Sunday Night Football gets the most anticipated game of the young NFL season this week (10/8/23) when the undefeated San Francisco 49ers host the Dallas Cowboys (3-1). The 49ers eliminated the Cowboys in each of the last two playoffs and are the betting favorites to win this game at -3.5 against the spread. The over/under is set at 45.5 points.
This article provides Cowboys vs. 49ers analysis, best bet and betting recommendations and explains why the best bet in this week 5 matchup is the 49ers -3.5.
Cowboys vs. 49ers Best Bet
As regular season matchups go, it doesn’t get much better than this primetime clash of two NFC heavyweights. Both of these teams are rightfully among the top four contenders in the current Super Bowl futures odds (49ers at +600, Cowboys at +750). They are both top 5 in DVOA (49ers 2nd, Cowboys 5th), top 3 in net EPA (Cowboys 2nd, 49ers 3rd), and top 4 in Pro Football Focus’ team ratings (49ers 1st, Cowboys 4th).
In seven of the eight games these teams have played this season, they have won by at least 7 points and an average margin of over 23 points (49ers at +16.8 and Cowboys at a whopping +31.7). The lone blemish, of course, was the Cowboys’ confounding loss to the Arizona Cardinals in week 3. While neither team has faced the toughest competition, they have done what great teams are supposed to do in those matchups and dominated from start to finish.
With the two most dominant defenses in the league, the biggest difference between these teams and the key to this matchup appears to be on offense, where the 49ers have a fairly significant edge. Brock Purdy and Christian McCaffrey are both making a case to be MVP candidates early in the season.
Purdy’s overall numbers are not gaudy by any means, but they are depressed somewhat by the 49ers’ complete domination in all four of their games, which has contributed to Purdy having the fewest pass attempts in the 4th quarter of any QB that has started all 4 games. But Purdy’s efficiency has been off the charts. He leads the league in passer rating (115.1), QBR (84.5), EPA per play and success rate and he is 5th in CPOE.
McCaffrey has been the most explosive and unstoppable offensive playmaker in the NFL through four weeks. He leads the league in rushing yards (114.8/game), yards from scrimmage (150/game), 1st downs (8.5/game) and total touchdowns (7). He just broke Jerry Rice’s 49ers franchise record with 13 consecutive games scoring a touchdown. The NFL record is 18 consecutive games.
Christian McCaffrey has scored a TD in 13 straight games, breaking a tie with Jerry Rice (1987) for the longest streak in 49ers franchise history 👏 pic.twitter.com/LFkNXQ9OWs
The Cowboys are simply not in the same league as the 49ers offensively, and the difference shows up most notably in the red zone, where the Cowboys are 30th in red zone touchdown efficiency (36.8%) and the 49ers are 7th (66.7%). In a game where points will be at a premium, the Cowboys cannot afford to settle for field goals in this game.
Between their superior offense, superior coaching and home field advantage, we like the 49ers to win this game and cover the -3.5 spread. It will be interesting to see how this game plays out in terms of the overall scoring output with two of the best defenses in the league on the field. We expect both offenses to struggle at times, so we lean towards the under when betting the total, but the best bet is the 49ers against the spread.
Cowboys vs. 49ers Best Bet: 49ers 23-17, 49ers -3.5, under 45 total points
Cowboys vs. 49ers Betting Odds
Oddsmakers appear to have a good read on this matchup, as the opening lines have barely budged on both the spread and the over/under.
The 49ers -3.5 spread has briefly moved 0.5 in either direction, but for the most part has held steady at that number. The same is true of the 45.0 over/under, which has briefly hit 45.5 but that’s the extent of its movement. Expect both lines to hold firm up until kickoff.
The implied outcome of these odds is the 49ers winning 24-21.
Cowboys vs. 49ers Key Injuries
The Cowboys are getting healthier at the perfect time before this pivotal primetime matchup. Thursday was the first time all season that the entire starting offensive line – LT Tyron Smith, LG Tyler Smith, C Tyler Biadasz, RG Zack Martin and RT Terence Steele – was on the field together during practice. Steele is the only one that has played all 4 games this season. Star LB Micah Parsons has been limited in practice with a knee injury he sustained last week, but he is not expected to miss the game.
The 49ers are also in pretty good shape injury-wise with just a handful of starters on the injury report, most of whom are expected to play in this game. The only exception is backup running back Elijah Mitchell, who injured his knee in practice last week and missed the last game.
Cowboys vs. 49ers Key Matchups
Check out the key matchups and mismatches for Cowboys vs. 49ers below.
Tony Pollard vs. 49ers’ run defense
If the 49ers have an Achilles heel, it’s their run defense. While their overall numbers against the run are good (3rd in run defense at 66/game), that is at least partly attributable to them playing with big leads, as they have faced the fewest rushing attempts per game (17) so far this season. The advanced metrics reveal a different story, as they are 28th in EPA per run allowed, 29th in success rate allowed, and 22nd in rush defense DVOA.
Expect Tony Pollard to get a heavy workload in this game. He is currently getting 22 touches per game, 5th most in the league, and should get over that number in this matchup as the Cowboys’ most effective offensive playmaker. The Cowboys have PFF’s fifth-highest graded run blocking unit so far this season, and they have yet to play a game with their full offensive line intact, but that should change this week.
The Cowboys should be looking to control the ball in this game, win the time of possession battle, wear down the 49ers’ defense and keep their offense off the field. That is their best recipe for winning this game, and it also takes pressure off Dak Prescott and helps to limit the potential for turnovers.
49ers’ pass catchers vs. Cowboys’ secondary
Losing Trevon Diggs for the season was a devastating blow for the Cowboys’ defense, and it leaves them somewhat vulnerable in the secondary. They still lead the league in pass defense EPA and DVOA and they are 2nd in success rate, but it has only been two weeks since Diggs’ injury. They will feel the effects of his absence a lot more against tougher competition this week.
Brandon Aiyuk could be an X factor in this game with all the attention that the rest of the 49ers’ pass catchers command. Aiyuk has quietly been one of the most effective wide receivers in the league this season, even if his overall numbers are depressed by a lower volume given the competition for touches in this offense. Aiyuk is leading the league in yards per route run (4.57) and yards per target (16) and has the 3rd highest QB rating when targeted (152.1).
The Cowboys need a dominant performance from their defense if they want to win this game, and to do that they need to get pressure on Brock Purdy. If Purdy can connect with Aiyuk and his other pass catchers on a high percentage of his throws, as he has done all season, then the 49ers will be able to move the ball and score enough points to win the game and cover the spread.