Dallas Cowboys

Think we’re automatically picking the Dallas Cowboys to win? Read on.

On paper, the Dallas Cowboys certainly look like the better team on Sunday against the Cleveland Browns.

But they don’t play these games on paper. If they did the Cowboys might actually have a winning record.

The Browns look particularly vulnerable on defense, as outlined in our opponent analysis. The unit is beat up and is missing much of the talent that was supposed to support a talented but inexperienced offense. Plus, the ownership change, along with the weird hiring of new CEO Joe Banner while current team president Mike Holmgren is still with the team, means no one in Cleveland knows what the future holds.

It should be a Cowboys blowout. But it won’t be. In fact, Rattleandhumsports.com is taking the unusual stance of picking the 2-7 Browns over the 4-5 Cowboys on Sunday, a loss that would effectively end Dallas’ season.

Why? Here are three reasons why the Cowboys will not win.

Dallas’ inconsistency. There are plenty of things to which you could point, but turnovers are the real fuel behind Dallas’ inability to put together a winning streak this season. Dallas followed its season-opening win over Dallas with a 27-7 loss to Seattle, which included two turnovers, one of which was turned into a score. The Cowboys bounced back to beat Tampa Bay, only to commit five turnovers in a Week 4 loss to Chicago. Dallas then beat Carolina a few weeks later and followed that with a six-turnover loss to the New York Giants.

It isn’t just about the Cowboys’ turnovers, either. In those three follow-up losses the Cowboys ran the ball horribly and only created three turnovers on defense. Part of their inconsistency is fueled by their impotent run game and inability to create game-changing plays. Both of those factors were better last week against Philadelphia, but as we’ve seen this season, one good game does not mean anything with this Dallas team.

The Cowboys seem to follow up a good victory with a horrible defeat. Until they’ve proven they can string back-to-back wins together, it’s hard to trust this team with a little prosperity. Oh, and by the way – the Cowboys are 5-9 since their four-game winning streak a year ago. They haven’t won back-to-back games in nearly a calendar year.

The Browns play the NFC East hard: For some reason this season the Browns have played good games against the NFC East. In Week 1 they absorbed a 17-16 loss against the Eagles in which the Browns had a late lead off D’Quell Jackson’s interception return for a touchdown. The Browns forced five turnovers in that game. Four weeks later the Browns played the New York Giants on the road and gave the Giants a run before they lost 41-27. The Browns were up 14-0 at one point and were within a touchdown going into the fourth quarter. In that game the Browns forced two Giants turnovers. In retrospect, perhaps that was the beginning of the New York’s recent downturn. There’s no reason the defending Super Bowl champions should have struggled with Cleveland. But they did. On paper this Browns team doesn’t look imposing, but they have enough young, talented skill players on offense and can create enough havoc on defense to compete for four quarters. Plus, Cleveland actually protects the football. They have a plus-1 turnover ratio in nine games and an even turnover ratio in two NFC East games. Dallas has a minus-9 turnover ratio this season.

These teams are more even than you think: Statistics aren’t always the best gauge in the NFL, although they do shed some light. We just gave you the turnover ratios for both teams, and that’s something to think about. Here’s something else – the Cleveland Browns have scored an average of 18.8 points per game this season. So have the Dallas Cowboys. Despite the fact that, subjectively at least, you could argue that Dallas has better offensive talent, they haven’t scored any more points than Cleveland. And if we’re getting picky, the Cowboys’ defense has allowed 22.7 points per game. The Browns’ defense has given up 23.4 points per game. That’s less than a point difference. Nothing matters like scoring in the NFL. When you look at that statistic, exactly how far apart are these two teams?

Three other things to consider:

The Cowboys run game: DeMarco Murray won’t be back this week. But if Dallas’ run game can produce like it did last week against Philadelphia, when it averaged 4 yards per carry, then it can keep Cleveland’s defense honest.

Trent Richardson: Richardson is kind of Earl Campbell-lite, if you know what I mean. He’s great at the point of contact and can get you plenty of yards after that. Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said Richardson reminds of the old-time backs that you had to get to the ground and keep on the ground. Dallas’ run defense is good, but without both Kenyon Coleman, now on injured reserve, and Sean Lissemore, who has missed the past several weeks with an injury, it’s a little more vulnerable. Plus, Cleveland has a solid offensive line led by Pro Bowl tackle Joe Thomas. It’s a line that, oddly, Dallas is probably a bit envious of at the moment.

Center issues: Speaking of the offensive line, there’s a chance Mackenzy Bernadeau would start at center this Sunday if Ryan Cook can’t go. If Bernadeau has to move to center expect Derrick Dockery to slip into the guard position for Bernadeau. If the Cowboys don’t go after a center in free agency or the draft next spring, they’re gambling that either Phil Costa or Kevin Kowalski can remain healthy, and neither player has proven that this year.