Dallas Cowboys (3-3) +5, O/U 41 at Carolina Panthers (4-3), 8:15 p.m. Eastern Sunday, NBC
A couple of third-place teams with playoff aspirations meet up Sunday night when the Dallas Cowboys take on the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte.
Dallas sits in third place in the NFC East, a game back of the division-leading New York Giants. Carolina occupies third place in the NFC South, a game and a half back of the division-leading New Orleans Saints.
These two teams have played four times over the last four seasons, including a playoff game three seasons ago. Dallas has won three of those games, but Carolina covered the spread twice. And three of those games have gone over their posted totals, although the average number of points scored, 38.5, isnt particularly a lot.
The Cowboys beat the Panthers in Charlotte 24-20 in December of last season as five-point road dogs. Carolina led 10-0 in the first quarter and 20-17 with 2 minutes to go in the game. But Dallas rallied, and Drew Bledsoe hit Terry Glenn from two yards out in the waning moments for the winning score. The Cowboys outrushed the Panthers that day 214-71.
This season, Dallas has beaten the Houston Texans, Tennessee Titans and Washington Redskins, while losing to the Jacksonville Jaguars, Philadelphia Eagles and, last Monday night, badly to the New York Giants.
Which leads us to Cowpoke QB Tony Romo, who will make his first career NFL start Sunday against the Panthers. Typical of back-up QBs, Romo has put up some respectable numbers (67% completions, 3/3 TD/INT, 92.2 rating), but in basically mop-up duty.
Carolina has beaten Tampa Bay, New Orleans, Cleveland and Baltimore, while losing to Atlanta, Minnesota and, last week, the Bengals in Cincinnati 17-14 as three-point road dogs.
The Panthers actually had their chances in Cincy, but QB Jake Delhomme tossed an INT with Carolina at the Bengals 10-yard line late in the game when a field goal would have tied it.
On the season, Delhomme is hitting 59% of his passes for a 9/4 TD/INT ratio and an 83.6 passing rating.
Dallas is outrushing opponents by a 138-82 yards-per-game average.
The Panthers are getting outrushed by a 115-97 YPG margin.
Carolina lost its first two games of this season while WR Steve Smith sat out with a couple of injuries. The Panthers are 4-1 since his return.
The Cowboys rank 5th in the NFL with a 31:40 time-of-possession advantage, and 5th in 3rd-down conversions at 45%.
Carolina ranks 23rd in TOP at 28:56 and dead bleepin last in 3rd down proficiency at 24%.
Dallas is 3-3 against the spread this season, while the Panthers are only 2-4-1 vs. the numbers.
The Sagarin PREDICTOR ratings at USAToday.com rank Dallas 7th at 24.7, the Panthers 15th at 22.1.
The over/under is 4-1-1 in Cowboys games this season, but 2-5 in Carolina games.