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Cowboys favored big over slumping Vikings Sunday
By: Brian Graham - StatFox
Published: 11/3/2013  at  4:34:00 AM
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MINNESOTA VIKINGS (1-6)
at DALLAS COWBOYS (4-4)

Kickoff: Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
Line: Dallas -10, Total: 47

The Vikings are still looking for their first win on American soil when they visit a Cowboys team eager to erase last week’s stunning loss.

Since Minnesota beat the Steelers in London, the club has lost three straight games by a combined 54 points, making it 0-6 SU (1-5 ATS) in U.S.-based games. Dallas led by 10 points with four minutes left in Detroit last week, but allowed an 80-yard TD drive in the final minute to lose 31-30. But the team still managed to cover the spread for the fourth game in a row and improved to 7-1 ATS on the season. The Vikings have gained just 246 YPG during their losing skid, while the Cowboys have forced 11 turnovers during their four-game ATS win streak. Minnesota is 7-1 (SU and ATS) in its past eight meetings with Dallas, but the one loss was the most recent visit to Big D in 2007 when the Cowboys prevailed 24-14. The Vikings have a few trends in their favor including the fact that all NFL teams after a game where they forced no turnovers against an opponent after a game where they forced 3+ turnovers are 134-79 ATS (63%) over the past 10 seasons. But Dallas is 23-10 ATS (70%) after allowing 300+ passing yards in its last game since 1992. Both teams have a slew of injuries, as Minnesota's secondary will be thin with S Harrison Smith (toe), CB Chris Cook (hip) and S Jamarca Sanford (groin) all out. The Cowboys expect to get top RB DeMarco Murray (knee) back in action, but they could be without three key players in WR Miles Austin (hamstring), DE DeMarcus Ware (quad) and CB Morris Claiborne (hamstring).

Can the Cowboys cover the double-digit spread on Sunday? For the answer, connect to NFL Best Bets for all the StatFox Experts picks throughout the 2013 season and playoffs. The experts are heating up in NFL Best Bets, combining for a 58% ATS record (43-31-2) over the past five weeks, including 77% ATS (10-3) in Week 8. StatFox Scott is 61% ATS (11-7) in the past four weeks, while StatFox Brian went 3-1 ATS in Week 8, marking his fifth straight week of finishing .500 or better. StatFox Dave was a perfect 3-0 ATS in Week 8, as was StatFox Gary (2-0 ATS), who improved to 63% ATS (10-6-1) in NFL Best Bets over the past five weeks.

Minnesota announced Friday that Christian Ponder will start under center. He has had a subpar season, throwing for just two touchdowns and five picks over four games. The lack of a consistent quarterback and true go-to receiver (nobody has reached 30 receptions) has led to a mere 306 total YPG (4th-fewest in NFL) and 203 passing YPG (6th-fewest in league) for the Vikings, but they have still scored 23.3 PPG, which ranks 16th in the NFL. Although the ground game has generated only 103.3 rushing YPG (18th in league), its 4.6 yards per carry is sixth-best in the NFL. RB Adrian Peterson is averaging 81.6 rushing YPG, but that number is way down from his 131.1 rushing YPG from his 2,000-yard campaign in 2012. But he has been much more effective over his past four contests with a 4.9 YPC rate compared to his 4.1 YPC rate in the first three weeks of the season. Peterson has rushed for 136 yards (3.8 YPC) and 2 TD in two career games versus Dallas. The Minnesota defense has played poorly all season, but has been on the field for a whopping 35:07, which is the most in the NFL. This has led to 402 total YPG allowed (3rd-most in league), but it's not all the fault of the offense, as the defensive unit has allowed 51% conversions on third down leading to 24.1 first downs per game, which are both the worst defensive rates in the NFL. The Vikings started out the season with 12 forced turnovers in four games, but they have just one takeaway over the past three contests. With such a talented defensive line, there's no reason this team shouldn't have more than the 14 sacks they have generated in 2013 (five sacks over past three games).

Dallas was supposed to run the football more this year with new offensive coordinator Bill Callahan calling the plays, but the team currently ranks 27th in the league in rushing offense (80.6 YPG) with 3.7 YPC (24th in NFL). Top RB DeMarco Murray has been inactive the past two games with a knee injury though, and he should return Sunday to try to keep up his strong 4.7 YPC this season. The Cowboys have thrived through the air in 2013 with 261.3 passing YPG (8th in NFL). QB Tony Romo ranks among the top-7 quarterbacks in the NFL in passer rating (101.7), pass attempts (295), completions (195), completion percentage (66.1%), passing yards (2,216) and passing touchdowns (18), while tossing just five interceptions. His top WR Dez Bryant had an outburst on the sidelines during last week's loss in protest of his season-low-tying six targets, but he still has 20 more targets than any of his teammates this year, which has resulted in 45 catches for 641 yards and 8 TD. With WR Miles Austin still bothered by a bad hamstring, rookie WR Terrance Williams has stepped up with 384 receiving yards and 4 TD over the past five games. The Dallas defense was torched last week for 623 total yards, including 480 through the air. But that wasn't a huge surprise considering the unit ranks last in the NFL in both total defense (422.5 YPG) and passing defense (315.4 YPG), while allowing the league's second-most first downs (23.9 per game). A weak pass rush (eight sacks over past five games) hasn't helped the cause, but the Cowboys have done a great job in forcing turnovers with 2+ takeaways in each of the past four games and 19 forced turnovers this year.

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