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Cowboys ride roller coaster

The NFL season is full of ebbs and flows. Teams get hot, teams get cold, and it’s up to handicappers to figure out when to ride the winning or losing streaks and when to anticipate the trends will reverse.

A perfect example of that is today’s San Francisco 49ers-Dallas Cowboys game. Both teams are on a roller- coaster ride this season, and journalist/handicapper Dave Tuley of ViewFromVegas.com is riding the 49ers as 10-point road underdogs as his best bet of the week.

Tuley, a longtime Las Vegas correspondent for the Daily Racing Form, is on a streak this season. He leads the Review-Journal NFL Challenge, enters the weekend tied for first place in the Leroy’s Pro Challenge with a record of 38-17 against the spread and is tied for sixth in the Hilton SuperContest at 35-19-1.

The Cowboys stormed out of the gate, riding roughshod over Cleveland, Philadelphia and Green Bay to become a Super Bowl favorite. But then the Cowboys lost to Washington, failed to cover the spread in a victory over Cincinnati and lost in overtime at Arizona in a game that saw quarterback Tony Romo injure his throwing hand.

Dallas was a long shot even to make the playoffs before Romo returned for a 14-10 victory over Washington last week.

Meanwhile, the 49ers started the season 2-1 before losing four in a row, leading to the firing of coach Mike Nolan.

San Francisco was blown out in Mike Singletary’s first game as coach, but after a bye week, the 49ers had two solid games with a spread-covering loss to the Cardinals and a decisive win over St. Louis.

“This line appears to be based on the assumption that the Cowboys are back in form with Romo, but I’m not buying it,” Tuley said. “It also doesn’t take into effect the 49ers have shown vast improvement the past few weeks. Granted, you can’t put too much stock in the 49ers routing the Rams, though it is interesting to note those same Rams routed the Cowboys, albeit without Romo.

“I won’t argue with anyone who says the Cowboys have the better offense — though I will point out both teams have scored exactly 230 points — and the better defense. I’m just saying the Cowboys aren’t 10 points better than the 49ers at this point of the season.

“Another factor is Dallas will be content to grind out a win with Marion Barber carrying the load like he did against the Redskins.”

Tuley also points out that although the Bengals failed to cover on Thursday, double-digit underdogs are 17-2 (89.5 percent) against the spread this season, according to the closing numbers at the Las Vegas Hilton.

Tuley analyzes the rest of today’s Week 12 schedule:

Houston at Cleveland (-3): Both teams were seen as being able to make playoff runs this year but have underachieved. I can’t back either team with confidence, so I’ll look to the total. The Texans, with an explosive offense with Steve Slaton running and Andre Johnson receiving, and a sieve-like defense, lead the league with a 9-1 record over the total. The Browns are 5-5 in totals wagering, but they’ve flown over the past three games, including the last two with Brady Quinn at quarterback. Even with the chance of inclement weather, I’ll go over 491/2.

Buffalo (-3) at Kansas City: The Bills have fallen off the map with four straight losses both straight up and against the spread. The Chiefs always are tempting as a home underdog, but I’m concerned off their effort last week at home versus New Orleans. My attention will focus elsewhere.

New York Jets at Tennessee (-51/2): This is being billed as a playoff preview between division leaders. The Titans are 9-0-1 ATS this season — they closed at minus-3 against the Packers in Week 9 at the Hilton, which I use as my sports book of record; other books had it as Titans minus-31/2 as they won 19-16. The Jets are on a roll, covering three straight, but the Titans should own both lines of scrimmage and stay undefeated. However, I’m an underdog player 80 percent to 90 percent of the time, so I’ll pass on this one.

New England at Miami (-1): The Dolphins were 0-2 and headed toward another abysmal season when they shocked the Patriots 38-13 in Week 3, and they have continued to play like playoff contenders. I’m not usually a handicapper who puts a lot of stock in revenge, but in this case I have to believe New England coach Bill Belichick, who has won and covered the past nine times in divisional revenge games, will have his team prepared for the “Wildcat” offense and turn the tables.

Tampa Bay (-8) at Detroit: As everyone knows, the Lions are 0-10 in the official NFL standings, but they are 5-5 against the spread and have covered four of their last six, with the spread loss to the Redskins in Week 8 by one point. The Buccaneers are similar in a lot of ways to the Panthers, who the Lions covered against last week. I’m taking the Lions plus the points.

Philadelphia at Baltimore (-1): This game was a pick’em earlier last week, and that’s how I see it. Can I predict another tie just so we can hear Donovan McNabb explain the rule book to us again? Both teams are fighting for playoff spots, and I can’t make a case either for or against either team.

Chicago (-8) at St. Louis: Which Rams team will show up? For that matter, which Bears team will show up? This is a game the Bears should win, but as poorly as the Rams have played this year, we’ve seen them step up versus the Cowboys and Redskins. The Bears’ defense has been suspect, and we all know the inconsistencies on their offense. This has all the makings of one of those upsets that everyone scratches their heads over at the end of the day, but that shouldn’t be too shocking in the parity-laden NFL. I’m on the Rams and on a smaller play on the money line at odds of 3-1.

Minnesota at Jacksonville (-2): Both teams have let down backers several times this year as they’re both 3-7 against the spread. I give the edge to the Vikings here but only slightly due to the Jaguars having a lot of injuries. Both teams should try to move the ball on the ground, and that should keep the clock moving, so I also lean to the under (41).

Carolina at Atlanta (-1): The Falcons, like the Dolphins, are a team that has had oddsmakers and the public scrambling to catch up with them. Also like the Dolphins this week, the Falcons are small favorites against a team that I think is better. The Panthers’ pass rush should harass Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan like it did in Carolina’s 24-9 victory in Week 4. The Panthers will use their ground attack to set up Jake Delhomme’s play-action passes.

Oakland at Denver (-81/2): The Raiders covered against the Dolphins last week, but I wouldn’t bank on a repeat. The Broncos have won two straight and might be back in form. They certainly dominated the Raiders in a 41-14 win in Week 1. I’m never laying more than a touchdown in the NFL, so I’ll pass.

Washington (-3) at Seattle: I’m stumped on the point spread here. The Seahawks have one of the NFL’s best home-field advantages, and they nearly rallied against the Cardinals last week, but I think the Redskins get the win, so I can’t take the short number. However, I like this under 401/2. The Redskins’ defense should contain the Seahawks’ offense. Washington can be expected to come with a conservative game plan of runs and short passes to escape with a victory.

New York Giants (-3) at Arizona: The Cardinals are one of the feel-good stories of the year, and a lot of people are on them as a home underdog here. I’ve been accused of being a contrarian, and I resemble that remark, so I’m on a rare favorite. Arizona can score with anyone, but the Giants have the more balanced attack, plus the pass rush to get to Kurt Warner. Besides, I’m not worried about the Giants’ ability to win on the road.

Indianapolis at San Diego (-21/2): This game is the poster child for teams that flash brilliance but then don’t live up to expectations. The Colts have won three straight games but covered only one. The Chargers can’t win the close ones, either. This should be a fun game to watch, but instead of sweating a bet I’ll be checking out the opening lines for next week.

Compiled by Review-Journal sportswriter Matt Youmans.

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