8:15 PM EST, ESPN – Line: Cowboys -1.5, Over/Under: 51.0
Week Six comes to its conclusion tonight in the City of Angels, where the Dallas Cowboys hope to bounce back from an embarrassing humbling as they stay on the west coast to face the Los Angeles Chargers, who are fresh off their bye week. After a strong start to the season heading into last weekend’s playoff rematch with the 49ers, this isn’t how it was supposed to go for the Cowboys (3-2, 2nd in NFC East), who instead of enacting some long-awaited revenge, found themselves on the wrong end of a primetime beatdown. Simply put, instead of serving as a showcase of NFC juggernauts, all last weekend’s contest proved was that the gulf between these two sides was indeed wider than ever. So, what in the name of Roger Staubach happened in Santa Clara, you ask? Well, one team showed up and the other… not so much. Simply put, this one was never close, folks, as the Niners quickly established themselves as the stronger side, racing out to a 14-0 advantage before leading 21-7 at halftime. It didn’t get any better for Dallas after intermission, for after beginning the second half with a field goal, the visitors stood by helpless to stop the hosts, shipping three consecutive touchdown drives as (veteran Quarterback) Dak Prescott inexplicably turned into a turnover machine, tossing three interceptions on successive possessions. In the end, the 10-42 affair was as lopsided as the numbers would suggest, as (Head Coach) Mike McCarthy’s troops were outgained by a whopping 224 total yards, including a 57-170 disparity in rushing, with their fewest first downs (8) in well over a calendar year. For a guy that had lamented to the media throughout the week how !@#$%^ off he was coming into this postseason encore, Prescott (pictured below) endured one helluva nightmare at Levi’s Stadium; the 30-year-old completed 14-of-24 passes for just 153 yards, one touchdown and those three interceptions, while suffering three sacks, along with nine hits and pressures apiece. This was the kind of performance that just feeds into the narrative that these Cowboys, while a good team, are FAR from elite, which has to be the most frustrating thing for a franchise that is desperate to return to the Super Bowl glory of their past. At this point, we’re all familiar with the story; since hoisting their last Lombardi Trophy in 1995, Dallas hasn’t even advanced to a single NFC Championship Game, having gone TWENTY-EIGHT years without claiming that elusive prize. Needless to say, the pressure is on in Arlington, particularly Prescott and McCarthy, who are two of the most polarizing figures in the NFL at the moment. For Prescott, he is no longer the overachieving fourth-round pick on a bargain contract, instead coming off a campaign in which he led the league in interceptions (15) despite missing five games due to injury, all the while being by far and away the most expensive player on the roster. All things considered, he hasn’t proven to be a natural fit for McCarthy’s version of the West Coast Offense, or as the longtime skipper had coined it during Training Camp, the Texas Coast Offense. Clever titles aside, McCarthy is very much on the hot seat. Now in his fourth season with the Cowboys, the 59-year-old has yet to deliver a champion in Big D, which is a big reason why he opted to part ways with (former Offensive Coordinator) Kellen Moore, who was one of the few coaches that he had retained from the previous coaching staff. A favorite of (longtime Owner) Jerry Jones, Moore was ousted from his post after his unit ranked first and eleventh overall in total offense over the previous two seasons, along with a pair of top-four finishes in points scored. McCarthy hadn’t called played since the final days of his lengthy tenure in Green Bay, which was ironically the primary reason he was relieved of his duties in the first place. Through six games, Dallas has yet to live up to expectations, scoring a solid 26.8 points per game (8th Overall) despite amassing a modest 342.2 total yards (16th Overall). Sure, their balanced approach has seen them move the football up and down the field, converting an efficient 49.3% of their third downs (2nd Overall), but they have repeatedly hit the proverbial wall in the red zone, where they rank TWENTY-EIGHTH overall (36.8%). For those wondering, they were the number one team in that area of the field a year ago under Moore’s guidance, breaching the goal line on 71.4% of their opportunities within that area of the field. There is something to be said about a man choosing to go out doing what he knows, but if the Cowboys continue on this path, then the likelihood that neither Prescott nor McCarthy are a part of the team come February becomes a growing possibility. After all, Prescott can be released from his contract with reasonable penalties to the overall wage bill after this season, while McCarthy’s potential replacement has been on the staff for over two years now. (Defensive Coordinator) Dan Quinn has done a masterful job of rebuilding the defense, with his unit leading the league in takeaways since 2021 (78!), which had many teams frothing at the mouth to hire him last January. Keeping him in Dallas was a coup for Jones and McCarthy, though it could end up being a very shrewd move on the part of the former if he feels he needs to part ways with the latter…
From a betting perspective, the Cowboys are 3-2 both straight and against the spread thus far, alternating wins and losses in that latter regard over the last four weeks. After blowing out the Giants and Jets by a combined SIXTY points, Dallas was upset outright in a trip to the desert, where Arizona (+11.5) handed them their first defeat of the campaign. A week later, McCarthy’s troops easily covered as 6-point favorites at home against the struggling Patriots (38-3), only to get embarrassed in that aforementioned playoff rematch at San Francisco (-3.5). Dating back to last season, this is a team that has covered the spread in six of their last ten games overall, though has flipped that mark in their last ten trips away from Arlington (4-6 ATS), while covering all but one of their last five outings as a favorite, which is the case tonight. The Cowboys have generally bounced back after such a disappointing performance, posting a 6-0-1 record versus the spread after allowing over thirty points in the previous game, while also covering four consecutive games as a small favorite of 0.5-3.0 points, which again, is the case in this particular matchup. Speaking of this affair, Dallas is 3-2 against the spread in their last ten ventures away to Los Angeles, though when they met back in 2021, they managed to escape SoFi Stadium with 20-17 victory. As a 3-point underdog, Prescott & Co leaned on the ground game to wrestle control of the contest away from the hosts, rushing for 198 yards on thirty-one carries, as Pollard erupted for 109 yards and the opening score on just thirteen rushes, while also adding another thirty-one yards on three receptions. This one also served as the proverbial coming-out party for (a then-rookie) Parsons, who terrorized Justin Herbert with one sack, four hits, and six pressures in just the second game of his professional career. Over the course of his time in Big D, Prescott has faced the Bolts just twice, splitting the two encounters and completing an efficient 79.6% of his passes for an average of 208.0 yards on 7.2 net yards per attempt with no touchdowns and three interceptions. On the injury front, the list is rather lengthy for McCarthy, who could be without the following figures: (Safeties) Malik Hooker (shoulder) and Donovan Wilson (toe), (Linebacker) Leighton Vander Esch (neck), (Defensive Tackle) Neville Gallimore (knee), (Center) Tyler Biadasz (ankle), and Pollard (shoulder) are all listed as questionable for tonight’s tilt. Of course, the defense will be without one of their chief playmakers, (Pro-Bowl Cornerback) Trevon Diggs for the rest of the season due to a torn ACL suffered in practice three weeks ago. Looking ahead, the Cowboys will dive into their bye week following this trip to the City of Angels, only to host the city’s other team, the Rams, in two weeks prior to the first leg versus their hated rivals, the Eagles, on November 5th.
Meanwhile, the Cowboys aren’t the only team in this matchup to find themselves subject to mounting pressure, for despite bouncing back from an 0-2 start, the Chargers (2-2, 2nd in AFC West), or more particularly (Head Coach) Brandon Staley, are feeling the heat from those proverbial flames. This is now Staley’s third year in Los Angeles, and despite being armed with a wealth of talent on both sides of the football, these Bolts have rarely proven to be anything greater than the sum of their parts. Why the heavy-handed opinion, you ask? Well, this is a team that has many of the components that you need to contend for championships, including a stud young Quarterback (Justin Herbert), a prolific modern Tailback (Austin Ekeler), a solid Offensive Line, and a defense littered with playmakers on all levels, including the likes of (Pro-Bowl Edge-Rushers) Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack, along with (Safety) Derwin James. However, as we have seen repeatedly during Staley’s reign, they have shown a frustrating propensity of suffering self-inflicted wounds, whether it be an annually underwhelming Special Teams unit, a perpetually porous run defense, or frequent boneheaded decisions made by the Head Coach himself, which have all played their part in this team failing to meet expectations. After last January’s epic 27-point collapse in the Wild Card Round of the playoffs, it was considered a surprise that the 40-year-old managed to keep his job, which in turn led him to make some necessary changes to the coaching staff. Ironically, Staley hired the aforementioned Moore to helm the attack, which brought hope that this talented unit would finally ascend to the league’s elite. To his credit, Moore has done a solid job of doing so, as the Chargers have ranked seventh in scoring (27.5), fifth in total offense (408.6), sixth in passing yards (288.8), fifth in net yards per attempt (6.9), and fifth in red zone percentage (68.8%) despite missing some notable pieces of the attack (more on that in a bit). This shift in playcallers has really worked out for Herbert (pictured below), who has thrived within Moore’s aggressive, vertical scheme; the 25-year-old has completed a career-high 71.0% of his passes for 1,106 yards on 6.67 net yards per attempt with seven touchdowns opposed to just one interception, along with a QBR of 69.2, which would also stand as a personal best. Needless to say, this is exactly what the Spanos Family had in mind when they signed the QB to a mammoth 5-year, $262.5 million contract, with over $218 million in total guarantees, which at the time was the richest contract issued in NFL history. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of the defense, which is particularly damning for Staley given that his pedigree lies on that particular side of the football. Los Angeles has been great situationally, relegating opponents to 31.9% on third down (4th Overall) and 50.0% in the red zone (9th Overall) but has nonetheless relinquished the second-most total yards in the league (404.1), with the pass defense getting torched for nearly 300.0 yards per game (299.8), by far and away the most in the NFL. Simply put, with Edge-Rushers like Bosa and Mack along with a Secondary packed with talent, giving up that kind of yardage is unacceptable. Prior to their bye week, we saw the good and the bad from these Chargers, who survived a late rally to best the Raiders in a 24-17 affair. The hosts raced out to a commanding 24-7 lead in the first half, in which they outgained the visiting side 245-76! However, Los Angeles would go scoreless in the second half, with a late red zone interception from (third-year Cornerback) Asante Samuel Jr. killing off Las Vegas’ final desperate effort. Staley’s defense battered (Rookie QB) Aidan O’Connell, who was sacked SEVEN times, stripped of the football twice, and intercepted once, with the aforementioned Mack enjoying a career day against the team that drafted him, accounting for SIX sacks and a pair of forced fumbles. With that being said, the home side completely lost control of this one after intermission, posting just eighty yards on five possessions, while the Silver & Black put together three consecutive drives consisting of 12+ plays, very nearly sending the tilt into overtime. In the end, Herbert completed 13-of-24 passes for just 167 yards, a touchdown and an interception, suffering an injury to his non-throwing hand on a QB sneak midway through the fourth period. He would re-enter the game in short order wearing a bulky finger brace under a glove that clearly effected his grip of the pigskin, though failed to prevent him from completing the 51-yard laser down the left sideline to effectively end the game. With a week to rest, Herbert has been removed from the injury report altogether, which bodes well for his team’s prospects in this primetime affair.
From a betting perspective, the Chargers are 2-2 both straight-up and against the spread, though are trending upward as they have won and covered each of their last two outings after failing to do either in the previous two. After suffering narrow losses to the Dolphins and Titans by a combined FIVE points, they handled their business against the Vikings and Raiders despite both teams’ attempts to mount a late rally. Dating back to last season, Los Angeles is 6-3-1 against the spread in their last ten games overall, including a 5-4-1 mark in their last ten games at SoFi Stadium. With that said, they’ve been VERY rewarding to bettors as an underdog, which is the case tonight, covering seven of their last ten contests when receiving points from the oddsmakers, including four of their last five. However, this is a team that has found it difficult to build upon a strong rushing performance, having covered just one of their past five games after rushing for at least 150 yards, which is the case tonight. Looking at this particular matchup, these teams don’t meet very often (just three times in the last decade), but the Bolts saw a three-game winning streak in this series snapped in their latest encounter, that aforementioned loss two years ago. Favored by three points, Staley’s troops fell behind the eight-ball early, as the visitors marched seventy-eight yards downfield in fifteen plays to paydirt, with Herbert giving it right back to them with an interception on just his second throw of the evening. Both teams compiled over 400 yards of offense, but the difference was turnovers, with the home side committing one more than their opponent, both of which were picks thrown by Herbert. Furthermore, a lack of discipline proved to be a MAJOR issue for the Chargers, who were flagged TWELVE times for a loss of ninety-nine yards. Herbert completed 31-of-41 passes for 338 yards and a touchdown, but was sacked twice, hit nine times, and pressured on eleven occasions. (Veteran Receiver) Keenan Allen hauled in four passes for 108 yards on eight targets, while (fellow Wideout) Mike Williams was responsible for the lone receiving score along with ninety-one yards on seven catches. On the injury front, the bye week came at the right time for a team that was hurting in a lot of areas; (Center) Corey Linsley (illness), (Tight End) Donald Parham (hand), (Left Tackle) Rashawn Slater (ankle) along with Bosa (hamstring) and James (hamstring), are among the notables listed as questionable at the very least. Though Williams will miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL, tonight should see the return of Ekeler, who had missed the last three games with a sprained ankle. Over the previous two seasons, no player (excluding QBs) in the league had amassed more total touchdowns than this guy (38!), who has served as the fulcrum for Los Angeles’ attack since 2021. In that meeting with Cowboys that we referenced earlier, Ekeler amassed 115 yards from scrimmage on eighteen touches. Looking ahead, the schedule doesn’t let up for Staley & Co, who will travel to Arrowhead for a pivotal division encounter with the rested Chiefs (who are coming off the mini-bye week), before hosting the Bears under the bright lights of Sunday Night Football on October 29th.