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Dallas Cowboys vs. New Orleans Saints: Matchups, prediction for a historic TNF encounter

What is our prediction for this week's Dallas Cowboys vs. New Orleans Saints game? What matchups will decide the contest on Thursday night?

Making a prediction for this Dallas Cowboys vs. New Orleans Saints matchup has an interesting wrinkle as they will become the first teams in NFL history to play back-to-back Thursday Night Football games. Let’s take a look at the matchups that will decide this Cowboys at Saints game, examine the current NFL odds, and make a prediction for how the game may go.

Dallas Cowboys vs. New Orleans Saints prediction | Saints offense vs. Cowboys defense

It has been a strange month for the Saints’ offense since Trevor Siemian took over as the starter following the injury to Jameis Winston. Through the first three weeks under Siemian, the offense averaged 25 points per game, but they still went 0-3 as their defense gave up an average of 30 points. Then, on Thanksgiving, with injuries having destroyed the offense, they scored just 6 points.

Now, the Saints appear to be turning to Taysom Hill at QB as they look for a spark. Siemian’s performances have been tough to judge because the product on the field has looked ugly, but averaging 25 points in those three weeks wasn’t a disaster.

However, PFN’s Offensive Value Metric reinforces that Siemian has not been elevating the offense around him. Siemian ranks as a below-average QB in terms of adding value to his offense according to OVM. Therefore, the Saints are right to try something, even if the New Orleans QB has been hampered by injuries to the offense around him.

The change to Hill makes this Cowboys vs. Saints game tough to make a prediction for. Hill is not a conventional QB, and the Cowboys’ defense will need to be prepared for that this week. That element alone makes this a fascinating matchup.

Taysom Hill vs. Dallas Cowboys defense

We don’t have a lot of data or film on Hill as a QB in 2021 — he’s thrown just 8 passes. We have to go back to 2020 when Hill started four games in relief of Drew Brees. The performances were mixed (to say the least). On film, Hill looked uncomfortable and out of place at times playing as a conventional QB.

Yet, the numbers suggest that Hill actually performed reasonably well as the starter. When we look at OVM, which grades players based on factors within their control, Hill was an above-average QB in terms of passing the ball in three of the four weeks he started. In total, during that time, he threw for 834 yards, 4 touchdowns, 2 interceptions, and a completion rate of 71.9%. There is a fair case to make that the weakened competition he faced was also a big factor in those numbers.

This is where the problem with evaluating Hill as a passer lies. The film highlights problems, but the advanced metrics are favorable. When you add in his impact on the running game, this game between the Cowboys and Saints gets even harder to make a prediction for. As a starting QB, Hill rushed for 209 yards and 4 touchdowns on 39 attempts.

Hill starting will be a tremendous challenge for the Cowboys’ defense because they have struggled to defend the run and the pass. In the passing game, they are 25th in the league in terms of net yards per attempt. Against the run, they are 20th in yards per attempt. The positive is they are an opportunistic unit, so if Hill does make mistakes, they could capitalize. Making a prediction for who wins this matchup is extremely tough to do.

Advantage: Push

Saints skill-position weapons vs. Cowboys secondary and linebackers

This is where the major problems for Hill are. He is set to get Mark Ingram back, but Alvin Kamara could very well be limited. Despite missing three games, Kamara is still third on the team in targets and actually leads them in receptions. The combination of Kamara, Ingram, and Hill in the backfield will be intriguing, but Hill desperately needs Kamara in the passing game.

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The rest of the pass catchers have struggled. Marquez Callaway and Deonte Harris can make splash plays (both average over 14.5 yards per reception), but neither is a consistent weapon (catch rate of 60% or below). Adam Trautman and Tre’Quan Smith are more safety-blanket-type options. This pass-catching unit is among the worst in the NFL right now.

The Cowboys’ defense has some eye-catching numbers

This is also a tough matchup for the Saints’ pass catchers. Only one of the Cowboys’ defenders is allowing a passer rating against of more than 100 (Jourdan Lewis). Their group of linebackers and safeties have all performed well in coverage for the most part. That makes a matchup with the combination of Kamara, Ingram, and Trautman intriguing.

On the outside, Anthony Brown had a disastrous game against the Raiders. Yet, those were the only four defensive pass interference penalties that have been called on him all year. Brown has performed well, allowing a completion rate below 60% with 3 interceptions. His partner, Trevon Diggs, has had a mixed season. He is allowing completions at a rate of 56.9% and has 8 interceptions this season. While he’s struggled at times in coverage, these matchups should not be a major test.

Advantage: Cowboys

Saints offensive line vs. Cowboys defensive front

The Saints’ offensive line has been the calling card of this offense for a while now. However, injuries to both of their tackles have devastated them. The problem is that this offense has been built around a strong offensive line and now 40% of it is compromised. There is never a good time to be compromised on your offensive line, but this is a really bad time.

The Cowboys are expecting to get DeMarcus Lawrence back alongside the November Defensive Player of the Month, Micah Parsons. Without Lawrence for a large part of the season, the Cowboys’ defense is still a top-10 unit in terms of pressure rate, even if that has not always translated to hurries and sacks. The Cowboys’ pass rush has the potential to dominate this matchup.

Advantage: Cowboys

Cowboys vs. Saints | Cowboys offense vs. Saints defense

The Cowboys’ offense is set to be close to full strength in Week 13. Question marks remain around Amari Cooper as he returns from a COVID-19 infection, but CeeDee Lamb should be back, and Ezekiel Elliott looks to be coping fine with his bone bruise. While this offense has had its trouble at times, they still rank second in the league in points scored.

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The Saints’ defense has had a couple of poor weeks, allowing 71 points combined. After being incredible for the most part this year, their run defense has been a major question mark over those two weeks, with the Eagles rushing for 242 yards and the normally poor running team of the Bills managing 100 yards on the ground. Still, this is a talented unit that can cause opponents real headaches when they get it right.

Dak Prescott vs. Saints defense

Prescott received a lot of criticism for his play during the Cowboys’ Thanksgiving game. While Dak may not have been at his sharpest, he still performed to the level of an average QB last week. He was also hampered by not having his top two receivers available.

Overall on the season, OVM grades Prescott as the fourth-most-valuable QB within his environment in 2021. Prescott’s new contract was always going to bring criticism, but he hasn’t been the problem for the Cowboys’ recent struggles.

The Saints will present a tough challenge for Prescott. They are an above-average unit this season across several factors. The talent on the defense is impressive, even if the depth is a concern in certain positions. One area they have played particularly well is forcing turnovers. The defense ranks fifth in the league in interception rate (3.4%).

However, with that opportunistic defense comes the potential to give up big plays. The Saints are the 27th-ranked defense in passing yards per attempt at 7.8. Beating above-average defenses are what the best QBs in the league do, and Prescott is now in that class.

Advantage: Cowboys

Cowboys skill-position weapons vs. Saints secondary and linebackers

There is no denying the Cowboys have incredible weapons at their disposal. In Lamb, they are getting back their most effective pass catcher. Lamb has 6 touchdowns and 740 receiving yards at an impressive 14.8 yards per reception. To be outshining Cooper — 5 touchdowns, 583 yards at 13.3 yards per reception — underlies how impressive this unit is.

Michael Gallup and Dalton Schultz ably support them. Both players have stepped up in the recent absence of Lamb and Cooper. Schultz has been especially impressive with 4 touchdowns and 537 yards on the season. Having two players of this quality underlies the complementary nature of this offense.

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That is without even considering the impact of both Elliott and Tony Pollard in their dual roles. Elliott and Pollard have been extremely effective, both in the passing game and on the ground.

This Cowboys offense can test a defense in so many ways that even New Orleans’ impressive defensive talent will have to be at its very best to stop this offense from scoring 30+ points.

Saints secondary and linebackers have largely impressed in 2021

The Saints’ secondary is a strange unit to judge, and it means making a prediction for who wins this matchup with the Cowboys tough to do. Bradley Roby and P.J. Williams have been superb this season with passer ratings against of 73.7 and 51.1, respectively. Williams has been rewarded with a bigger role in the past two weeks.

Paulson Adebo and Marshon Lattimore’s season have been more mixed. Adebo’s inconsistency is to be expected from a young player, but Lattimore continues to confuse onlookers. He allows just a 58.5% completion rate but has given up 6 touchdowns and 9.8 yards per target. Lattimore’s performances make him a player that brings risk and reward for opposing QBs. If they can complete the pass, there is the potential of a huge play, but completing the pass is by no means guaranteed.

How the Saints utilize their linebackers and safeties in coverage will be intriguing. Demario Davis and Kwon Alexander have been impressive with passer ratings allowed of 80.4 and 79.6, respectively. Malcolm Jenkins and rookie LB Pete Werner have been solid, but Marcus Williams has struggled. It will be interesting to see who the Saints use to cover the combination of Elliott and Pollard. That could dictate how successful the Cowboys’ offense is.

Advantage: Cowboys

Cowboys offensive line vs. Saints defensive front

There might not be a tougher offensive line to judge this season than the Cowboys. The numbers they are allowing the offense to produce are impressive, but there are major breakdowns when you watch the film. Getting Tyron Smith healthy is certainly a big element, and they looked better against the Raiders than against the Chiefs the week before.

The Saints’ defensive front is hurt by the loss of both Marcus Davenport and Tanoh Kpassagnon. The loss of that depth has forced Carl Granderson on the field more, limiting his impact on a play-by-play basis. That hurts a below-average unit rushing the passer while also limiting their effectiveness against the run with fewer bodies to rotate in. That lack of depth hands a major advantage to the Cowboys, despite their recent struggles along the line.

Advantage: Cowboys

Cowboys at Saints betting line and game prediction

  • Spread: Cowboys -4.5 (Odds courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook)
  • Moneyline: Cowboys -200, Saints +170
  • Total: 47.5

There is a lot to unpack in this game. The Cowboys are rightly favored, given the uncertainty over what we will get from Taysom Hill. However, the Cowboys have been very much off-color in three of the past four weeks, and that makes a prediction for this game hard to make.

The Cowboys’ offense is virtually back at full strength. Yet, there is likely to be a few teething problems getting them all on the same page after all the absences. However, the Saints defense has been a completely different unit in the last two weeks to the rest of the season. Facing the combo of Elliott and Pollard is a bad time to be having a crisis in your run defense.

All told, the Cowboys are the more talented team across their roster. The Saints are the more talented defense, but only by a slim margin. In comparison, the Cowboys’ offense is light years more talented than the Saints’. That is exacerbated by the injury issues for Terron Armstead and Ryan Ramczyk. The Cowboys should dominate the trenches on both sides of the ball and control this game.

Cowboys at Saints prediction: Cowboys 30, Saints 20

Ben Rolfe is a Senior Managing Editor at Pro Football Network and is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA). You can find him on Twitter @BenRolfePFN.

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