At the official halfway point of the season, two teams have played well enough to put themselves on the inside track to hosting a conference championship game: The New England Patriots (7-1) and the Dallas Cowboys (6-1).
Both teams were forced to overcome the sudden loss of their superstar quarterbacks before Week 1, but while most pigskin prognosticators expected New England to rebound after Tom Brady’s four-game suspension, only diehard Dallas fans believed rookie Dak Prescott could replace the injured Tony Romo.
Per the Bovada sportsbook’s preseason odds to win Super Bowl 51, the Pats were the league favorite at +600 entering the year, while the Cowboys were longshots at +3300.
Brady’s impressive four-game winning streak upon returning, coupled with Prescott’s stellar all-around season and six-game winning streak, have narrowed those odds to +200 and +1000, respectively. The Patriots are still the overwhelming favorites to hoist yet another Lombardi Trophy, but the Cowboys are now their closest competitor in that regard.
New England enjoys its bye week this Sunday, while Dallas recuperates from its rousing fourth-quarter comeback in a 26-20 overtime thriller to top the Philadelphia Eagles (4-3) with (basically) a bye of its own.
The Cowboys visit the hapless Cleveland Browns (0-8), the only team in the NFL still searching for its first win. They could’ve broken through last week after storming out to a 20-7 halftime lead over the New York Jets (3-5), but yet another Browns collapse in crunch time erased what may be their last opportunity to avoid the ignominy of an 0-16 season.
Cleveland won’t be favored in any of their eight remaining contests, and that holds true this Sunday, as Bovada tabs Dallas as big 7.5-point home favorites.
The Sunday slate also offers a pair of competitive divisional games between teams that Bovada pegs as evenly matched opponents.
After blowing a 10-point fourth quarter lead in the aforementioned loss to the Cowboys, the Eagles now sit even with the New York Giants (4-3) and Washington Redskins (4-3-1) in a two-game hole in the highly competitive NFC East.
The path to a division title will likely end for one of those teams this week, as the Eagles hit the road to take on the Giants. The urgency will be squarely on the Eagles, losers of three out of four following three straight wins to open the year. Throw in a head-to-head loss against Dallas, while New York won their showdown with the Cowboys, and the Eagles absolutely must beat the Giants to preserve any shot at winning the East.
The bookmakers at Bovada have this as an essentially even matchup, giving New York the standard 3-point edge as home favorites.
Sunday Night Football features an AFC West showdown between the defending Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos (6-2) and the upstart Oakland Raiders (6-2).
Denver is relying on its stout defense once again – allowing just 17.0 points per game without surrendering more than 23 points to any opponent. Oakland, on the other hand, is riding the MVP-caliber play of quarterback Derek Carr to overcome penalties and sloppy play on defense. The Raiders have scored 28 points or more in five of their six wins, putting up a 5-0 road record in the process.
They’ll need to defend home turf – and Carr’s blind side – against Denver’s fearsome defensive front on Sunday night, and Bovada puts the Raiders at slim 1-point favorites to do just that.