A month ago, the Dallas Cowboys appeared to be in control of the NFC East. Nothing is guaranteed, however, when Jason Garrett is the coach and Tony Romo is the quarterback.
The Cowboys (5-5) have lost two of their past three games while watching the New York Giants (4-6) rise from the grave and the red-hot Philadelphia Eagles (6-5) take over first place.
Once 0-6 and seemingly six feet under, the Giants are back as 2½-point home favorites today over the Cowboys, who are off a bye after taking a 49-17 beating at New Orleans on Nov. 10.
But the Giants’ four-game win streak has not impressed many people, including handicapper Doug Fitz (Systemplays.com).
“The Giants greatly benefitted by facing what essentially were backup quarterbacks in each of those four games, and that’s certainly not the case with the Cowboys,” said Fitz, the leader in the Review-Journal NFL Challenge with a 32-21-2 record against the spread. “I think the wrong team opened as the favorite.”
Dallas defeated the Giants 36-31 in Week 1, mostly because of Eli Manning’s errors. He passed for 450 yards and four touchdowns, but also threw three interceptions. Manning has tossed an NFL-high 17 interceptions.
Romo has been far better, passing for 21 touchdowns with six interceptions. He’s not to blame for the Cowboys’ shortcomings. Dallas defense is surrendering a league-worst 439.8 yards per game.
“The Cowboys have the worst defense in the league, which would normally take me off of them in most circumstances, but they are facing Manning and the 23rd-ranked offense,” Fitz said. “Neither team can run the ball, so I’m counting on the Dallas defense to be good enough to stop one of the NFL’s worst quarterbacks.
“Romo has been the opposite of Manning, and he has 12 touchdowns and three interceptions in his past four road starts against the Giants.”
Fitz scouts the rest of today’s Week 12 schedule:
■ Tampa Bay at Detroit (-9): Rookie quarterback Mike Glennon has turned out to be a decent find for the Buccaneers, who are on a two-game win streak. They seem to have figured something out after losing their first nine games. The Tampa Bay defense has been solid all season. The Lions just kind of cruise along in rather ordinary fashion. They have a tendency to make critical mistakes, and coach Jim Schwartz doesn’t help by making some really questionable decisions. Take the points with Tampa Bay.
■ Jacksonville at Houston (-10): I’ll side with the Jaguars, but this is more of a play against the Texans. It should be evident to everyone after 11 weeks that Houston is simply a bad team despite its above-average statistics. The Texans are 2-8 straight up and ATS, so laying this many points to any team is absolutely crazy. Double-digit ’dogs in conference games are 8-5 ATS this season. Jacksonville is terrible, but this is an overlay.
■ Minnesota at Green Bay (-4½): Since an injury to Aaron Rodgers on Nov. 4, the Packers are 0-3 straight up and ATS. Scott Tolzien will make his second start at quarterback for Green Bay, which has averaged 15.3 points and allowed 27 points in the past three games. Tolzien threw three interceptions last week, and it appears he’s in the bottom tier among the numerous backups who have taken over their teams this season. The Vikings are another bad team in a good spot in a division game. Sometimes you have to side with ugly underdogs under the right circumstances.
■ San Diego at Kansas City (-4½): This is the mother of all sandwich situations for the Chiefs, who suffered their first loss at Denver last week and host the Broncos next week. Alex Smith is running a conservative offense for Kansas City, which has not scored more than 26 points in any of its past six games. The Chargers have fallen on hard times, losing their past three games, but this is a great spot for them to take advantage of a division opponent in a horrible scheduling position. San Diego should cash.
■ Carolina (-4½) at Miami: Cam Newton had three touchdown passes and 62 yards rushing in the victory over New England on Monday, so the public is impressed and betting the Panthers. But they could be a scheduling casualty off two huge wins, including the Week 10 upset at San Francisco. Carolina might have a road letdown and get caught looking ahead to a resurgent division opponent, the Buccaneers. Miami gets the money.
■ Pittsburgh at Cleveland (-2): The Browns and “favorite” should not be allowed in the same sentence. There is a pretty consistent scenario in this bitter rivalry — the Steelers almost always win in Cleveland. Pittsburgh has internal problems, but Ben Roethlisberger’s play has improved. Roethlisberger has passed for 971 yards and nine touchdowns in the past three games. Look for the Steelers to get the win as underdogs.
■ Chicago at St. Louis (-1): The Rams, who stunned Indianapolis 38-8 on the road before a bye, are playing much better since Kellen Clemens replaced injured Sam Bradford at quarterback. Statistically speaking, these teams are very close, but the Bears are dealing with key injuries on defense. Chicago has been a money burner at 2-7-1 ATS. I’ll side with St. Louis, which has a solid defense and a running attack to support Clemens.
■ N.Y. Jets at Baltimore (-3½): This is a puzzling game, but it’s obvious the Ravens are suffering from a severe case of Super Bowl blues. Baltimore has lost four games by three points or fewer. The pattern all season for the Jets has been to play good games after bad ones, and they were awful last week in a lopsided loss at Buffalo. Go with the Jets getting more than a field goal.
■ Tennessee (-1) at Oakland: The Raiders have covered their past three games when getting points, but there’s not much of an edge here. Ryan Fitzpatrick has stepped in for the Titans and passed for 486 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions over their past two games. Oakland has a weak secondary which allows an average of 252.3 yards passing. Both teams are using backup quarterbacks. I’ll go with Fitzpatrick.
■ Indianapolis at Arizona (-3): Money is showing on the Cardinals, who have won three in a row against powerhouses Jacksonville, Houston and Atlanta. I think this number is giving them a little too much credit. Arizona has trouble running the ball, averaging only 85.6 yards, and their pass defense is mediocre. Carson Palmer has been good during the win streak, but make no mistake, he is and always has been a below-average quarterback. Andrew Luck is better by far, and I’ll take him against the Cardinals secondary.
■ Denver (-2½) at New England: It’s hard to bet against Peyton Manning, but he is only 7-13 straight up and ATS, including 2-8 ATS when favored, in his career against Patriots coach Bill Belichick. Tom Brady is 11-2 straight up and 12-1 ATS as an underdog off a straight-up loss. New England is not going to be in a good mood after the way its Monday loss ended on a questionable call by the officials. Take the Patriots and the points.
COMPILED BY MATT YOUMANS LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL