THE DALLAS COWBOYS ARE A BAD FUTURES BET
The Dallas Cowboys are always a popular betting choice in Las Vegas and the run-up to the 2016 NFL season has been no exception. In spite of going 4-12 in 2015 and having an injury-prone 36-year-old quarterback, the market is optimistic about the Cowboys. Is this justified?
Let's begin by saying that the logic the Dallas backers use makes some superficial sense. In this view, the Cowboys were a 12-4 team in 2014 and only the injuries to Tony Romo and wide receiver Dez Bryant resulted in the collapse to 4-12 last year. The NFC East doesn't have any standout teams, so with Romo and Bryant back, the Cowboys will naturally return to '14 form.
It's not illogical and the fact the market loves the draft choice of Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliot and putting him behind the NFL's best offensive line. We love it too and it's why we consider the Cowboys to be one of the contenders in the NFC East and if everything breaks right they could be a worthwhile darkhorse in the race for the Super Bowl. But the optimism is getting out of control.
That's reflected in the betting odds. Dallas is the 19-10 betting favorite to win the NFC East. By comparison, the Washington Redskins, who won the division a year ago, are 4-1 in spite of having no notable personnel losses, having added Josh Norman and having a quarterback who isn't 36-years-old and injury-prone.
If you look at the betting odds to win the Super Bowl, Dallas sits at 18-1. That's the same as playoff perennial Cincinnati, better than Kansas City and only narrowly behind Denver. Again, isn't this getting a little carried away for a 4-12 team?
It's important to remember that while last year's 4-12 season is not a fair benchmark to judge this year's Cowboys, neither is it logical to assume that is the 12-4 team of 2014. That year was also an aberration. The three years prior (2011-13) saw Dallas go 8-8 all three times. That's a five-year stretch under head coach Jason Garrett where the team is exactly .500. Can it be any more apparent that this should be the starting point when handicapping the Cowboys?
Dallas has its share of problems that won't be magically fixed by Romo's return. The first, already alluded to, is that Romo's season-long health is not exactly a good bet itself. The fact Bryant's injury had such a monumental impact was an implicit indictment of the depth in the receiver group.
Most important though, the defense is mediocre. They ranked 16th in the league in points allowed in 2015 and before you assume that was just about increased pressure on this unit because of the offensive injuries, take note that it's basically the same as where they ranked in 2014. Dallas has been mediocre-to-poor on defense since 2009.
That's why just assuming this will be a double-digit win team is a risky proposition. The Over/Under on wins for Dallas is 9.5. That means we're taking a team with a five-year track record of average football and saying they have to go 10-6 at minimum just to eke out an Over. Is it possible? Of course. Is it a good bet, particularly given that's a straight (-110) on either side? We have our doubts.
We're certainly not ruling out Dallas as a potentially good investment on a week-to-week basis, as we evaluate the matchups and watch how the season unfolds. Maybe they really will be "all that." But the market optimism of summer is based on a lot of assumptions that come with high risk.