Dallas (7) @ New Orleans (15)
-Saints LT Terron Armstead (knee) is out.
-Saints RT Ryan Ramczyk (knee) is out. Ramcyzk and Armstead are two of the better tackle tandems in the NFL, and the interior of the Saints line is weak (more on that later).
-Saints RB Alvin Kamara (knee) is out.
-Saints DE Marcus Davenport (shoulder) is out. The Saints have solid depth along the line, but Davenport is a solid player and will leave a hole at the edge.
-Cowboys WR's Amari Cooper (COVID-19) and CeeDee Lamb (concussion) will play.
-Cowboys DE Demarcus Lawrence (foot) has been activated off IR. He'll play for the first time since week 1.
When the Cowboys have the ball:
The Cowboys have one of the better offenses in football, sitting at 7th in DVOA and 10th in EPA/play. These ratings are likely a bit lower than they should be -- they've been without Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb the last two games. Michael Gallup missed a good chunk of the season, and they've played most of the season missing tackles Tyron Smith and/or La'el Collins, forcing them to play Terence Steele, who is flat out bad. They're finally all healthy and ready to go. Dak Prescott is sitting at 4th in PFF passing grades (85.9) while completing 69.4% of his passes (3.6% above expectation) and completing 7.8 yards per attempt. The receiving trio is one of the strongest in football, the offensive line (when healthy) is also one of the strongest in football. Zeke Elliot and Tony Pollard are both great running backs. Simply put, the offensive fucks. On defense, the Saints also fornicate. They're 5th in DVOA and 7th in EPA/play. They're strong along the defensive line -- Cam Jordan (35 pressures) is routinely one of the best edge rushers in football. David Onyemata and Shy Tuttle are strong along the interior. However, losing Marcus Davenport is a tough loss -- Carl Granderson will fill in, who is grading in the 60s. Demario Davis is a strong precense at linebacker, both in run defense and in coverage. Marcus Williams and Malcom Jenkins are two of the better safety tandems in the NFL. The weak point for the Saints is at corner -- even with Marshon Lattimore, who in my mind is one of the more overrated corners in football. Lattimore has been wildly inconsistent since 2019, and he's currently on a brutal stretch of play. The NFL QB rating when targeting Lattimore by game since week 7: 143.8, 149.3, 127.1, 118.8, 118.8, and 119.2. If this is your top corner, you may be in trouble against the Cowboys receivers.
When the Saints have the ball:
The Saints advanced statistis put them at 20th in DVOA and 22nd in EPA/play. They've officially had it with Trevor Siemien and are turning the keys over to swiss army knife Tayson Hill. Hill had a passing grade of 69.1 last year, where he was used as a starter in 4 games. He has issues with deep passing -- just 7.4% of his passes traveled over 20 yards last year, and he earned a 52.8 PFF grade on such throws. He is efficient enough at the shorter/intermediate throws, and has an inherent floor built in thanks to his rushing ability. However, if the Saints fall behind early, Hill simply doesn't have the tools to lead a comeback. He'll be throwing the ball to guys like Deonte Harris, Marquez Callaway, Tre'Quan Smith, and Mark Ingram. It's a poor group of receivers, but it's worth noting that Harris is 4th in the entire league in PFF grades -- a sign that he's getting open, but the ball rarely finds his way. His offensive line is in brutal shape without Armstead and Ramczyk, and the running back position will be led by Ingram. It's tough to expect much from this group. The Cowboys defense has been surprisingly efficient, ranking 4th in DVOA and 6th in EPA/play. The story of the defense is Michah Parsons, who was defensive rookie of the month in November. Parsons played exclusively inside linebacker at Penn State, but has spent time transitioning to edge rusher. Such a transition is incredibly rare, and not only has Parsons made that transition, he's doing at a level comparable to some of the best edge rushers in football. In his 4 games as a full time edge rusher, Parsons has pressures of 8, 4, 7, and 10. He has a PFF pass rushing grade of 92.6. He'll have some help with Demarcus Lawrence back, but Lawrence's snaps are reported to be limited -- a logical move since he hasn't played since week 1. Outside of safety Jayron Kearse, almost every single Cowboys defender is grading poorly. This includes Trevon Diggs, who leads the league in interceptions with 8. Diggs deserves credit as a ballhawk, but he gets beat frequently on his routes. Grades are a good to know, but what's most important here is the Cowboys play efficient defense and have a monster edge rusher going up against a pair of backup tackles and Taysom Hill. They also rank 3rd in DVOA in short passes and 29th in deep passes, making them an ideal coverage group for Hill's skill set (or lack thereof).
Spread: The spread is sitting at Dallas -4.5. The model slightly prefers the Saints with the points, but it wasn't strong enough to merit a wager. The line since moved to 5.5., but I still don't love it with the injuries to the Saints. I'd lean New Orleans, but I'm personally backing off.
Total: The total is sitting at 46. I think that's a fair number for two solid defenses and with the Saints offense banged up/starting a QB who hasn't played full time this year.
Michael Gallup u3.5 receiving yards +110 (Caesars): This matches Gallup's projection, so I'm happy to take the juice on either side. Since the Cowboys are a favorite and have their far arsenal of pass catches, it makes sense that they may not need to rely on Gallup as often as usual.
Nick Vannett o8.5 receiving yards -110 (Caesars): Vannett's projection sits at 18.3. He's gone over this number in each of his two games this year. The Cowboys have also been a lot worse at covering tight ends compared to their overall defense, ranking 18th in DVOA.