Dallas (6-4; 6-4 ATS) at New England (9-1; 7-3 ATS)
Early line: Patriots (minus-6.5 points). Total: (46)
DAL 1ST OFF; NE 1ST DEF
DAL 7TH RUN; NE 10TH vs. RUN
DAL 1ST PASS; NE 2ND vs. PASS
DAL 4TH PTS; NE 1ST PTS ALLOWED
NE 16TH OFF; DAL 7TH DEF
NE 24TH RUN; DAL T15TH vs. RUN
NE T7TH PASS; DAL 7TH vs. PASS
NE 3RD PTS; DAL 8TH PTS ALLOWED
DAL T18TH TO/TA; NE 1ST TO-TA
Cowboys lead all-time series 7-5-0, but Pats have won last 5 games in series, most recently defeating Cowboys 30-6 at Dallas Oct. 11, 2015. Cowboys’ top-ranked total offense (444.6 ypg) and passing offense (312.7 ypg) will be facing Pats’ top-ranked total defense (249.9 ypg) and scoring defense (10.8 ppg) and 2nd-ranked passing defense (152.6 ypg) Sunday. This game marks the start of a season-defining stretch of five consecutive games for Dallas against teams that either have a winning record or made the playoffs last season.
COWBOYS are alone in first place in the NFC East after their 35-27 Week 11 road win over Lions that featured another strong showing from QB Dak Prescott, who’s having a breakthrough season three years after he was the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Now they get to play the team that helped restore sole possession of the division lead: defending Super Bowl champion New England, which beat Philadelphia while the COWBOYS won at Detroit.
Prescott, who leads the league in passing yards (3,221), registered his third 400-yard passing game of the season, a 444-yard showing with three touchdowns and zero INTs (116.6 QB ranking), as COWBOYS’ top-ranked offense gained 509 total yards and converted 8-of-14 3rd downs in Week 11 win.
COWBOYS had a pair of 100-yard receivers for the 2nd consecutive week, and that was with gimpy top target Amari Cooper held to only three catches for 38 yards. WR Michael Gallup had nine catches for 148 yards, with six for 113 before halftime, and WR Randall Cobb finished with four catches for 115 yards and a TD.
But questions persist about the COWBOYS defense after Jeff Driskel, subbing for injured Lions QB Matt Stafford, had the Lions with a first down inside the Dallas 35 late in the fourth quarter of an eight-point game. Dallas forced a punt from near midfield and ran out the clock.
“We’re good; we’re fine,” LB Leighton Vander Esch said of a COWBOYS defense that allowed the Lions 312 total yards and registered 3 sacks, but also allowed Detroit 6-of-13 3rd-down conversions and failed to force a turnover. “We’ve got to focus on doing our individual job ourselves first, before we start worrying about everybody else’s stuff.”
COWBOYS’ two-time rushing champion Ezekiel Elliott had a pair of TDs (one rushing, one receiving), but he has been held to less than 50 yards in consecutive games for the first time in his 4-year career. There’s no question teams are sticking to the formula of stopping Elliott first. The question is, how much longer will they let Prescott have his way?
Elliott made a leaning catch that almost knocked him off his feet but kept his balance on a 17-yard touchdown on a screen. It was just a few days after Elliott said the COWBOYS hadn’t been committed enough to the screen game. RB Tony Pollard gave Dallas its first lead by taking an underneath pass 21 yards for a score.
Prescott flirted twice with danger in Week 11 win, almost getting intercepted by Lions CB Darius Slay on consecutive throws with COWBOYS leading 27-21 on a drive that ended with their final TD. WR Tavon Austin made a good defensive play on the first, knocking the deep throw as Slay tracked it. The second was a high pass through the fingertips of a leaping Slay that Cooper caught for a 16-yard gain.
On COWBOYS’ injury front, DE DeMarcus Lawrence stayed down for a bit after taking a shot to his right shoulder on a tackle in Week 11 win. He eventually walked off and returned to the game. In addition, Cooper, whose knee injury is the latest ailment in a season full of them for him, was in and out of the game (check statuses).
PATRIOTS have cause for concern despite having the best record in the AFC and being tied for the best record in the NFL after 17-10 Week 11 road win over the Eagles in which the offense couldn't move the ball, QB Tom Brady had one of his worst games of the season and NE’s only TD came on a trick play.
The offense gained 298 total yards and converted 5-of-16 3rd downs and scored just one TD on three trips inside the 20 vs. Eagles. The PATRIOTS started near midfield three times and only managed one FG on those drives, punting on back-to-back possessions after starting at their 48 in the third quarter.
PATRIOTS’ offensive line struggled to protect Brady, who was held without a running or passing touchdown for just the second time this season. He was sacked once and hit six times. NE wasn't able to run the ball, either, gaining 74 yards on 22 carries, an average of 3.4 ypc.
PATRIOTS’ Brady had a very uncharacteristic 67.3 QB rating in Week 11 win. He threw for 216 yards on 47 attempts, and he threw 14 incompletions in the first half —a career high. It was WR Julian Edelman completing a double-pass to WR Phillip Dorsett for a 15-yard TD that was the game's winning score.
The lack of offensive power is why PATRIOTS owner Robert Kraft is all but begging TE Rob Gronkowski to come out of retirement. And why the team was willing to take a chance on troublemaking receiver Antonio Brown, who lasted just one game before he was released.
That said, the PATRIOTS keep winning, primarily due to a defense that continues to rank among the NFL’s all-time best. New England’s “D” allowed Eagles only 255 total yards and 3-of-13 3rd downs and registered 5 sacks by 5 different defenders.
PATRIOTS have allowed 108 points through 10 games, which would put them on pace for 173 in a full season. The NFL record for a 16-game season was the 2000 Baltimore Ravens, who allowed 165 points.
PATRIOTS’ defense has only allowed nine touchdowns; the fewest in a 16-game season were the 16 allowed by the 1986 Bears and the 2000 Ravens.
PATRIOTS’ special teams have also been very good. Jake Bailey punted eight times for an average of 47.6 yards, with six of the kicks pinning Philadelphia inside its 20 in Week 11 win.
Also, PATRIOTS’ kicking game seems to have stabilized after losing longtime PK Stephen Gostkowski to a hip injury in Week 4. After Mike Nugent converted 5-of-8 FG attempts in 4 games, Nick Folk has made every kick in the last 2 games: all 5 field goals and both PATs. He connected on 35-, 22-, and 39-yard FGs vs. Philadelphia.
On PATRIOTS’ injury front, Dorsett left Week 11 game with a head injury and did not return, a loss to the already thin receiving corps (check status). Rookie N’Keal Harry made his debut in Week 11and had three catches for 18 yards. OLT Isaiah Wynn is eligible to come off injured reserve.
PATRIOTS have clinched their 19th winning season in a row, second in NFL history only to Dallas (1966-85). Only the Pittsburgh Steelers (36) have had more seasons above .500 since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger than New England (34).
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