Dallas Cowboys @ Atlanta Falcons
Sunday 12 November, 21:25 BST
TV: Live on Sky Sports Action & Main Event
Elliott a big miss for the Boys
At last, the Ezekiel Elliott suspension has been confirmed. Alongside Le'Veon Bell, Elliott has been leading the league in recent weeks at running-back. He's rushed for 783 through eight games, picking up 116, 147, and 150 yards in the three games before collecting 93 yards last week versus the Chiefs. He's had six TDs in that stretch as well.
Alfred Morris and Darren McFadden will likely split carries in Elliott's place. Morris has looked good handling relief work for Elliott this season, but McFadden offers another dimension and has stronger previous form in Dallas, rushing for more than 1,000 yards in 2015.
The timing of the suspension is disappointing not just for the Cowboys, but for football fans in general. Dallas have two meetings with Philadelphia on their schedule remaining, and Elliott will miss the first of these in Week 12. There are no guarantees any player will be available when big games come around, but it's still a shame Elliott won't face Philly's tight run defence next week.
Before they face the all-powerful Eagles they've to see off another flock of winged attackers, last season's surprising juggernaut offence, the Atlanta Falcons.
However, Atlanta are not the swarming force they were last year.
Atlanta's blame game
While statistically they look competitive, on the field they have been disappointing. The only major departure from last year's offence was the coordinator, Kyle Shanahan, but "only" is doing a lot of work in that sentence.
Blame is starting to be doled out for their middling performances and record this year, and Shanahan's replacement, former USC coach Steve Sarkisian, is taking most of it.
The Falcons are averaging the same yards per carry this year as last. They gain a respectable 8 yards per passing attempt, down on the 9.2 of last year, but still sixth best in the league in 2017. Freeman, Coleman, Ryan and Jones still in situ, so they haven't lost major offensive pieces on the field.
The trouble is they haven't converted opportunities into points this season, ranking 18th in Red Zone efficiency for the season.
If Shanahan set off pyrotechnics, Sarkisian seems to be pouring water all over them. Atlanta have regularly tailed off in the second half of games this season, leading to suggestions the coordinator is out of his depth at this level.
Defensively, the Falcons are solid if mundane, and, given how much draft capital has been invested in their defence, it's hard not to be underwhelmed. Dan Quinn was hired as Head Coach after working with Seattle's celebrated defence, but Atlanta don't play to the level this pedigree would suggest.
Dallas's defence, on the other hand, is one of the stories of the season. DeMarcus Lawrence and David Irving are terrorising quarterbacks, while Sean Lee continues to be the glue that holds everything together behind them. If Lee gets hurt, as he often does, he is irreplaceable for Dallas, but while he's healthy, they are a threat to the best.
Atlanta have been notably better at home than on the road this season, and that goes some way to explaining the -3 line. Elliott's absence is also a factor. Tackle Tyron Smith is doubtful for Dallas as well, and any disruption to their powerful offensive-line is not ideal, but it's still hard to look beyond the Cowboys with the points. Atlanta are fortunate to be 4-4, scraping wins over Detroit and Chicago and losing to Miami after leading 17-0 at half-time. I can't bet on this team -3 against Dallas, and you shouldn't either. Take Dallas with the points and run at 2.0811/10.
For the same reasons I like Dallas on the Moneyline market at 2.526/4. There is simply something wrong in Atlanta, the only cause for pause is Elliott's suspension and Smith's injury, but even without them, Dallas are just a better team.
Consequently, I also expect Dallas to score more than the 22.5 points. Again, the missing pieces are a concern, but less renowned names in Dallas's passing game have stepped up in recent weeks, which is encouraging. Morris and McFadden are capable, experienced backs, and Rod Smith could be an X factor. The main con on this market is that Atlanta could be controlled by the Dallas defence, so the Cowboys might not need to keep scoring, but they've been consistently posting over 20 points this season, so it's a reasonable play if you like Dallas.
Back Dallas Cowboys +3 on the Handicap market @ 2.0811/10 or more on the Exchange
Back Dallas Cowboys on the Moneyline market @ 2.526/4 or more on the Exchange
Back Over 22.5 points on the Away Team Total Points market @ 5/6 on the Sportsbook