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Are the Dallas Cowboys a Top-3 Defense Heading Into 2023?



The Dallas Cowboys‘ defense has been on a different planet than what many grew accustomed to during the last decade. Over the past two seasons under Dan Quinn’s tutelage, no defense in the NFL has a better EPA per play mark. They’ve been about as consistent as a defense can be over that time. However, Dallas also had one of the league’s least-difficult schedules last season. Can they keep up that level of play in 2023?

An Analytical Look at the Dallas Cowboys’ Defense

Over the past two seasons, no team has produced better EPA per play production. Only the New Orleans Saints have had a better success rate on defense during that time. Dallas’ dropback EPA dwarfs contenders, and only the Saints’ dropback success rate competes.

Cowboys fans treat the run defense like a red-headed stepchild, but it’s been one of the league’s best as well. They rank sixth in success rate over those two years, and their only bugaboo (ranking outside the top 10) is their 12th-ranked rush EPA per play ranking.

In 2022, Dallas finished second in DVOA. According to Football Outsiders, they were third-best against the pass and fifth-best against the run. The previous year, they also finished second, posting the second-best pass defense and 16th-best rushing defense.

The Cowboys’ run defense improved in 2022, and the return of Johnathan Hankins and the addition of Mazi Smith shouldn’t hurt their run defense in 2023.

But it’s Dallas’ pass rush that devastates opposing offenses. In 2022, they posted the highest pressure rate in the NFL. Only the Eagles and Chiefs sacked opposing QBs more often than Dallas. The Cowboys finished fourth in pressure rate the year prior, although they were unable to get home as often as they did in 2022.

MORE: NFC East QB Rankings 2023 — Jalen Hurts and Dak Prescott Battle for Divisional Supremacy

And while their defense doesn’t rely on the ability to turn the ball over, Dallas is darned good at that as well. They led the league in takeaways in the last two years, totaling 67.

Quinn possesses a devastating repertoire of defensive line games that he plays on obvious pass-rushing downs to affect an opposing quarterback’s timing and create havoc on the offensive line.

Just about any way one shakes it, the Cowboys’ defense has been dominant over the past two seasons. But can they keep it up?

dallas cowboys
Dec 24, 2022; Arlington, Texas, USA; Dallas Cowboys cornerback DaRon Bland (26) makes an interception in fron tof Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Quez Watkins (16) during the second half at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Cowboys 2023 Defensive Outlook

The Cowboys’ defense is ultra-talented. When PFN’s own Arif Hasan looked at their unit compared to the rest of the league, he came to the conclusion that Dallas has the second-best defense in the NFL heading into 2023, with the Jets edging them out.

On paper, Dallas’ defense has only improved from last season. Set to lose Anthony Brown in free agency, trading for Stephon Gilmore was perfect. Brown was coming off an Achilles injury, so the move made sense, particularly when we think about the fit in Quinn’s defense.

MORE: Stephon Gilmore Battles Atop the Best CB Rankings in 2023

There’s no end to the Cowboys’ depth, particularly on the edges. Micah Parsons might be the most dominant player in the NFL. Demarcus Lawrence, Sam Williams, Dorance Armstrong, Dante Fowler Jr., and Viliami Fehoko round out an incredible unit.

But there are a few defenses around the league with incredible pass rushers. It’s the middle of the Cowboys’ defense that is their secret weapon.

Cowboys Safeties Are the Team’s Unsung Heroes

We all know and understand that aside from Leighton Vander Esch, the Cowboys’ linebacking corps is very much an unknown entity. But Dallas’ defense doesn’t care, because it really doesn’t need more than a single linebacker for their base defense.

The Cowboys’ safety unit is built differently. Donovan Wilson, Malik Hooker, and Jayron Kearse combined to play 3,032 snaps in 2022 (each played more than 900 snaps). No other NFL team had a unit to each play over 700 snaps.

Kearse plays most of his snaps around the line of scrimmage. He’s practically a second linebacker by deployment, even if his positional designation is safety.

That’s something more NFL teams are likely to replicate moving forward, especially as Tite fronts and gap-and-a-half schemes become the norm. Teams will give a bit against the run to have a better coverage player on the field. And Kearse’s build and athleticism make him a very good weapon to use against tight ends. He also defends the run like a linebacker.

“Getting Dan Quinn back was a huge win, and it was much-needed just to try your best to keep this group together,” Kearse told 105.3 The Fan. “Because the strides we made in Year 1, it can give us a lot of upside going into Year 2, with guys being together.”

Kearse said that after Quinn returned for Year 2. Year 3 likely won’t be much different.

Speaking of defending the run like a linebacker, Wilson is a ticking time bomb. He plays with a ferocity that has often led to his own downfall. Wilson played all 17 games in 2022 but has missed time in each of the previous two seasons with various injuries.

Then, there’s Hooker. While he hasn’t been the can’t-miss free safety that we thought he was coming out of Ohio State, Hooker’s been a solid center fielder for the Cowboys. He’s also been surprisingly physical as a presence against the run as well.

Are the Cowboys a Top-3 Defense Again in 2023?

The Jets, 49ers, Chargers, Eagles (x2), Bills, and Dolphins make up the seven games Dallas plays against the top-10 offenses in 2023. But the NFL is a league of attrition. Injuries will likely tell the story of Dallas’ defensive success. For two years now, they’ve remained relatively healthy on that side of the ball.

We also know that replicating defensive success in the NFL is extremely difficult. Nevertheless, we’ve seen teams like Wink Martindale’s Baltimore Ravens (pre-2022) and Dennis Allen’s Saints defense remain consistent over a half-decade span.

MORE: Can Viliami Fehoko Become the Next Dallas Cowboys Rookie Surprise?

Adding Gilmore helps. DaRon Bland should only get better in the slot, and Jourdan Lewis should be healthy again in 2023. Unless there are a rash of injuries to the Cowboys’ best defensive players, it’s not easy to imagine the unit taking a significant step back this season, which puts a lot of pressure on the offense to step up.

“I don’t think we’re gonna see any corners playing nose tackle,” Quinn said. “But I think for the amount of space plays that we have, a receiver that can be a runner, a runner can be a receiver, a tight end that can be a receiver, a (defensive) end that can play back or a safety that can play nickel. Those perimeter type of people, I think it’s changing that way.”

Quinn has seamlessly moved pieces around on the Cowboys’ defense to put them in a position to find mismatches. It’s part of the reason why Parsons was so successful rushing the passer as a rookie while still learning how to be a professional pass rusher.

With a unit this complete, we shouldn’t be surprised when this time rolls around next year and the Cowboys’ unit has had the best three-year stretch in the NFL.

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Same Game Parlay Picks and Predictions




The Pittsburgh Steelers and Las Vegas Raiders have both split their first two games, and the spread reflects the expectation that this one comes down to the wire.

When considering same game parlay picks in a spot like this, you’re best off working backward. Decide what you think the outcome looks like and then build the story of how we get there.

Our Betting Lines page has the freshest lines and promos to get BANG for your buck. PFN’s FREE Parlay Calculator and Betting Odds Calculator are also available for your betting process! New to sports betting? Check out our guide on How to Bet on the NFL. Visit our Sports Betting Legal Tracker on how to bet legally in the U.S.

Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Las Vegas Raiders Odds

  • Spread
    Raiders -2.5
  • Moneyline
    Raiders -142, Steelers +120
  • Total

We here at Soppe HQ like to encourage responsible gaming, and in that vein, I’ll always offer you a trivia question off the top of these articles. Pose this question to a buddy you are watching the game with. Answer correctly, and you pay for the SGP; misfire and he/she is on the hook.

Trivia Question: Who has more career touchdowns as a member of the Raiders franchise: Davante Adams or Jerry Rice?

More often than not, I will have the winner of the game worked into my same game parlay picks, but that’s not the case here. The books have this labeled as little more than a coin flip, and I tend to agree, so I’m not going to force it.

What is it that we “know”? Of course, we “know” nothing for sure, but there are some components of these teams that are more projectable than others, and that’s what we need to target.

MORE: NFL Week 3 Betting Predictions

On the Steelers side, we saw them play without Diontae Johnson for the first time, and the result was 34.5% of the targets going to George Pickens.

There was no real surprise there, but it was good to see and is something I’m happy to back against a Raiders defense that has allowed opponents to complete 81.7% this season.

If my finished product isn’t juicy enough for you, the Pickens leg is your spot. In seven career games with at least four catches, he’s registered at least 57 receiving yards in six of them and finished north of 80 in the majority of them.

Let’s shift to the pro-Raiders side of this game. Did you know that they’ve scored on their first possession in seven straight games? In five of those instances, they found the end zone, supporting early Raider angles and possible first TD dart throws.

That matches up nicely with the Steelers being outscored by 21 points in the first half of their past seven games (+28 in second halves in those games). I can’t imagine that a short work week helps Pittsburgh come out strong, so I’m using those trends when building my SGP.

Now, we get into the fantasy football portion of the segment. Josh Jacobs. He has no touchdowns and no big plays to speak of through two weeks, not exactly what we were expecting after a career year. But let’s take a deep breath.

MORE: Steelers vs. Raiders Start ‘Em, Sit ‘Em

Jacobs had 19 of 20 RB carries in Week 1 when the Raiders were healthy and competitive, something we expect to be the case this week. He runs behind an offensive line labeled as a top-5, and that has largely been a profitable spot to be against the Steelers.

Since the beginning of last season, Pittsburgh has allowed 5.6 yards per carry to starting RBs (or committees when the starter isn’t clear) who play with a top-5 offensive line by our Dalton Miller’s ranks.

Volume and efficiency are both things I’m comfortable counting on for Jacobs in this spot. For his career, Jacobs has 10 games with at least 15 carries and 5.0 yards per carry. In those games

  • 14 rushing touchdowns
  • 137.5 rushing yards per game

Let’s zoom out a bit and just look at those 15-carry games. He has run for 35 scores in those 42 games and has cleared 70 yards on the ground 29 times.

In the majority of those failures to reach 70 yards, it was in part due to the opponent scoring at least 27 points. The Steelers have an implied total of 20 points in this spot, so I’m not sweating a high-scoring game.

Trivia Answer: Rice leads the way with 18 (Adams has 15)
Same Game Parlay Pick: Raiders 1H (-0.5), Jacobs 70+ rushing yards, Jacobs anytime TD, George Pickens 50+ receiving yards
Odds: +600 (DraftKings)

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Will Jimmy Garoppolo Get The Win in His Home Debut in Las Vegas?




For Sunday Night Football this week, we have the Pittsburgh Steelers vs. the Las Vegas Raiders. The favorite for Steelers vs. Raiders flipped in the middle of the week, as Las Vegas is now a 2.5-point favorite after they opened as 1.5-point underdogs.

Both of these teams have struggled on offense through the first two weeks of the season, as they each rank in the bottom three in yards per game. After a really impressive preseason, Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett has struggled so far this season, with his 19.9 QBR being the lowest in the NFL.

Meanwhile, for the Raiders, Josh Jacobs is hoping to get back on track after rushing for negative yards last week.

For the Steelers, this will be their first road game of the season. Yet, it will be the Raiders’ home debut and Jimmy Garoppolo’s first regular-season game playing in front of the Las Vegas crowd.

In a matchup of two 1-1 teams, which will improve to be above .500 through the first three weeks of the season? Our team of betting experts gives out their Steelers vs. Raiders predictions and picks against the spread, point total, player props, and more.

Our Betting Lines page has the freshest lines and promos to get BANG for your buck. PFN’s FREE Parlay Calculator and Betting Odds Calculator are also available for your betting process! New to sports betting? Check out our guide on How to Bet on the NFL. Visit our Sports Betting Legal Tracker on how to bet legally in the U.S.

Steelers vs. Raiders Betting Lines, Start Time, and More

All odds are from DraftKings Sportsbook unless stated otherwise.

Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Las Vegas Raiders Prediction

  • Spread
    Raiders -2.5
  • Moneyline
    Steelers +120, Raiders -142
  • Total
  • Game Time
    8:20 p.m. EST
  • Location
    Allegiant Stadium
  • How To Watch
    NBC, Peacock

Bearman: People can say it was “Steelers football” or “Steelers DNA” or whatever they want for Monday night’s win over the Cleveland Browns, but I saw it as Deshaun Watson handing them the game and Pittsburgh getting bailed out.

MORE: Week 3 NFL Betting Predictions 

The Steelers offense did next to nothing, with a total of 255 yards, 71 of which came on their lone offensive scoring play. Play like that again tonight, and it’ll be all Las Vegas.

The Raiders looked good in their Week 1 win in Denver but then walked into the Buffalo Bills hangover buzzsaw. I like them here.

Pick: Raiders -2.5 (-115 at FanDuel)

Blewis: Pittsburgh needed two defensive touchdowns to beat Cleveland last week. After the Steelers’ starting offense scored a touchdown on every drive in the preseason, the narrative has completely flipped. So far this season, they’re only averaging 247 yards per game.

Josh Jacobs should have a bounce-back game against a Steelers run defense without Cam Heyward, allowing the Raiders to play ball-control football.

I got the under while it was at 43.5, but I would still play it at this number. Keep fading the Steelers offense while you can, especially when they’re due for regression in turnover luck.

Pick: Under 43 (-110 at FanDuel)

Soppe: We saw the Steelers play without Diontae Johnson for the first time on Monday night, and the result was 34.5% of the targets going to George Pickens. No real surprise there, but it was good to see and is something I’m happy to back against a Raiders defense that has allowed opponents to complete 81.7% of their passes this season.

The explosive second-year receiver averages 15.8 yards per catch for his career, and now we get a chance to marry that per catch upside with a strong target expectation against a porous secondary. What am I missing?

Pick: George Pickens over 51.5 receiving yards (-115 at DraftKings)

Katz: I know I want to fade Pat Freiermuth, who is a complete afterthought in the Steelers offense. I couldn’t decide how. So, I decided to split the bet.

This is a single-unit fade on Freiermuth in the form of two bets. So far, Freiermuth has exactly two catches for five yards on the season. His usage has been erratic, playing 50% of the snaps in Week 1 and 75% of the snaps in Week 2 (although a big hit to the chest may be to blame for Week 1).

MORE: NFL Week 3 Survivor Picks

In Week 1, Freiermuth saw four targets. In Week 2, despite playing more and running two more routes, he saw just one target.

Simply put, Kenny Pickett’s first read is almost never the Muth. So, my read is to fade him.

Picks: Pat Freiermuth under 32.5 receiving yards (-113 at Caesars) and under 3.5 receptions (-131 at Caesars)

Katz: I am not quite sure why Jimmy Garoppolo’s passing yardage line is so high. He’s thrown for 185 and 200 yards in each of his first two games. One was a narrow win. The other was a blowout loss. Regardless of the game script, Garoppolo isn’t airing it out.

Now, his line is set 40 yards higher than his best game so far. It’s a bit confusing. The under just seems so obvious. Perhaps I’m falling into a trap, but I have to recommend it.

Pick: Jimmy Garoppolo under 240.5 passing yards (-115 at BetMGM)

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Target Kirk Cousins, George Pickens, and Mike Williams




We officially have two games of the 2023 NFL season in the books. Now that we have more data and game film to analyze, there are some player prop lines to take advantage of on SuperDraft heading into Week 3 of the NFL season.

Looking to make a trade in your fantasy league? Having trouble deciding who to start and who to sit? Check out PFN’s Free Fantasy Football Trade Analyzer and Start/Sit Optimizer to help you make the right decision!

Top SuperDraft Player Prop Picks for Week 3 of NFL Action

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Kirk Cousins, QB, Minnesota Vikings | 24.5 Passing Completions

The Minnesota Vikings have been one of the pass-heavier teams through the first two weeks of the NFL season.

Kirk Cousins has thrown the ball 44 times in both weeks to start the 2023 NFL season. The Vikings’ defense has another tough matchup against quarterback Justin Herbert and the high-powered Los Angeles Chargers passing offense in Week 3, which could lead to Cousins throwing the ball early and often in a potentially high-scoring affair.

One big reason the Vikings have been forced to throw the ball so much to start the season is the complete absence of a running game in 2023.

The Vikings rank dead last in the league with just 69 yards rushing with a brutal 2.7 yards per carry through the first two games of the year.

In addition to throwing the ball 44 times a game, he has managed to complete a minimum of 31 passes a game in both contests this season.

The line being set at 24.5 feels criminal if this turns into another high-scoring affair for the Vikings.

The Chargers defense gave up 466 yards through the air to quarterback Tua Tagavailoa in the season opener. If the Vikings are forced to air it out again in Week 3, it could be another big week for Cousins.

Pick: Over

George Pickens, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers | 51.5 Receiving Yards

The Pittsburgh Steelers offense hasn’t looked all that good through the first two weeks of the season, but one bright spot has been second-year wide receiver George Pickens.


Pickens managed to do something that Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins failed to accomplish against the Cleveland Browns defense in Week 1… Go for 100 yards receiving and find the end zone.

Pickens saw a career-high 10 targets and produced a career-best 127 receiving yards on four receptions on Monday Night Football.

MORE: Week 3 Fantasy Football Cheat Sheet

Things should get a bit easier against a Las Vegas Raiders secondary that just got torched by the Buffalo Bills.

With Diontae Johnson likely out for Week 3, expect another busy — and productive — day for Pickens against the Raiders.

Pick: Over

DJ Moore, WR, Chicago Bears | 42.5 Receiving Yards

It is unusual to see a player who just went for 104 receiving yards last week see his weekly yardage prop line total drop below 43 yards.

However, that is the prop life of a Chicago Bears pass catcher to start the 2023 NFL season.

The Bears passing offense has been most underwhelming this year, even with Moore showcasing his big play ability against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 2.

While I acknowledge that the Bears’ passing hasn’t looked great, does anyone believe that the Bears won’t be trailing for most of this contest?

The defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs have posted back-to-back subpar offensive outings for their standards. Most expect reigning MVP Patrick Mahomes to find plenty of success against this Bears defense.

MORE: Fantasy Week 3 WR Start/Sit

Do you know what that tells me? The Bears are expected to throw the ball quite a bit in this contest. Moore should see plenty of looks with a favorable game script to help him hit the over on his yardage mark for a second straight week.

Pick: Over

Mike Williams, WR, Los Angeles Chargers | 61.5 Receiving Yards

Pop quiz.

Who led the Los Angeles Chargers in targets in Week 2?

If you answered Mike Williams, you are correct.

Williams saw 13 targets against the Tennessee Titans and generated eight receptions for 83 yards on those looks.

Unfortunately for fantasy managers, his fellow starting wide receiver — Keenan Allen, caught eight balls for 111 yards and two scores.

The fact that both players were so heavily involved in the passing attack with Austin Ekeler out of the lineup bodes very well for them heading into their matchup against the suspect Minnesota Vikings secondary.

If Ekeler is unable to go for a second consecutive week, I think Williams has himself another quality outing in what could turn into a shootout.

Pick: Over

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