NFL Picks: Potential Playoff Preview in Cardinals vs. Cowboys

Matthew Jordan

Tuesday, October 28, 2014 11:22 AM GMT

Raise your hand if you penciled in a Cardinals-Cowboys NFC Championship Game? It's not looking all that unrealistic as the two teams face off in a terrific Week 9 matchup Sunday. The Cowboys opened as 4-point favorites on BetOnline's NFL odds.

Cardinals Continue to Surprise
I will fully admit that the Cardinals' 6-1 record stuns me. I thought they might win six games all season even off last year's 10-win mark. Clearly Bruce Arians is a terrific coach. No team has ever played in a Super Bowl in its home stadium, but the Cards could become the first. Arizona beat Philadelphia 24-20 on Sunday on Carson Palmer's 75-yard touchdown pass to rookie John Brown with 1:21 left in the fourth quarter. That gave Arizona its best start in 40 years. Palmer also had an 80-yard strike to Larry Fitzgerald in the game and threw for 329 yards. This is not a team afraid to throw downfield. If there's one concern it's the running game, and it managed just 71 yards on 23 carries and only two plays of 10  yards or longer.

The Arizona defense was No. 1 against the rush last season but lost starting linebackers Karlos Dansby (free agency) and Daryl Washington (season-long suspension) off that group. It was supposed to take a big step back. However, Arizona ranks No. 3 in the NFL in allowing 77.9 yards on the ground (was No. 1 entering Sunday; Eagles were first team this season to  rush for more than 100 yards vs. Arizona). It is last in pass defense. The Eagles threw for 411 on Sunday. Safety Rashad Johnson knocked Eagles receiver Jordan Matthews out of the end zone on the last play of the game on what would have won the game.

There is one significant injury to monitor for the Cardinals this week at sportsbooks. That's to cornerback Patrick Peterson, perhaps the best pure cover guy in the NFL. He left Sunday's game with a concussion in the second quarter so he will have to pass all the protocols this week to play. No doubt Peterson would be stuck on Cowboys star Dez Bryant if he can play.

The Cardinals lead the ultra-tough NFC West by two games over San Francisco and Seattle. The Cards already own a win over the Niners but of course play them once more and the Seahawks twice. Arizona is +130 on Bovada's NFL futures odds to win the West along with Seattle. San Francisco is +325. The Cards are 6/1 to win the NFC and 16/1 to win the Super Bowl at sportsbooks.

 

Jason Garrett Coach of the Year?
Dallas hosted Washington on Monday night so obviously this line could change dramatically at sportsbooks if Tony Romo, DeMarco Murray or Bryant get hurt in that one. Murray had rushed for at least 100 yards in all seven games thus far, the first player ever to do so in that many to start a season. He leads the NFL by a wide margin in rushing and is going to get paid as a free agent this offseason. Well, if he's not completely broken by how much the Cowboys are using him.

That Dallas offensive line has been tremendous but played again Monday without right tackle Doug Free due to a foot injury. He could return for this one. Originally he was ruled out 3-4 weeks, but Monday was Game No. 2 missed.

Meanwhile, the Dallas defense was one of the worst in NFL history last year in terms of yards allowed but entered Monday a shocking No. 13 in that category per game. This despite losing perhaps the three best guys off that unit in Jason Hatcher, DeMarcus Ware and Sean Lee. The first two left as free agents (Ware was cut) and Lee suffered a season-ending injury during a minicamp. New coordinator Rod Marinelli has his guys playing hard. Linebacker Rolando McClain was signed off the street and has made a huge difference.

To think Cowboys coach Jason Garrett was the preseason favorite at sportsbooks to be the first NFL coach fired this year. Now he's probably a Coach of the Year favorite. The Cowboys are -200 favorites to win the NFC East at sportsbooks -- Cards did them a favor in Week 8 vs. Philly. Dallas is a 4/1 co-favorite to win the NFC with Seattle and 8/1 on NFL futures odds to win the Super Bowl, behind only Denver.

Dallas and Arizona haven't played a regular-season game since 2011 so not much to glean from that.

NFL Free Pick: Give the points. There is no total posted yet. Arizona has been shakier on the road. The Cardinals' one loss was away from home and they needed a fourth-quarter rally to win at the Giants. Also a bit sluggish in a win at Oakland. Needless to say a major injury Monday night could change things in terms of backing the Cowboys on NFL odds.

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