounce back this season after the group cratered last season, mostly because of a slew of injuries.
Notable Player Props
Dak Prescott: passing yards (4900.5), passing TDs (30.5), MVP (+1700), OPOY (+2500), Comeback POY (+175), most passing yards (+500)
Fantasy Points Projection: passing yards (4895), passing TDs (33)
Best-Case Scenario: Dak quickly regains his form from the start of last season when he was on pace to break the NFL passing yards records through the quarter pole of the season before his major injury.
Worst-Case-Scenario: Prescott gets out of the gates too slow coming off his catastrophic leg injury from 2020 and the Cowboys’ defense is improved enough to limit his passing volume after he averaged 50.4 passes per game in his four full games.
Ezekiel Elliott: rushing yards (1150.5), rushing + receiving yards (1550.5), OPOY (+2000), most rushing yards (+2400)
Fantasy Points Projection: rushing yards (1285), rushing + receiving yards (1640)
- Best-Case Scenario: Elliott remains in his bell-cow role with around 20+ touches per game and his efficiency ticks back up behind better offensive line play and with Dak Prescott back in the lineup.
- Worst-Case-Scenario: Zeke’s down 2020 to be no fluke. His YPC drops for the fourth straight season, this time below his 4.0 YPC average from last season, and his O-line once again does him no favors.
Amari Cooper: receiving yards (1130.5), most receiving yards (+1900), OPOY (+8000)
Fantasy Points Projection: receiving yards (1155)
- Best-Case Scenario: Cooper finally breaks through as one of the league’s top fantasy WRs with a healthy Dak Prescott back in the fold after racking up 37/401/1 receiving in their four full games together in 2020.
- Worst-Case-Scenario: Coop can’t grab a big enough piece of the team’s target share with stud WRs CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup commanding more targets while Dak’s overall passing volume signifcantly dips from the beginning of last season.
CeeDee Lamb: receptions (81.5), most receiving yards (+2600)
Fantasy Points Projection: receptions (78), receiving yards (1085)
- Best-Case Scenario: Lamb, at just 22 years old, vaults ahead of Amari Cooper to become Dak Prescott’s top target after he averaged 5.8/86.6/.4 receiving per game in the five contests Dak appeared in last year.
- Worst-Case-Scenario: Lamb fails to take a significant step forward in his second season as he’s still behind Cooper in the passing-game pecking order and Michael Gallup challenges him for the #2 role.
Dallas Cowboys under 9.5 wins (-110, FanDuel) — The Cowboys were the first team to officially finish under their season win total last season after Dak Prescott’s season-ending injury submarined their offense. Dallas’ offense should bounce back this season with a healthy Dak back in the mix, but its defense is still a major work in progress despite using its first six draft picks on that side of the ball. The Cowboys’ defense can’t be much worse than they were last season under Mike Nolan, but their switch to Dan Quinn isn’t the most inspiring move after Raheem Morris did a significantly better job than Quinn after taking over as the interim HC in Atlanta last season. The Cowboys will have better defensive personnel this season but it could take them some time to get on the same page early in the season — I’ll be looking at betting their games over the total early in the season. There’s also no denying the Cowboys are perenially overrated in the futures market since they’re one of the most wagered on franchises as America’s Team. The Cowboys have gone under their season win total in eight of the last 11 seasons since 2010 while Mike McCarthy is 6-8 toward unders in his career, and I can only look toward the under for the Cowboys in 2021.