- Sunday's marquee 4 p.m. game will be decided in the trenches, as both Dallas and Carolina will need to run the ball effectively to control the action.
Dallas Cowboys at Carolina Panthers (-3)
Sun. 9/9, 4:25 p.m.
Three things you need to know before betting on Cowboys-Panthers:
1. Dallas and Carolina will each be led by a quarterback who has consistently delivered winning results for bettors over the years. Panthers QB Cam Newton is 60-47-2 against the spread as a starter in the NFL, giving him an ATS winning percentage (56.1%), superior to that of Drew Brees (55.6%), Matt Ryan (53.5%) and Ben Roethlisberger (51.5%). Dallas QB Dak Prescott is working with a smaller sample size as he enters his third season as a pro, but his 18-13-1 record against the spread (58.1%) is undeniably impressive for a young signal-caller.
Prescott is also something of a stylistic heir to Newton at the position. Cam had 22 rushing TDs in his first two seasons, making him the leader by a huge margin in that category among quarterbacks over the last 25 years. But in second place is Prescott, who has punched in six scores in each of the last two seasons for a career total of 12. Last year, Newton and Prescott were first and fifth, respectively, among quarterbacks in rushing yards.
2. The running game will be where this Week 1 game is won and lost. Both Dallas and Carolina finished in the top four in the NFL in rushing offense last season, and each team also finished among the bottom seven in passing offense. Based on what took place over the offseason, those imbalances could widen further. Dallas shed its top receivers, losing Dez Bryant and Jason Witten, and figures to lean even more heavily than usual on the run game as it figures out what it does (or doesn't) have for reliable options at wideout and tight end. Carolina upgraded at running back by bringing in 1,000-yard rusher C.J. Anderson to replace Jonathan Stewart. Anderson will form a formidable ground-game trifecta alongside Newton and Christian McCaffrey.
Dallas running back Ezekiel Elliott would be electrifying in any NFL offense, but he owes much of his wildly impressive production thus far to the Cowboys' dominant offensive line. That unit received some bad news in the preseason when All-Pro center Travis Frederick was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disease, and he seems unlikely to play in the opener. While the first concern is obviously his well-being, his prospective absence has substantial implications for how this game will play out. Without much of a passing game to speak of in Dallas, Carolina figures to load up the box to stop Elliott. And if one of the cornerstones of that offensive line is missing, it could be a long day indeed for the Dallas offense.
3. When the Cowboys and Panthers do air it out, each team has a rookie receiver with the potential to step up and make big plays. As fantasy football enthusiasts are well aware, talented first-year wideouts rarely deliver on preseason hype, especially in the early weeks of the season. But Carolina's D.J. Moore and Dallas' Michael Gallup could be exceptions, mostly because these squads have about one proven wideout between them. That would be Devin Funchess of the Panthers, but Moore—who caught nine touchdowns in a terrible Maryland offense last year and ran a 4.42 40-yard dash at the combine—would seem to be a preferable No. 2 in Carolina over the washed up Torrey Smith. Meanwhile, because of the aforementioned empty cupboard that is the Dallas receivers group, some are speculating that Gallup could quickly become Prescott's primary target. In late August, Jerry Jones told a local radio station that he anticipated the third-round pick out of Colorado State would start on opening day.
Pick: Carolina -3
Confidence Level: High (on a scale of Low/Moderate/High/Very High/Extremely High)