All but left for dead one week into the season, the Dallas Cowboys are suddenly surging by riding running back DeMarco Murray and following a bulldozing offensive line.
The Cowboys, 3-1 straight up and against the spread, might be the NFL’s biggest surprise story to this point. And the story has a Las Vegas connection.
Murray, a former Bishop Gorman High School star, is the league’s leading rusher with 534 yards. Dallas ranks No. 1 in rushing offense and No. 8 in total offense.
“The Cowboys have finally come to grips with the fact that running the ball is a good idea. They have a stout line and Murray is a workhorse,” said Brian Blessing, a handicapper for “The Linemakers” on SportingNews.com. “After treating the football like a greased pig in the opener, Dallas is on a roll.
“The defense is functional, and the Cowboys have an electric offense. Maybe their dominant performance last week against New Orleans will kick them into another gear at home, where they have been ordinary in recent years.”
Blessing recommends riding the Cowboys as 6-point home favorites over Houston today. Money showed on Dallas after the line opened at 4.
The Texans, also 3-1 straight up and ATS, are a solid defensive team with a shaky quarterback, Ryan Fitzpatrick.
“The Texans were handed an early Christmas present by the Bills last week,” Blessing said. “Fitzpatrick simply can’t be trusted, and defenses are stacking the box on running back Arian Foster to make Fitzpatrick throw. It is a sound strategy.”
Blessing (Sportsbookradio.com) breaks down the rest of today’s Week 5 schedule:
■ Chicago at Carolina (-2½): The Bears piled up 235 rushing yards and 496 total yards against Green Bay last week, but Jay Cutler and the offense kept self-destructing. Chicago should put up its fair share of points against a solid Panthers defense. On the flip side, the Bears’ secondary is an absolute mess. Cam Newton should be getting healthier and should have his moments in this spot. Play over the total of 45½.
■ Cleveland at Tennessee (-1½): It has been an entertaining start to the season for the Browns, who have been competitive and are coming off a bye week. Early-season byes can be problematic, creating rust more than reaping rewards of rest. Getting tight end Jordan Cameron healthy will be a big plus for Cleveland. The Titans have lost three straight games against quality opposition — Dallas, Cincinnati and Indianapolis. If quarterback Jake Locker can go, and he is listed as probable, Tennessee should get the job done. I would lay the short number.
■ St. Louis at Philadelphia (-7): The Rams built a 21-0 lead against the Cowboys two weeks ago and then fell asleep at the switch. St. Louis will start Austin Davis at quarterback in what looks like a tough spot. The Eagles had no business being in the game with the 49ers last week, ultimately squandering a late opportunity to win. Philadelphia’s running attack has disappeared, the offensive line is banged-up, and quarterback Nick Foles is taking a beating. With extra time to prepare for this game, I can see the St. Louis defense rising to the occasion. There was a move toward the under, and I’m on board with it. Play under the total of 48.
■ Atlanta at N.Y. Giants (-4): The Falcons are tough at home and a tough team to support on the road. The Giants have jumped out of their 0-2 grave with wins over Houston and Washington, but the jury is still out on their long-term prospects. A high-scoring game seems likely, yet the total of 50 is inflated. Atlanta is dealing with injuries on the offensive line, but quarterback Matt Ryan has plenty of weapons to get involved in a track meet-style of game and possibly pull off the upset. If this game were played two weeks ago, the Giants would have been 1-point favorites. Take the points with the Falcons.
■ Tampa Bay at New Orleans (-10½): Backing the Buccaneers paid off for me last week, but that was last week. I believe they are a better team with Mike Glennon at quarterback. This is a nightmare spot for Tampa Bay, though. The Saints are in ill humor, and despite the sense that something seems amiss in New Orleans, Drew Brees should light up the Buccaneers. A message to Saints coach Sean Payton: Brees is your best player, so throw early and often and don’t look back. This number is ticking up, but I would lay 10 points with the Saints, who are 8-0-1 ATS at home since last season.
■ Buffalo at Detroit (-7): Kyle Orton is the new starting quarterback for the Bills, and the move to the veteran could produce immediate returns. Buffalo will likely give up more sacks due to his lack of mobility, but Orton won’t miss wide-open receivers prancing through the Lions secondary. The Bills defense has been terrific against the run, ranking No. 5 in the league, boosted by the addition of linebacker Brandon Spikes. The problem is Detroit refuses to run the ball. The Lions laying a touchdown looks high, but the safer play would seem to be the over. The Bills have weapons that have been underutilized, and that could change with Orton, plus Detroit loves the fast indoor track. Play over the total of 43½.
■ Baltimore at Indianapolis (-3½): Are the Ravens really flying under the radar with a 3-1 start?
They caught Pittsburgh on a short week, eked out a win at Cleveland and torched a struggling Carolina team. The Colts finally have come to grips with the fact that Andrew Luck can sling it around with the best of them and there’s no need to be so conservative. Indianapolis’ two-game win streak has come against Jacksonville and Tennessee. This is a saltier foe. With the hook in play, it has to be a play on the Ravens.
■ Pittsburgh (-6½) at Jacksonville: This matchup for the Steelers seems eerily similar to last week’s game with Tampa Bay. Pittsburgh is a public team that is not built to boat race anyone. The Jaguars are 0-4 ATS and a mess, but rookie quarterback Blake Bortles should be better with a game under his belt and playing at home for the first time. If Bortles can channel his inner Teddy Bridgewater, Jacksonville can cover the number. Denard Robinson, a former Michigan quarterback, could provide a spark at running back for the Jaguars. Take a shot with the home ’dog if the line hits 7.
■ Arizona at Denver (-7½): The Cardinals are 3-0, but a closer look shows they have been fortunate. San Diego botched the opener, the Giants were a basket case in Week 2, and the 49ers are in a funk. The Broncos are coming off a bye following a gritty effort at Seattle.
Can it be this easy? Peyton Manning against Drew Stanton spells a long day for the visitors. Lay the points, as the Broncos should get off to a fast start and not look back.
■ Kansas City at San Francisco (-5½): The Chiefs have resurrected their season following an 0-2 start, while the 49ers avoided giving away a game last week against the Eagles. It’s really hard to trust either side. Kansas City is a run-first team that could be in trouble if it falls behind early. Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith, off a strong performance against the Patriots, will be fired up to face his former team. The number seems too high, and sharp money came in at plus-6, but I’ll just be watching.
■ N.Y. Jets at San Diego (-6½): Some fans are clamoring for a quarterback change in New York. Whether it is Geno Smith or Michael Vick running the show, the Jets’ chances revolve around their defense. Philip Rivers has been solid to start the season, completing 70.1 percent of his passes with nine touchdowns and one interception, but the Chargers can win for only so long without any semblance of a running game.
I lean to the Jets plus the points — and the line is 7 at some books — but feel more comfortable playing this under the total of 44.
■ Cincinnati (-1) at New England: The Bengals are on cruise control at 3-0, and their bye week could not have come at a worse time. The Patriots are coming off one of the worst beatdowns you will ever see, a 41-14 loss at Kansas City on Monday. Don’t forget, when the Chiefs are relevant, Arrowhead Stadium is one of the toughest venues in the league.
Personal pride and Tom Brady have me leaning toward the Patriots, but their current form is so bad that I’ll go under the total of 46.
COMPILED BY MATT YOUMANS