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November 20, 2019

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Week 5 NFL picks and game of the week for the Sun’s handicapping contest

Two Texas teams tackling through Las Vegas sports books’ preseason expectations

DeMarco Murray leading rusher

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Dallas Cowboys’ DeMarco Murray (29) scores on a running play in front of New Orleans Saints’ Curtis Lofton (50) and Kenny Vaccaro (32) during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Sept. 28,2014, in Arlington, Texas.

Of the eight NFL teams to start 3-1 or better, the two most improbable hail from the Lone Star State.

Week 5: Texans at Cowboys

What's your pick in the Sun's handicapping game of the week? (Public Opinion this season: 2-3)
Cowboys minus-6 — 58.1%
Texans plus-6 — 41.9%

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Note: This is not a scientific poll. The results reflect only the opinions of those who chose to participate.

Talking Points bet of the week

Case Keefer's sports bet of the week:

The Dallas Cowboys entered the season at 75-to-1 to win the Super Bowl with the Houston Texans at 40-to-1, the two highest prices out of the so-far elite eight.

The cross-conference rivals are also two of three teams from the octet — the other being the 3-0 Arizona Cardinals — that came into the season with an over/under win total implying less than a .500 winning percentage. The Cowboys and the Texans shared a closing total of 7.5 victories at the South Point sports book.

One of the two teams will be more than halfway to exceeding the line after Sunday’s showdown, which kicks off at 10 a.m., at AT&T Stadium in Dallas.

With both teams 3-1 straight-up and against the spread, it’s the most significant matchup of the week record-wise. The Sun’s handicapping contest treated it as such with all three sports writers using one of their weekly six bets — which are available in full at the bottom of the page — on the game.

Although the Cowboys and Texans are identical in wins and losses, they’ve taken distinctly different paths to their surprise starts. Dallas has revitalized its offense with a decidedly Las Vegas flavor.

The Cowboys hired former UNLV assistant Scott Linehan to call their plays, most of which to this point have gone to local native DeMarco Murray. The Bishop Gorman graduate has run for an NFL-leading 534 yards on 99 carries.

That’s 156 more yards than the second-place rusher, Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell, and 18 more attempts than the second busiest running back, the New York Giants’ Rashad Jennings.

Murray is running behind possibly the best offensive line in the NFL just a couple years removed from the front being one of Dallas’ weaknesses. The team is reaping the benefits of using first-round picks on offensive linemen in three of the past four drafts with Notre Dame guard Zack Martin this year, Wisconsin center Travis Frederick in 2013 and USC tackle Tyron Smith in 2011.

Defensive line was supposed to be Houston’s strength, and some may still regard it that way because of one man — defensive end J.J. Watt. The fourth-year pro, and 2012 Defensive Player of the Year, has affected nearly every play for opposing offenses.

Watt already has two sacks, a blocked kick and an interception returned for a touchdown despite teams tailoring entire offensive game plans around avoiding him.

He’s down to 10-to-1 at offshore sports book bovada.lv to win the NFL’s MVP award — the gaming board doesn’t permit Nevada casinos to take such wagers — behind only Murray (9-to-1), Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck (5-to-1), Denver’s Peyton Manning (11-to-2), Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers (7-to-1) and San Diego’s Philip Rivers (13-to-2).

No defensive player has won the award in Watts’ lifetime with the last being the New York Giants’ Lawrence Taylor in 1986.

The attention paid to Watts has disguised issues with Houston’s interior defensive line. The Texans rank a dreadful 29th against the run in Football Outsiders’ DVOA advanced metric, a positive omen for Murray’s prospects.

The biggest factor in Houston’s success, however, might be a schedule as soft as a Texas barbecue-sauce stained napkin. The odds have favored the Texans by three points in every game they’ve won and covered.

That’s not to take away from their performance, as the three closing money lines combined to give them only a 24 percent chance to go 3-0 in those games. But compare that with Dallas’ three wins, in which it was a field-goal underdog to the Saints last week and the Titans in week 2, and it loses some style points.

The Cowboys had only a 9 percent probability to notch their three victories, according to the money lines.

And Dallas has done it more impressively despite the tougher competition, outscoring teams by a total of 40 points in its wins over 33 points for Houston.

The Texans’ offense might be the bigger problem than their defense. With running back Arian Foster’s irritable hamstring flaring up to make him a game time decision Sunday, Houston may need to throw the ball effectively.

Despite the breakout of second-year receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who has 291 yards and three touchdowns, quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick hasn’t shown he’s capable. Fitzpatrick is 21st in the NFL in passer rating with five touchdowns and five interceptions.

Someone is paying attention to the Texans’ troubles, as the line on this game opened at Dallas minus-3.5 before climbing as high as minus-6.5. That creates value for anyone looking to wager against a Dallas defense that rates 23rd in DVOA.

There are several reasons to stay skeptical of Dallas and Houston. The in-state foes aren’t going to permanently relocate to the top of the standings all year. Football Outsiders gives just a 0.2 percent chance of meeting in Super Bowl 49 at the end of the season.

But fans will dare to dream the Texas takeover continue at the same pace of the early season, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Check below for all of the handicapping contests’ week 6 picks, listed in order of sports books’ rotation numbers.

 

Ray Brewer (2013 co-champion)

2014 Record: 14-10 (3-3 last week)

Browns plus-2 at Titans

Texans vs. Cowboys over 47

Colts minus-3.5 vs. Ravens

Steelers minus-6 at Jaguars

Jets plus-6.5 at Chargers

Redskins plus-7 vs. Seahawks

 

Case Keefer (2012 champion, 2013 co-champion)

2014 Record: 13-11 (2-4 last week)

Falcons plus-4 at Giants

Buccaneers plus-10.5 at Saints

Texans plus-6 at Cowboys

Bills plus-7 at Lions

Broncos minus-7.5 vs. Cardinals

Patriots plus-1 vs. Bengals

 

Taylor Bern

2014 Record: 12-11-1 (3-2-1 last week)

Bears plus-2.5 at Panthers

Falcons plus-4 at Giants

Texans plus-6 at Cowboys

Ravens plus-3.5 at Colts

Steelers minus-6 at Jaguars

Broncos minus-7.5 vs. Cardinals

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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