I cannot recall another time in the last five years in which an NFL team was favored by three or more touchdowns — and here this week, we have two such contests at once (incidentally, with a team from the AFC East the underdog in both of those games). The Cowboys opened as 17.0 point favorites (which is already unheard of) and have (as of this writeup) been bet up to 23.0. And the craziest thing is that this isn’t all that crazy. The Dolphins are an NFL team; and that’s about all you can come up with for reasons why the Cowboys won’t overwhelm them this week. NFL teams sometimes find a way to get unexpected things done; but the likeliest scenario in this game (obviously) has Dallas winning big.
This leads to two important questions ::
The first question is how likely is it that the Dolphins can keep up — either by slowing down the Cowboys, or by keeping pace on offense? And if we side with Vegas and the sharp money and say that this is a low-likelihood scenario, and that the Cowboys will probably pull away in this game, then the next question we need to ask is how willing the Cowboys will be to A) continue throwing the ball deep into this game with a big lead, and B) keep Ezekiel Elliott on the field as this game gets out of hand.
Given the new, aggressive identity of this Cowboys offense, it seems safe to bet that the Cowboys keep the full offense on the field and remain at least moderately aggressive through at least the first 50 minutes of the game; and if this is the case — i.e., if the Cowboys’ trio of offensive stars (Zeke, Dak Prescott, and Amari Cooper) come off the field in the fourth quarter because they already have a four or five touchdown lead — then all three remain relevant, as Zeke/Amari could each top 100 yards and score a touchdown in that scenario, while Dak could hit for 300-3. The respective prices on these guys (especially the passing game components) would typically cause us to prefer them in a shootout-type environment; but the Dolphins have been so poor this year that a shootout-type environment may not be necessary for the Cowboys to be one of the higher-scoring teams on the weekend.
In the pass game — with Michael Gallup out of action and a little more focus flowing to Amari — the biggest concern would be the matchup with Xavien Howard. With no pass rush for Miami, Amari will win his fair share; but his paths to a slate-winning score get dimmed just a bit — making him a guy to consider in tourneys but avoid in cash.
A Zeke-smash is very likely, with him probably needing to get unlucky in order to fall shy of 100 yards and a touchdown (with a bit of pass game work still mixed in) — making him fine in all formats.
Devin Smith seems likely to go over-owned compared to some of the other value plays this week because he plays for the Cowboys, and is playing against Miami; but he should be on the field for a large chunk of this game and will likely get one or two deep shots, along with a bit of underneath work. And Randall Cobb may see a slight boost with Gallup out (he has 11 targets thus far on the year) — though he’ll need a broken play or a multi-touchdown game to really matter with his short-area role.
The Cowboys tight ends are just “hoping to guess right on a touchdown.”
And as to the Dolphins ::
We know all about the Cowboys defense by now, and we know how bad the Dolphins have been. Volume is nice; but as noted in our writeup of the Jets: we typically need touchdowns to reach slate-breaking upside, and this Dolphins team won’t score many touchdowns this year. It’s +EV to just leave the Dolphins alone altogether, rather than trying to guess and “hope you get one spot on your roster right with a long-shot play.”
JM’s Interpretation ::
This game is pretty simple (especially compared to a few others on this slate), as Zeke shapes up as a solid all-around, high-floor/high-ceiling play (Tier 1), while Amari and Dak have some question marks on floor, but have plenty of clear paths to ceiling (strong Tier 3). Everything else on the Cowboys is more speculative. And while I wait until later in the week to really get a feel for defense, this is another squad — like the Patriots this week against the Jets — that could outscore every player on the Dolphins a good 10 times if we played out this slate a hundred times, making them an attractive option even at the high end of the price range, especially with how much we can like this week for savings in other spots.