Carolina Panthers Greg Olsen

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Dallas Cowboys (0-0) vs. Carolina Panthers (0-0), Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, NC

NFL Week 1: Sunday, September 9, 2018, 4:25 ET.

The NFL season gets underway with a battle between two NFC teams that have real hopes of reaching the Super Bowl this season. The Dallas Cowboys are looking to rebound after a disappointing 2017 season and will take on the Carolina Panthers, who are just three seasons removed from reaching the Super Bowl. Dallas leads the series all time 9-4.

Can the Cowboys Rebound?

Two seasons ago, the Dallas Cowboys were the toast of the NFL, finishing 13-3 and posting the top record in the NFC. They were then defeated by the Green Bay Packers at home, 34-31, and the toast quickly became burnt. Ezekiel Elliot was suspended to start the 2017 season and the team never lived up to the expectations, finishing 9-7 and out of the postseason running. The Cowboys were 6-2 on the road last season and were 7-5 within the conference.

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After an impressive rookie season, quarterback Dak Prescott took a step back, still throwing for 3324 yards and 22 touchdowns, but that was 400 fewer yards than in 2016 and he threw nine more interceptions. Add to it that he was sacked seven more times and there was real cause for concern. That started with the fact that the suspension of Elliot seemed to sidetrack the team, as he gained just 983 yards a season after recording 1631. The return to the 2016 form for both Prescott and Elliott is essential for this team to succeed.

Dallas was 14th in points per game average last season (22.1) and 14th in total offense (331.9), however, they still finished second in average rushing yards per game (135.6). The big difference this season will be that Prescott lost both of his big-play targets as TE Jason Witten retired and wide receiver Dez Bryant has moved on. This could be a tough year in Big D if Prescott can’t establish chemistry with his receiving corps early on.

The Cowboys defense finished 13 in points allowed per game (20.8) and were eighth in average yards allowed per contest (318.1). Dallas finished 0-4 in the preseason.

Can the Panthers Break the Trends

If the Carolina Panthers stay true to form but should be a down year for the team. In 2013 they won 12 games, 2015 15 games, and in 2017 11 games. However, in the even years, they have stumbled, winning seven games in 2012, seven games in 2014, and six in 2016. If the trends continue this should be a down year.

The 2017 season was a good one for the Panthers, as they finished 11-5 and were 6-2 at home. They finished 7-5 in the conference. In the preseason this year, they are 3-1.

When you are talking about Carolina, the conversation has to begin with Cam Newton, who threw for 3302 yards and 22 touchdowns last season. Newton also led the team in rushing with 754 yards and six scores. It was another solid season for Newton, who has been right around the 3,500-yard mark the last three years, but the big difference was that he completed 59.1% of his passes, his second-highest percentage in the last four seasons. He was intercepted 16 times last year, plus he fumbled nine additional times, which are numbers that are going to have to come down.

Newton should get some real help at the wide receiver position, as Torrey Smith was acquired from Baltimore and D.J. Moore was chosen as the teams No. 1 pick. Devin Funchess and Greg Olsen return, giving him four weapons with soft hands. Add to it running back Christian McCaffrey, who had 80 receptions from the running back position in 2017, and this could be a banner year for the Carolina quarterback.

The Carolina defense should still be solid, ranked seventh in the NFL in 2017 in yards allowed (317.1), and 11th in points allowed (20.4). Everyone from their front seven will be returning this season.

Trends:

Dallas:

  • 5-1-1 ATS in their last seven games on the road.
  • 4-1 ATS in their last five September games.
  • 3-1-1 ATS in their last five games overall.

Carolina:

  • 4-1 ATS in their last five games at home.
  • 7-3 ATS in their last 10 games overall.
  • 2-5 ATS in their last seven September games.

The Winner Prediction

There are a lot of question marks around the Dallas Cowboys this season. Was 2017 a fluke or was 2016 a big overachievement by the team. Meanwhile, Carolina has an established quarterback who gains additional weapons and they are at home. The Panthers were already the better team, but playing at home seems to make them a lock.

The Pick: Carolina Panthers (-3.0) (+100)

The Total

Both of these teams should be pretty good offensively so banking on the over seems to be the smart pick. The score should probably total somewhere near the 50 range.

The Pick: Over 43.0 (-110)

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