Sunday Night Football Betting Preview: Will the Cowboys Spoil the Rams' SoFi Stadium Debut?
The NFL's Sunday Night Football schedule kicks off with a potential shootout, as the Dallas Cowboys travel to face the Los Angeles Rams in a Week 1 showdown of NFC playoff hopefuls. While fans will not be in attendance, the Rams will get to showcase their new state-of-the-art home, SoFi Stadium, to a national television audience. With two high-powered offenses, a national team in the Cowboys, and a brand-new stadium to show off, this is a primetime game that is sure to draw viewers.
From a betting perspective, 52% of the bets and 59% of the money is backing the Cowboys (-2.5) on the spread, per our oddsFire betting tool. The moneyline seems to be drawing the bigger bets to Dallas, as well, with 53% of the bets and 69% of the money on the Cowboys to win straight up at -134 on FanDuel Sportsbook. You can get the Rams at +114 if you like their chances of pulling off the upset at home. The total opened at 50 but has been bet up to 51.5 in most places, and with 68% of the bets and 66% of the money taking the over, the public clearly expects a high-scoring affair.
Does this public have this right? Should we expect the Cowboys to spoil the Rams' home opener while lighting up the scoreboard? Let's check numberFire's projections to find out.
Passing Game Preview
The Cowboys' strength is clearly their offense, and our metrics loved Dak Prescott's 2019 season. Prescott finished last season with 0.27 Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back, the fifth-best mark of all signal-callers with at least 300 drop backs. Dallas finished 2019 as the third-best passing offense in the league, according to our schedule-adjusted metrics, so this wasn't a case of taking advantage of an easy schedule, either.
Jason Garrett is gone and Mike McCarthy takes over at head coach, and while the offense clearly doesn't need to start over, a fresh set of eyes could help convert this offensive firepower into more wins. Dallas also drafted CeeDee Lamb in the first round of the draft, and lining him up along Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup is unfair to opposing defenses. In 2019, Cooper (0.90) and Gallup (0.88) both ranked in the top 16 in Reception NEP per target among wide receivers who got 50 or more targets, so Lamb was a luxury pick who should help this offense reach new levels.
With Jason Witten off to Las Vegas, we may finally get to see what Blake Jarwin can do with a full load at tight end. He finished with 0.66 Reception NEP per target last year, 14th-best in the league among all tight ends with 40 or more targets in 2019. Witten recorded 0.49 Reception NEP per target.
As long as this offensive line remains one of the best in the league, this offense should be a force. Keep an eye on right tackle, where La'el Collins is set to miss a few weeks, with veteran Cameron Irving projected to fill in.
Defensively, the Rams had some shake-ups on that side of the ball. They moved on from Wade Phillips at defensive coordinator, replacing him with first-year coordinator Brandon Staley. Out are Dante Fowler Jr., Clay Matthews, and Cory Littleton at linebacker, and the Rams are primarily replacing them with Leonard Floyd and some mid- to late-round draft picks. Obviously Aaron Donald remains, making this one of the most intimidating defensive lines to go against, but the rest of the defense is very suspect.
The Rams did hold their own in the passing game last year, as they finished 15th in the league in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play. With Donald and Jalen Ramsey, this defense doesn't lack star power, but a deep offense like the Cowboys may be able to exploit some inexperience in LA's defense.
The Rams' offense has fallen off since Sean McVay's emergence onto the NFL scene, but our metrics still had this passing offense as 10th-best in the league with 0.16 Adjusted Passing NEP per play in 2019. Jared Goff was often under pressure last year, and with a declining running game, Goff struggled to adapt as defenses seemed to catch up with this offense. Goff primarily struggled against top defenses, producing 0.02 Passing NEP per drop back in 10 games against average or better defenses, compared to 0.31 Passing NEP per drop back in six games against below-average defenses.
Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods are back, giving LA one of the better tandems in the league. Our metrics especially liked Kupp, who does an excellent job in McVay's system of finding open spaces. Kupp finished 20th among receivers with 50 or more targets with 0.85 Reception NEP per target in 2019.
The depth is a bit thin behind them at receiver, but the Rams have two solid pass-catchers at tight end with Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett. Higbee really erupted down the stretch of 2019, racking up 522 receiving yards over the final five weeks as the Rams adapted their offense to utilize their tight ends more. LA's offensive line is a concern and was one of the worst in the league last year, but they are hoping that another year with the same group will help them to build some chemistry.
Dallas struggled defensively last year, and their mark of 0.11 Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per drop play ranked 18th in the league. This matches well with Goff's splits from 2019, and with the Cowboys' defense not appearing dramatically improved, this sets up well for Goff in Week 1.
Mike Nolan takes over defensive coordinator duties for the 'Boys, and while Dallas added talent on the defensive line, the season-ending injury suffered by Gerald McCoy is a blow. In addition to losing Robert Quinn and Maliek Collins, the Cowboys also parted ways with Byron Jones. Getting Leighton Vander Esch back will certainly help, but paired with Dallas' high-scoring offense, this Cowboys D looks likely to allow its fair share of damage through the air this season.
Rushing Game Preview
The Rams cut Todd Gurley in the offseason and drafted Cam Akers out of Florida State in an attempt to resuscitate their once potent rushing attack. Los Angeles finished with the league's seventh-worst run game in 2019, registering -0.04 Adjusted Rushing NEP per carry. While Gurley's -0.02 Rushing NEP per carry on 223 attempts was certainly the bulk of the problem, Darrell Henderson's -0.15 Rushing NEP per carry on 39 attempts doesn't inspire much confidence, either, and tells us that the issue was more than just Gurley.
With Malcolm Brown looking primarily like an NFL backup during his career, all eyes are on Akers for a spark. I wrote up Akers from a fantasy perspective after the NFL Draft, and he's an intriguing prospect who landed in a friendly spot with the Rams. Henderson has been nursing a hamstring injury but looks set to play, so we will see if some fresh legs can jumpstart the Rams' running game in 2020.
Dallas' rush defense ranked 18th in the league last year, allowing 0.02 Adjusted Defensive NEP per carry, though a healthy Vander Esch could help them improve on those numbers. When these two teams played in Week 15 of last year, the Cowboys held Gurley to just 20 rushing yards on 11 carries in a 44-21 victory. With the way these matchups align, the Cowboys look capable of holding their own while defending the run versus the Rams.
Dallas possessed the league's number-two rushing attack in 2019, producing 0.14 Adjusted Rushing NEP per carry, and they look set to maintain that success heading into 2020. Ezekiel Elliott is one of the NFL's premier workhorses with few signs of slowing down. And the offense doesn't miss a beat when Elliott needs a break, as Tony Pollard matched Elliott's 0.07 Rushing NEP per carry in 2019 -- though Pollard did it on only 86 attempts, compared to Zeke's 301.
The Cowboys ran the Rams off the field in their Week 15 matchup last year, as Elliott turned 24 carries into 117 yards and 2 touchdowns while Pollard ripped off 131 yards and a touchdown on just 12 carries. That will no doubt be fresh on the mind of both squads heading into Week 1, and I would expect the Cowboys to test the Rams' run D early.
The Rams finished as the league's 10th-best run defense in 2019, allowing -0.02 Adjusted Defensive NEP per carry, so that Week 15 result looks like an anomaly. Outside of the game against the Cowboys and rough performances against Christian McCaffrey and the Baltimore Ravens' rushing attack, LA had a solid run defense.
The Cowboys will likely test them early, and the Rams will have their hands full playing the passing game, as well. This will be a difficult decision all year for teams going up against the Cowboys -- sell out to stop the pass while exposing themselves to the run or take a more balanced approach while risking big plays in the passing game.
Of the 10 most comparable games to this matchup, per our model, the under has hit a whopping 9 of 10 times. Additionally, the favorite has covered 9 of 10 times, one of the stronger trends I have encountered in my year-plus of writing this article.
The Ravens' 45-6 drubbing of this same Rams team last year is one of the most recent comparable matchups, a game that shockingly still hit the under.
Game Projections and Props
Our algorithm gives the Cowboys a 66.4% chance of winning outright, forecasting a projected 16% return on investment (ROI) on the moneyline (-134), one of our strongest-rated bets in this game.
We also like the Cowboys' side of the spread (-2.5) for a 17.7% ROI. And we like the under, too -- which checks out with our historical comparisons to this matchup -- with a projected 14% ROI on under 51.5 total points.
On FanDuel Sportsbook we've got some interesting prop bets to dig into, as well.
A line of -140 for Ezekiel Elliott to score a touchdown feels a little undervalued despite the odds, as we project him for 0.69 rushing touchdowns and 0.22 receiving touchdowns. I also like the over on Cooper Kupp's receiving yardage prop (61.5, -110), as we project him for 63.7 receiving yards and this Rams running game is far from reliable heading into Week 1. Similarly, I like the over on receiving yardage for Robert Woods, as well (63.5, -110).
Overall, I would bet props that support the Cowboys putting up points and playing with a lead, and alternatively, I'd be betting props that fall in line with the Rams playing from behind while potentially struggling to convert yards into touchdowns.