NFL Week 5 Best Bets: Back underdog Cowboys at a favorable price against 49ers

2RYYP46 Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) prepares to throw a pass during an NFL Football game in Arlington, Texas, Sunday, Nov. 1, 2023. (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)

• Bet on the underdog Dallas Cowboys against the San Francisco 49ers: Take the points with Dallas in what should be a very close battle on Sunday Night Football

• Trust the Tennessee Titans and Indianapolis Colts to produce offensively: Buy low on two offenses due for positive regression in an AFC South matchup.

• Back Zach Ertz to clear a low receiving yards total: All signs point to a big game from Ertz whose receiving prop is far too low.

Estimated Reading Time: 6 minutes

Week 5 is upon us and brings another potential conference championship preview on Sunday Night Football. We’ll be breaking down that matchup, in addition to a clash between two AFC South teams, to find value on the board as we pass the quarter mark of the NFL season. Let’s get into it.

Dallas Cowboys @ San Francisco 49ers (-3.5, 45)

For the second straight week, the top two teams in NET EPA+ at the time play each other in a marquee matchup. I don’t expect this game to be a blowout like Dolphins-Bills, given the immense similarities between these two teams.

The 49ers and Cowboys are the class of the NFC and have faced a similar schedule of mostly poor teams in their first four games. Both have beaten up on lesser competition for the most part and have nearly identical NET EPA+ numbers.

This Cowboys' defense has been dominant, largely thanks to their incredible pass rush that has pressured opposing quarterbacks at a remarkable 55% rate. Negating this pass rush may not be easy for a 49ers offensive line that has graded out as the seventh worst in pass protection, according to PFF.

Head coach Kyle Shanahan is great at scheming up ways to get the ball out quickly to hide San Francisco's weakness up front, which has resulted in Brock Purdy having the fourth-quickest average time to throw among quarterbacks. However, Purdy may be forced to hold the ball more against a talented Cowboys secondary that makes it difficult for receivers to generate quick separation.

Dallas should also be able to limit the 49ers’ potent run game with their run defense that has held teams to the fifth-lowest EPA per rush so far this season.

Look for Cowboys edge rushers Micah Parsons and Demarcus Lawrence to feast on a below-average offensive line and be true game-wreckers on Sunday night, preventing San Francisco from matching their typical level of offensive production.

On the other side of the ball, Dallas should be able to score behind the resurgence of Dak Prescott, who has seemingly fixed his turnover woes from last season. Prescott has the fifth-lowest turnover-worthy play percentage among quarterbacks, while Purdy has put the ball in harm's way at the sixth-highest rate.

Part of what makes this 49ers defense so good is its ability to take away the middle of the field in the passing game, which is typically the most efficient area for offenses to target. In fact, San Francisco’s defense against passes to the middle of the field has generated the most negative EPA of any passing location in the NFL.

However, the Cowboys' offense is unique in that it actually doesn’t want to attack the middle of the field. Dak Prescott has targeted the middle of the field only 14 times through four games, which is tied for the fewest in the league. Dallas has instead found great success targeting outside areas, which is where the 49ers' defense is far more vulnerable. This offense should be able to connect on its bread-and-butter passes to the boundary and move the ball well behind an elite offensive line capable of handling the 49ers' pass rush.

Best Bet: Cowboys +3.5 (to +3)

At the end of the day, these teams are both elite and should be rated very similarly in the market. Getting Dallas at above a field goal is great value here in what should be one of the best games of the regular season.

Tennessee Titans @ Indianapolis Colts (+2.5, 43.5)

This game could have big implications for the AFC South as both teams enter Week 5 sitting at 2-2. The key statistic in this one is our tried-and-true late-down variance angle, as these offenses are among the unluckiest in the league.

The Colts and Titans both show up in the “good on early downs, bad on late downs” quadrant of our graph here with some incredibly extreme early- and late-down splits.

On first and second downs, these offenses have both accumulated positive EPA and rank in the top half of the league in early down EPA+. Unfortunately, on those key third and fourth downs, Tennessee and Indianapolis both rank in the bottom eight in EPA+.

This massive underperformance creates a great opportunity to bet on positive regression for both of these offenses, which are producing the positive plays that are predictive of offensive production but have been held back by an inability to convert on late downs, something we know tends to even out over the course of the season.

Both offenses also have significant schematic advantages against the opposing defense. Ryan Tannehill and this Titans offense have thrived targeting the middle of the field and have the best EPA per pass of any team when passing to that area. This sets them up perfectly against a Colts defense that ranks seventh worst at defending that area and has been torched there the past couple of weeks.

The Colts will finally get running back Jonathan Taylor back after his injury and contract extension. Taylor will be on a snap count and likely won't run all over a good Titans run defense. Instead, look for head coach Shane Steichen to deploy a creative game plan around quarterback Anthony Richardson, whose athleticism and ability to improvise big plays should be an important factor in this game.

Tennessee’s defense has been prone to allowing big plays through the air when a quarterback enters the scramble drill, which is where Richardson is at his best. I’m buying this Colts offense's ability to score behind the mind of Steichen and the big-play potential of Richardson.

Best Bet: Over 43.5 (to 44.5)

Both of these offenses are undervalued because of their late-down struggles, and both have solid matchups in this game. Although this game will be played at a relatively slow pace, a total that is two points below the NFL average is just too low. Bet on these offenses to clear the low number of 43.5.

Player Prop Best Bet: Zach Ertz over 30.5 Receiving Yards

We got very unlucky with this prop last week when Tee Higgins left the game with a rib injury in the second quarter. Let’s get back on track this week by backing Zach Ertz, who has drastically underperformed his expected yards totals through four weeks.

Ertz has accumulated 56.6 PFF expected receiving yards per game this season but has averaged just 34 actual receiving yards per game, which is the second-greatest deviation across the league.

Ertz is in a prime spot to correct that against a Bengals defense that has been vulnerable to opposing tight ends, allowing the 11th-most yards to the position. A big reason for this weakness is their linebacking corps of Logan Wilson and Germaine Pratt, who have struggled in coverage, with grades of 62.7 and 54.1, respectively.

Quarterback Josh Dobbs should take advantage of this weakness and continue to target Ertz, putting him in a great spot to exceed this low total.

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