SharpClarke's Best Week 14 NFL Bet: PHI @ DAL
I have written about several ugly matchups this season in which I have found betting value, but this week is different. I'm taking on a high-profile game between two very good and exciting teams with playoff implications on Sunday Night Football. There are likely to be strong opinions on both sides of this game but for the first time all season, I find value on the Philadelphia Eagles as they travel to Dallas to take on the Cowboys. Let's dive in.
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PHI offense v. DAL defense
The Cowboys' defense might be the most overrated unit in the NFL. Out of 45 qualifying quarterbacks, the Cowboys have faced just 5 of the top 25 quarterbacks in EPA/play on the season. That means that 7 of their games have come against the likes of Daniel Jones, Zach Wilson, Josh Dobbs, Mac Jones, Tommy DeVito, Bryce Young, and Sam Howell. The other quarterbacks they've faced have pretty much sliced and diced this defense. The Cowboys are an aggressive man defense that relies on forcing mistakes by the other team. This works great against bad offensive lines, indecisive or pressure-sensitive quarterbacks, and receivers that struggle to get separation in man coverage. But against competent offenses, it becomes a liability. The only two very good offenses they've faced this year —the 49ers and the Eagles— both excelled against Dallas. Brock Purdy put up a gaudy 0.625 EPA/play and a 65.4% success rate against them, and Jalen Hurts erupted with a 0.390 EPA.play and a 60% success rate. Even Geno Smith and D.K. Metcalf put on a clinic downfield against them after struggling for several weeks.
A lot has been made of Jalen Hurts' injuries this season. But I have not seen anything particularly concerning. Results-oriented viewers look for excuses for why a team that rolled all year last year has come back down to earth a little bit this year. An injury is an easy place to put the blame. But I haven't seen any change in down-to-down performance overall relative to expectations against the defenses they've faced. Yes, their run game has dropped off. But they've also faced a tough schedule of opponents, the likes of which they avoided all year last season. The regression is natural. There was a drop-off without Dallas Goedert (and without Lane Johnson when he missed time), but Goedert is back, and Johnson is healthy. Hurts is not on the injury report, so I anticipate this offense to be a full-go for this one. Hurts has always been the type of player to capitalize downfield when the coverage has lapses. I expect there to be lapses in coverage here for Hurts to exploit. I also think their ability to convert in short-yardage situations skews some of the metrics that bettors use to judge teams, making the offense slightly better than its numbers. They should have a lot of success here as long as Hurts does not get re-injured in-game.
DAL offense v. PHI defense
The Cowboys' offense is not as overrated as its defense. Offenses don't tend to be as opponent-dependent as defenses anyway, so crafting a narrative about the defenses they've faced carries less weight. The fact is, Dak Prescott is playing the best football of his career right now and probably should be considered the favorite for MVP. His pre-snap reads, and ball placement have been elite, even throwing into tight windows and over the middle of the field. But this Eagles' defense is not getting enough credit. As noted above, defenses do tend to be at the mercy of the quality of offenses they've faced. And since the Eagles shored up their secondary with Kevin Byard and got healthy (outside of Nakobe Dean), they have faced an absolute gauntlet of offenses in Dallas, Kansas City, Buffalo, and San Francisco. Along with Miami, who they faced in Week 7, that is likely 4 of the top 5 offenses in the NFL (outside of the Eagles themselves). They held their own against the first three opponents but finally fell apart about a third of the way through the 49ers game. Where many see a defense that has struggled all year getting worse, I see a defense improving. The issue is that it hasn't shown up on the stat sheet yet.
There's no doubt that the defense is exploitable. But to justify making Dallas a favorite by more than a field goal, given how I project the Eagles' offense to perform here, their offense needs to be close to perfect. The Eagles have disruptors on the defensive line that can create havoc in the backfield and finish sacks on Prescott. The offense also relies heavily on CeeDee Lamb, who does not catch every ball thrown his way, as we saw on a crucial fourth-down drop against Seattle. The first time these teams met, Dallas played most of the second half with a deficit, especially late when the Eagles were playing to prevent big plays. This allowed Dallas to rack up yardage and stats that did not ultimately lead to a win, because the Eagles' defense tightened up in the red zone. It's important to note when red zone performance is fluky and when it is the result of the defense winning. Here, with how the Cowboys moved the ball and got stuck near the goal line, there is some signal. I do expect both teams to score here, but it will be tougher for Dallas against Philadelphia than it was against Seattle. That might be enough.
The 49ers-Eagles result had a big impact on how people view this game. But not me. I expected the 49ers to beat the Eagles, and their dominant performance did not overly shift my view of either team. It was a brutal spot for the Eagles, and two red-zone failures early on really changed the tenor of the game. Bettors apparently think things will not get easier for them this week, going into Dallas against another "elite" team. But I think the gap between San Francisco and Dallas is huge. When these teams played in Philadelphia, the Eagles closed as 3-point favorites, indicating Philadelphia was perceived as the slightly better team. Now, the market has swung in the other direction, making the Cowboys an expensive -3 or cheap -3.5 in most places. I'm happy to capitalize on this market overreaction to the teams' performances since then, in which Dallas faced the Giants, Panthers, Commanders, and Seahawks, whereas the Eagles faced the Chiefs, Bills, and 49ers.
I'm comfortable with pretty much any form of exposure on the Eagles at current prices. I got involved on the first-half spread at PHI +2.5 -105 and the full-game spread at PHI +3.5 -115. For purposes of my Best Bet, I'll keep it simple and take the full-game spread.
PHI +3.5 (-115) (Caesars, Circa, BetMGM, DraftKings, Betonline has -113 so shop around!)
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