Sitting at 4-5 for the season and looking at the team's schedule leading into a game at home against the Cleveland Browns, I opined that Dallas should be favored in every remaining game on its schedule and had a reasonable shot at the postseason. Three weeks later, Dallas has won two of the three games it played, but it struggled to a 23-20 victory over the aforementioned Browns team and lost at home on Thanksgiving to divisional opponent Washington before winning over a hapless Eagles squad last Sunday night. Now, the Cowboys are looking for a much-needed win to keep slim postseason chances alive as most of the NFC Playoff contenders with which Dallas is competing have continued winning. As it stands, Dallas has just a 25.3 percent chance to make the NFL postseason.
Meanwhile, the Cincinnati Bengals, who were also 4-5 at that time, have reeled off three impressive wins (though all over AFC West teams) to jump right back into the thick of the AFC North and AFC Wild Card races. Unlike the NFC, where nine teams are still very much alive for six spots, five playoff teams are essentially settled (New England, Denver, Houston, Baltimore and Indianapolis) with the sixth seed and final AFC Wild Card very likely coming down to Pittsburgh and Cincinnati (both have an outside shot at the division as well, but Baltimore is still roughly 95 percent likely to make the playoffs). This game means something, which is good news for the Bengals which now find themselves favored and, according to our projections, likely to win at home by a field goal or more.
The Cincinnati Bengals are 7-5 straight-up and 6-5-1 against-the-spread versus just the 29th ranked NFL Strength of Schedule this season. They have won and covered the number in four straight games. With the dramatically improved defense as of late, that currently features what we would rank as the best four-man defensive line in the NFL, the UNDER has also covered in all four of those games. In our NFL Power Rankings that simulate every team against every other team, Cincinnati currently ranks 11th overall. Further review sees that, aside from individuals like those on the defensive line and wide receiver A.J. Green, the Bengals are not elite nor are they well below average in any facet in the game. They rank between ten and twenty (out of 32) in all six of our strength-of-schedule-efficiency metrics. Against an elite team like Houston or San Francisco that does not have many weaknesses, this can be an issue. Against a good, yet very flawed team like Dallas, this is actually a strength (especially with the addition of home field advantage to the equation).
The Dallas Cowboys are 6-6 straight-up, but just 4-8 against-the-spread and have played the seventh ranked NFL schedule. They have only covered the number once in their last six contests (as one point favorites against Nick Foles and the Eagles in Week 10). Dallas is just 15th in our NFL Power Rankings and ranks in the bottom ten in the league in offensive run efficiency and pass defense efficiency (again this year). Since losing one of the best interior linebackers in the league, Sean Lee, for the season after the Carolina game on October 21 (just before alluded to 1-5 ATS stretch), the Cowboys' defense has struggled. Dallas has allowed 27 points-per-game over that span despite playing three of those games against offenses led by Nick Foles or Brandon Weeden. While he may not be among the elite, Bengals' quarterback Andy Dalton, is a significantly better player and Cincinnati's offense is significantly better right now than either Philadelphia or Cleveland.
Cincinnati is the better team, is playing at home and, ultimately has more riding on this game. According to 50,000 games played (simulated) by the Predictalator, the Bengals win over the Cowboys 64.2 percent of the time and by an average score of 28-22. As three-point favorites than win by closer to a touchdown, Cincinnati covers the spread 57.5 percent of the time, which would warrant a $54 wager from a normal $50 player (assuming "normal" wager is 1 percent to 3 percent of bankroll and -110 odds which need 52.4 percent confidence to play). As good as the Bengals' defense has been recently, they have been beating up on bad AFC West teams. It's their offensive advantages that lead to this victory and to the OVER (45.5) hitting more often than not (57.3 percent of the time). For fantasy football purposes, the simulated boxscore notes that A.J. Green bests Dez Bryant with 7 catches for 107 yards and a touchdown (17 fantasy points) to Bryant's 5 catches for 66 yards and a touchdown (11 fantasy points).