NFL Week 1 Picks: Dallas Cowboys vs. Los Angeles Rams Predictions
Pick: Over 50 @ -110
Pick: Dallas -2.5 @ +100
Key Stat: Dallas led the NFL in total offensive yardage in 2019. A year earlier, the Rams ranked second. Both offenses rank in the top five across the past two seasons combined.
Sunday Night Football features a fun matchup of offensive-minded coaches. Some of the shine has faded from Rams coach Sean McVay, who took the league by storm in 2017 and 2018. McVay’s offense was far less efficient early in 2019 — one might call it a Super Bowl hangover, especially as many observers chalked it up directly to Bill Belichick’s defensive approach in the prior season’s final game.
But late last season, the Rams started to get some things going, developing a little more consistency as they moved toward more tight end involvement in the passing game. I was encouraged by the in-season schematic adjustment, and the Rams closed 2019 averaging more than 400 yards of offense and 29 points over their final five games where Tyler Higbee was a massively larger part of the offense than he’d ever previously been in his four-year career.
I’m still a believer in McVay as an offensive coach, and think he’ll have some answers after an offseason to reflect on the ways 2019 went awry. Dallas also looks weaker in the secondary than the front seven, so expect Los Angeles to attack through the air.
The issues for the Rams come on the defensive side of the ball. Out are defensive coordinator Wade Phillips and several key pieces including Cory Littleton, Dante Fowler, and Nickell Robey-Coleman, and while this isn’t a bad defense, it looks like one that could be exposed by the shortened offseason, a trend I discussed in my Thursday Night preview.
Meanwhile, Dallas has had some transitions of their own. Long-time head coach Jason Garrett is gone, replaced by former Packers leader Mike McCarthy. But offensive coordinator Kellen Moore returns after his first season on the job saw a huge uptick in productivity for the offense, driven by a more pass-happy, vertical approach. McCarthy said all the right things about analytics and this more modern approach right after the Cowboys hired him, and confirmed in August Moore will be calling plays again in 2020, so the hope is McCarthy isn’t meddling too much in what was a good thing in 2019.
With Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and Ezekiel Elliott all back behind a plus offensive line and Moore on the headset, the Cowboys offense already had tons of firepower. But they also added arguably the best wide receiver talent in the 2020 draft in CeeDee Lamb, and camp reports were positive on the former Oklahoma star. While the Cowboys were much better at home than on the road in 2019, they project to be explosive again in 2020 and the matchups when they have the ball are very much in their favor.
It’s hard to imagine the Cowboys failing to produce offensively in this spot, but I expect the game to be competitive, as the line indicates. The over is my favorite bet here, but I like it in tandem with the Cowboys on the spread, because I don’t see many scenarios where the Rams win a lower-scoring affair. If Los Angeles takes a first-half lead, the Cowboys should be able to get back into the game as they speed things up. But if Dallas jumps out in front, there’s more of a chance the Rams never get things going and the Cowboys win by double digits, keeping the game under its high total.