Cowboys at Panthers NFL Pick For September 9
The opening weekend of the NFL season brings us a number of intriguing matchups, including the late afternoon NFC clash between the Dallas Cowboys and the Carolina Panthers. We have an interesting battle between a couple of young dual-threat quarterbacks in Dak Prescott and Cam Newton. Newton led his Panthers to a postseason berth out of the NFC South last year, while Prescott’s Cowboys struggled to a 9-7 finish and missed out on postseason action.
Most expected the Cowboys to be among the teams contending for a Super Bowl appearance last year, but it never came to pass. Now, the team is having to deal with a few players having left in the offseason. Stalwart tight end Jason Witten retired in order to embark on a broadcasting career, while wideout Dez Bryant was released during the offseason after declining to take a pay cut. Bryant is still a free agent.
During the preseason, the team sustained a couple of health concerns along the offensive line. Guard Zack Martin suffered a hyperextended knee during a preseason game, but he was luckily able to avoid any structural damage. He missed the team’s final preseason game, but he’s expected to be ready to start on Sunday. More concerning is the health of Pro Bowl center Travis Frederick. It was announced a couple of weeks ago that Frederick was diagnosed with a rare disease called Guillain-Barre Syndrome. The autoimmune disorder includes symptoms such as numbness all over the body, and there is currently no timetable for his return to the field. He could miss a few weeks, or he could miss the entire season. Frederick was recently cleared to begin lifting weights, but he hasn’t yet been given the green light to practice or resume other football activities. Obviously, he will be missed in the middle of the offensive line.
As for the Panthers, Carolina signed former Broncos starting running back C.J. Anderson as a free agent. Anderson was inconsistent during his time in Denver, and the team is expected to give the lion’s share of the opportunities instead to second-year back Christian McCaffrey. The Panthers’ coaching staff has said it would like to get McCaffrey between 25 and 30 touches per game, so they are obviously planning to make him the focal point of the offense. It remains to be seen whether he can hold up under that kind of workload over the course of a full campaign, but McCaffrey is a player may have pegged as a breakout candidate.
Carolina also upgraded Newton’s weapons by signing veteran free agent receiver Torrey Smith and drafting D.J. Moore out of Maryland. Smith has bounced around the league a bit, but he has proven to be a useful deep threat when healthy. There’s no telling what the team will get out of Moore this season, as receivers tend to take longer than players at other positions to acclimate to the rigors of the NFL game. Draft experts had him rated as a high-upside prospect, and the Panthers obviously like him. Carolina also signed tight end Greg Olsen to a contract extension, so they will be keeping one of the game’s better all-around players at that position.
With both offenses having to incorporate a number of new pieces, we could have something of a slugfest in this one. The Panthers have a few injury issues along the offensive front, so it will be interesting to see how they fare against what may prove to be an underrated Dallas front-7. Andrew Norwell left as a free agent this offseason, which was a blow. Left tackle Matt Kalil was recently put on injured reserve with a knee issue, while guard Jeremiah Sirles was released after injuring his hamstring. The team’s starting right tackle, Daryl Williams, is questionable to play on Sunday after tearing his MCL and dislocating his kneecap about a month ago. Guard Amini Silatolu is also questionable. We could be looking at quite the ragtag bunch being tasked with keeping Newton upright and opening up running lanes for McCaffrey and Anderson.
Few think of the Cowboys’ defense as being among the game’s elite units, but it has a chance to surprise some people this season. Their most impactful playmaker is edge rusher DeMarcus Lawrence, who quietly finished last season with 14 1/2 sacks. The Boise State product looks primed to wreak havoc on opposing backfields again this season. Dallas will also be getting Randy Gregory back from his lengthy suspension. Prior to his run-ins with the league office, Gregory had emerged as a legitimate threat on the other side for Dallas. Sean Lee is arguably right there with Carolina’s Luke Kuechly as one of the best sideline-to-sideline middle linebackers in the game, while first-round rookie Leighton Vander Esch has drawn rave reviews from coaches and teammates during training camp. Jaylen Smith, who finally appears to be fully healthy after battling knee issues, is a high-upside candidate to breakout this season starting on the opposite side of Vander Esch. The Cowboys looked downright fast and ferocious on defense during the preseason, and I think they’re going to be massively improved this season. They’re also incredibly young on that side of the ball, which means they should play with no shortage of energy, especially this early in the new season.
The Carolina defense will have to deal with an elite runner in Ezekiel Elliott, but the Cowboys’ passing game is largely suspect. With Witten and Bryant both out of the picture, there isn’t much scary about the current Cowboys crop of pass-catchers. Cole Beasley is a serviceable threat out of the slot, but Terrance Williams has been wildly inconsistent in his career. Prescott will also have to develop a rapport with newcomers like Tavon Austin and Allen Hurns. The team has high hopes for rookie Michael Gallup, but, again, rookie receivers are unpredictable. I think there will be some growing pains in the passing game, which leads me to believe Elliott is once again going to see a massive workload.
Expect the Panthers to stack the box against Elliott and try to force Prescott to beat them. The secondary is definitely a weak spot for Carolina, but it remains to be seen whether Dak and his new teammates are cohesive enough at this point to take full advantage. Defending the run has been a strong point for Carolina in recent years. The defense allowed just over 88 rushing yards per game last season, which was one of the best marks in the league. Carolina also allowed just 7 rushing touchdowns all year. The Panthers were also the only team last season to not allow a single rusher to tally at least 100 yards against them.
With Carolina’s hugely depleted offensive line and the Cowboys’ underrated defensive front, it’s hard to anticipate the Panthers scoring a lot of points here. Ditto for the Cowboys, who will pit their primary strength (rushing) against the primary strength of the Panthers’ defense (stopping the run). It’s also Week 1, so there should be no shortage of rust on either side. This just has the look of a low-scoring, defensive struggle. The Vegas implied total here is currently sitting at 42 points, which looks a bit high to me.
I think the under on 42 looks like the play.
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