Detroit Lions (11-5 SU, 7-9 ATS) vs. Dallas Cowboys (12-4 SU, 10-6 ATS)
NFC Wild Card Game, 2014 NFL
Date and Time: Sunday, January 4, 2015, 4:40 pm EST
Where: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas
by Badger, Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread:DET. +7/DAL -7
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The Detroit Lions wont lose defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh after all when the Lions travel to Texas for their first-round NFC Wildcard game against the Dallas Cowboys inside AT&T Stadium. Suh was originally suspended by the NFL, but that was overturned in appeal on Tuesday afternoon.
The loss of Suh could have been devastating for Detroit as they prepare to face the Cowboys ground attack of DeMarco Murray behind an all-first-round NFL draft pick offensive line (a fact the NFL likely used as grounds for reversing the suspension). Now all of the football world will get a chance to see the Cowboys 2nd-ranked running attack (147 ypg) against Suh and the Lions and their top-ranked run defense (allow 69 ypg) in the NFLs last game in wild card round on Sunday afternoon.
So far the news of Suhs reinstatement has yet to really make much impact at the betting window, because the point spread opened with Dallas as 7-point favorites at home in JerryWorld and with the over 12-hours past since the announcement on Suh, the betting line has yet to change at all. With the way the Cowboys finished off their regular season on a major roll, added to the way the Lions limp in struggling on offense, the full touchdown advantage seems to be what oddsmakers and the betting public agree on as an accurate number.
The over/under total opened at 48 and has also essentially held at the same number at most sportsbooks, although you will find a few 49s already out on the Web at a few of the offshore sportsbooks on the Web.
Theres obviously the challenge of the Dallas offense and Murray running effectively on early downs against the Lions run defense, but the Lions will also have to find a way to pressure Tony Romo to get him off the wave of momentum he is currently riding. Romo and Dez Bryant will always have that back shoulder throw that they seem to have total confidence in right now, how the Lions choose to cover Brant with either Rashean Mathis on passing downs or a combination of Mathis and the other corner Darius Slay. Look for Romo and Bryant to pick on the matchups against Slay, who is a weaker cover-corner and can get beat from time to time, especially on routes across the field in man coverage underneath. Detroit will gain an advantage if right tackle Doug Free still cant play with his injured ankle in this game. The Cowboys have been withholding Free for this game, but if hes still not healthy enough the Lions combo of Jason Jones and Ezekiel Ansah will give replacement RT Jeremy Parnell trouble on the right edge.
Detroit has struggled for a few games now on offense, and your starting to hear rumbles outside of the Motor City as the talking heads start speculating what is wrong with the Lions offense. The Lions won 10 games this season with the NFLs 28th-ranked rushing offense (89 ypg), so to say that their fortunes lie upon the arm of quarterback Mathew Stafford and the passing game is a major understatement. The kicker is the fact that the Cowboys have given up their fair share of passing yards this season (252 ypg 26th), so Magatron Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate will end up having great days if the Lions can protect Stafford in the pocket in the face of the Cowboys pass rush.
These two teams played last year in October in Detroit, a shootout that ended as a, 31-30, Lions last-second victory as both Romo (206 yards, 3 TD) and Stafford (488 yards, TD, 2 INT) played their roles for their teams. The Lions last visit to Dallas was back in 2011, and it ended with a similar, 34-30, Lions victory with Stafford (240, 2 TD) and Romo (331, 3 TD) playing pretty good from in that game too.
There are some pretty interesting betting trend numbers to observe for this one. While the over has gone 5-0 in the last five head-to-head meetings between these two teams, its actually the under that is 8-1 in the Lions last nine road games. The under is also 5-2 in the Cowboys last seven playoff games.
Not only do the Lions have trouble winning on the road in the NFC, they have been a lousy wager on the road going 8-20-1 ATS over the last few seasons. But the Cowboys have hurt just as many bettors over the years, as they are 2-6 ATS in their last eight playoff games and just 5-11 ATS in games played in the crucial playoff month of January.
The underdog role in the Lions-Cowboys history has recently turned in a solid 4-1 ATS record. But a couple of those were the Lions coverings as double-digit dogs back in the Jon Kitna days, so I say that trend is a little misleading despite being a solid approach of picking the underdog in the NFL playoffs.
Badgers Pick to Cover the Point Spread:I cant begin to express how huge I think the reversal of the Suh suspension will have as an impact on this game. With Suh inside the Lions should still be able to limit the damage of Bryant on the ground. And the questionable health of right tackle Doug Free gives the Lions a pressure point to attack. The way the Cowboys finished averaging 41 points a game certainly could still happen, something in my gut is saying that NFL playoff football just doesnt work like that. Detroit may not win the game, but theyll keep it close and make it an exciting one. Im going against the masses and taking Detroit plus the +7-points.