The league’s top defense gets a gut check in Week 4 of the NFL season when the Carolina Panthers come to Texas to tackle the Dallas Cowboys.
NFL betting odds have Dallas anywhere from -5 to a 4-point favorite with a contrast in calendars Sunday. The Cowboys are playing on a short week after a win over Philadelphia on Monday Night Football while the Panthers have enjoyed a mini bye after defeating Houston last Thursday.
Check out our NFL free picks and predictions for Panthers at Cowboys on October 3.
Panthers vs Cowboys odds
Odds via the Covers Line, an average comprised of odds from multiple sportsbooks.
The look-ahead line for this matchup back in the spring was Dallas -4.5. With Carolina jumping out to a 3-0 start despite losing some key bodies due to injury (such as star RB Christian McCaffrey), the official Week 4 spread hit the board at -4 before the Cowboys' Monday night win. After a strong showing by America’s Team, this spread ticked up to -4.5 and -5, but some shops like DraftKings are dealing Dallas -4 (-110). The total opened at 50 points and has climbed to 50.5. Use the live odds widget above to track any future line movements right up until kickoff and be sure to check out the full NFL odds before placing your bets.
Panthers vs Cowboys picks
Picks made on 9/29/2021 at 10:15 a.m. ET.
Click on each pick to jump to the full analysis.
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Panthers vs Cowboys game info
• Location: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, TX
• Date: Sunday, October 3, 2021
• Time: 1:00 p.m. ET
• TV: FOX
Panthers at Cowboys betting preview
Be sure to monitor the gametime conditions with our NFL weather info.
Panthers: Christian McCaffrey RB (Out), Juston Burris CB (Out), Jaycee Horn CB (Out), Myles Hartsfield CB (Out), Yetur Gross-Matos DE (Out).
Cowboys: Michael Gallup WR (Out), La'el Collins T (Out), Sewo Olonilua FB (Out), Carlos Watkins DT (Out), Donovan Wilson S (Out), Dorance Armstrong DE (Out).
Find our latest NFL injury reports.
Betting trend to know
Since Dak Prescott took over at QB in 2016, the Cowboys are 18-12-1 ATS (60%) when laying 3.5 points or more, including Monday’s 20-point win over Philadelphia (Dallas -3.5). Find more NFL betting trends for Panthers vs. Cowboys.
Panthers vs Cowboys predictions
Dallas -4 (-110)
Carolina’s defense has been one of the biggest surprises of 2021 so far. This young stop unit overperformed last year and was expected to make improvements but the Panthers enter Week 4 ranked No. 1 in Defensive DVOA at Football Outsiders.
They’ve allowed a grand total of 30 points through three games and have been extremely disruptive, bringing the blitz on 45 percent of their opponents’ dropbacks and creating pressure on 55 percent of those snaps. That’s manifested itself into a league-high 14 sacks through three games.
Granted, those defensive metrics have come against soft opposition. The Panthers picked on two rookie QBs versus the Jets and Texans and took on a displaced Saints squad playing without many of its offensive coaches due to a COVID-19 outbreak in Week 2.
This Cowboys attack will serve as the litmus test for the Panthers D, and Prescott is a massive step up in competition at the quarterback spot. Prescott carved up a solid Eagles defense on Monday night and enters Week 4 with a passer rating of 110.1, throwing for six touchdowns and two interceptions.
Carolina will lean heavily on the pressure up front, hoping to hurry Prescott and keep this explosive offense in front of them. However, Dallas’ offensive line has allowed its star QB to feel the heat on only 12.3 percent of dropbacks — the lowest rate among starting QBs in the NFL. To add to that, the Cowboys have one of the best one-two punches on the ground in running backs Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard. That combo disarmed the Philadelphia defense with 160 yards rushing on 41 carries, which helped Dallas dominate the football for 34:58 of possession Monday.
The Panthers have been able to pad their defensive numbers thanks to a methodical offensive tempo, averaging 35:12 of TOP (second-highest mark in the NFL) and running a play every 29.89 seconds (the fourth-slowest pace). But if the defense can’t get Dallas’ offense off the field — the Cowboys rank fourth in third-down conversion rate — the curtain will get pulled back on the Panthers’ “top” stop unit.
This won’t be an easy win/cover for the Cowboys, but I feel solid getting the home side under the key number of six and banking on all that firepower to get past the Panthers, whose early efforts are inflated.
Under 50.5 (-110)
While the Carolina defense thrives on frenzied pressure, the offense has been slow and steady through three weeks.
New quarterback Sam Darnold actually has more passing yards (888) than Prescott (878), but the Panthers’ early offensive success (10th in average yards) has come versus suspect teams, and they’ll be without their top weapon, McCaffrey, in Week 4.
McCaffrey left last Thursday’s game with a hamstring ailment after a strong return from an injury-plagued 2020, rushing for 201 yards and hauling in 16 passes for an additional 163 yards so far this season. Rookie RB Chuba Hubbard and veteran RB Royce Freeman will pick up the slack on the ground.
Dallas is respectable against the run and will want to put the ball in Darnold’s hands, hoping this opportunistic defense can continue to create chaos. The Cowboys stop unit isn’t the stoutest — ranked 15th in Defensive DVOA — but is dangerous, collecting a league-high eight takeaways, including six interceptions.
The Panthers' secondary may be down some key bodies this Sunday but an early-week trade to land cornerback C.J. Henderson from Jacksonville and the return of veteran corner A.J. Bouye, who missed the start of the season due to a suspension, cushion those injury blows.
Dallas’ offense has been relatively safe in 2021, with Prescott boasting an average of just 6.5 intended air yards per pass attempt and allowing his receivers to make plays, with a total of 476 yards after the catch, which ranks eighth in the NFL. The Panthers have been quick to snuff out those extra gains and average a mere 3.8 yards against per play. With Dak avoiding pressure, that means short shots to the tight ends, RBs, and slot WR Cedrick Wilson, with the Panthers keeping everything in front of them.
Chuba Hubbard Over 22.5 receiving yards (-110)
Fantasy footballers were climbing over each other to nab Hubbard, Carolina's RB2, the second McCaffrey went down with a hamstring injury on Thursday. The Oklahoma State product has a similar skill set as Run CMC and grabbed 53 passes for 479 yards receiving during his time in Stillwater.
Hubbard had 52 yards on 11 carries along with three catches on five targets for 27 yards through the air against Houston on Thursday. He faces a Dallas defense that has allowed 172 yards (the sixth most in the NFL) on 26 catches to running backs, good for 6.6 yards per reception.
Panthers offensive coordinator Joe Brady is a wiz at turning running backs into receivers and will have had a week and a half to game plan some passing plays to unleash Hubbard, a former track star back in Canada.
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