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Denver Broncos vs. Dallas Cowboys: Storylines, prediction for Dak Prescott’s return

The Dallas Cowboys vs. Denver Broncos game might not look competitive on paper, but there are storylines everywhere in this game.

The Dallas Cowboys vs. Denver Broncos game is not short of storylines. Dak Prescott returns after a calf strain sidelined him for the Cowboys’ game against the Minnesota Vikings. Meanwhile, the Broncos broke a four-game skid last week against Washington and are clinging to relevancy.

Denver Broncos vs. Dallas Cowboys storylines

The Cowboys defeated the Vikings without Prescott, but they only managed 20 points, a full 14 points under their season average. Will they rebound offensively with Prescott back under center?

Can Dak Prescott push for the MVP award?

Despite missing a game and watching his team win without him, Prescott is tied with Kyler Murray for second in the MVP odds at +550. They trail only Josh Allen for the league’s most prestigious award.

The NFL is weird. Teams don’t usually go 13-3, and even with the extra game, 13-4 is a tough ask in a league that boasts parity. However, Dallas’ schedule consists of just three more games against teams with winning records. That doesn’t include what will be a tough matchup against the Chiefs, but the point remains — the stretch run isn’t necessarily daunting.

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If the Cowboys are pushing for the top seed in the NFC and Prescott beats the Cardinals in Week 16, there is an excellent chance Prescott ends up being both Comeback Player of the Year and the NFL MVP. The only thing that could hurt his chances is winning games too handily, which wouldn’t allow him to put up the numbers necessary to win the award.

Prescott is still an entirely polarizing quarterback. However, if you pay attention to the people that dedicate their lives studying the play of the guys throwing the football, they’ll tell you nobody is playing the position at Prescott’s level each and every week.

Micah Parsons vs. Patrick Surtain II

Yes, they play on opposite sides of the ball. Sure, they even play different positions defensively. Yes, Micah Parsons has played at a Pro Bowl level at times at two positions. But man, Cowboys fans wanted them some Patrick Surtain II when the draft was around the corner, and he was probably one pick away from being a Cowboy in April. So far, he’s been everything the Broncos hoped he’d be — and more.

Surtain has been Denver’s best secondary defender throughout the season. Justin Simmons has returned to greatness as the team’s offense has sputtered, but Surtain hasn’t skipped a beat since he stepped foot on an NFL field for the first time. He’s technically proficient, athletic as anybody on the back end, and has the ideal size and length for the cornerback position. He’s the real deal.

Parsons was a home run. It isn’t easy to be a difference-making linebacker. Heck, people have told me for eight weeks now that Eric Kendricks and Fred Warner are bad, simply because the position is a bit more dependent on the performance of defensive teammates. But Parsons is learning to make a difference as an off-ball linebacker, all while being in a very elementary state as a pass defender in coverage.

For now, his best usage is still in a hybrid role. Parsons’ pass-rushing ability is more valuable than his efforts in coverage, so seeing his rushing numbers dwindle is a bit unfortunate. These two will be attached for the long run. The Cowboys didn’t have an opportunity to draft Surtain. Still, it’s interesting to think what could have been if he and his former Alabama teammate Trevon Diggs were playing opposite one another once again.

The Broncos’ offense has taken a nosedive

Through the first three weeks of the NFL season, few teams looked as dominant as the Broncos. They ranked third in expected points added per play offensively and were second in passing EPA/play. Teddy Bridgewater and Denver’s passing attack were on a tear, but they still struggled to run the football. They were 24th in rushing EPA and 27th in rushing success rate.

Those numbers came against the Giants, Jaguars, and Jets. That’s three teams that rank 22nd or lower in EPA/play on defense. Only the Giants give cause for hope, as DVOA (Football Outsiders’ efficiency metric) pegs them as the 12th-best defense in the league.

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Since Week 4, however, the Broncos have ranked 21st in success rate through the air, 24th in dropback EPA/play, and still can’t run the ball (23rd in success rate). They are getting big plays in the run game, though, as their rushing EPA/play is eighth in the league.

This season is over for the Broncos. That’s okay. It’s incredibly difficult to compete when you have 14 players on injured reserve. They have four linebackers on that list, and they just put CB Bryce Callahan there.

Should the Broncos turn to Drew Lock?

What I’m saying here is this team has been devastated by injuries, and their QB play has taken a dip over the past few weeks. However, they do have a young QB with a massive arm and athleticism sitting on the bench.

With their options limited heading into 2021, the Broncos must figure out exactly what they have in Drew Lock. Then, they can decide whether to try and shop him before the 2022 season or give him a third shot at starting.

The reason I have so much conviction about the rest of Denver’s season is their schedule. With nine games left, they still have to face the Cowboys, Chargers (twice), Chiefs (twice), Bengals, and Raiders. They’ll be an underdog in at least those seven contests.

Trading Von Miller was evidence enough — the Broncos’ playoff hopes are done.

Denver vs. Dallas betting line and game prediction

As of Friday evening, the Dallas Cowboys vs. Denver Broncos game has a 10-point spread in favor of the Cowboys. The over/under of 49 points implies a 29.5-19.5 score, which seems reasonable. Dallas was first in points per game before Prescott’s injury.

Courtland Sutton is the type of receiver against whom Diggs can flourish. Diggs’ length makes him a bit less snappy in his direction changes, which makes route-running technicians more difficult for him to cover. The Mike Evans and Suttons of the world match up better for his style. If the Broncos surprise folks, it’ll be thanks to Jerry Jeudy, Tim Patrick, and a big day from an inconsistent rushing attack.

Cowboys vs. Broncos Prediction: Cowboys 31, Broncos 20

Dalton Miller is the Lead NFL Analyst at Pro Football Network. You can read more of his work here and follow him @daltonbmiller on Twitter and Twitch

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