Boys Head to Zona

The Dallas Cowboys entered the season as the favorites to win the NFC East, but it looks like they could get more competition than they anticipated in perhaps the league's toughest division.

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Though the Arizona Cardinals didn't come into 2008 with such lofty expectations, they've emerged as a leading contender in the weaker NFC West.

Oddsmakers from SBG Global have made Cowboys -5 point spread favorites (View NFL Football odds) for Sunday’s game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 72% of bets for this game have been placed on Cowboys -5 (View NFL Football bet percentages).

In a matchup between the conference's two highest-scoring teams, the Cowboys look to make a move in the loaded East standings on Sunday when they visit the Cardinals, who hope to protect their hold on first place in the West.

Dallas returned enough of its core from last year's division-winning team to enter 2008 as a prime candidate to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. The Cowboys (4-1) are still on track thanks to their conference-leading 151 points, but they're not taking anything for granted in the league's only division with more than one team with at least four wins.

"You don't get crowned champions for being the best-looking team right now," quarterback Tony Romo said after throwing three touchdown passes in last Sunday's 31-22 win over winless Cincinnati. "We know you don't win it right now. You just continue to get better, keep stacking up wins."

Though the Cowboys have done a fine job of that so far, they're just one team in a logjam at the top of the division. The reigning Super Bowl champion New York Giants are in first place at 4-0, a half-game ahead of Washington and Dallas. Philadelphia is last at 2-3 with two losses in the division.

Besides having to contend with arguably the deepest division in the NFL, the Cowboys are also struggling to live up to the high expectations set for them before the season. Their last three wins - all against teams currently with losing records - have been by an average of just 8.0 points.

Dallas scored the first 17 points last week before giving up 16 unanswered to the Bengals and needing a late push to hold on.

"I guess everybody expects us to be some kind of superheroes," Cowboys linebacker Bradie James said. "I come in here on Monday and I'm trying to enjoy my win and people are, like, beating us up. So it's really tough, man. With us having so many expectations, the only people we can make happy is in this locker room, and that's really it."

While failing to live up to expectations could be particularly costly in the East, it looks like Arizona (3-2) will have it much easier in the West, which features two of the conference's three lowest-scoring offenses in St. Louis and Seattle. The Cardinals are the division's only team with a winning record, and their West rivals are a combined 3-10.

Arizona looked like a legitimate contender last Sunday, when it recorded a season-high point total while handing Buffalo its first loss, 41-17. One week after turning the ball over seven times in a 56-35 loss to the New York Jets, the Cardinals won the turnover battle with the Bills 4-0.

"We're a tough team to beat when we don't turn the ball over," said coach Ken Whisenhunt, whose team has nine turnovers in its losses and none in its wins.

Arizona, second in the NFC with 147 points, got a big game from quarterback Kurt Warner, who was 33-for-42 for 250 yards and two touchdowns after throwing three interceptions and losing three fumbles the previous week.

Warner admitted last week that an injury to receiver Anquan Boldin is one of several reasons he's contemplating retirement, but backtracked a bit after Sunday's performance.

"Games like that make you want to play forever," he said.

Boldin is out indefinitely following surgery on a facial bone fractured in a helmet-to-helmet hit against the Jets. Warner, however, still has plenty of targets, including the emerging Steve Breaston, who has 16 receptions for 199 yards in his last two games after totaling four for 72 yards in his first three.

"This is just like any other week for me, to be honest," Breaston told the team's official Web site after last Sunday's win. "When the ball comes my way, I have to make a play, be a reliable resource for Kurt."

Cowboys receiver Terrell Owens remains a reliable resource for Romo, despite his mercurial nature. After Owens caught a 57-yard TD pass in the fourth quarter last week, he ecstatically raised his arms over his head and clapped while still grasping the ball in one hand. Owens then went to the bench, bowed, put a towel over his head and started crying.

Owens has since said that emotion was stirred because of the death of a family member and a talk with his pastor, though he didn't mention either after the game.

"Last week I was going through a lot of stuff, and the previous week," he said Wednesday. "Other than that, dude, I'm in good spirits. I'm fine."

The Cowboys have won 22 of their last 27 meetings with the Cardinals, including three straight. Romo threw for 308 yards and two touchdowns - including one to Owens - in Dallas' 27-10 victory Nov. 12, 2006.

Top Betting Trends:
All games in this series since 1992
DALLAS is 14-11 against the spread versus ARIZONA since 1992
DALLAS is 19-6 straight up against ARIZONA since 1992
13 of 24 games in this series have gone UNDER THE TOTAL since 1992
Games over the last 3 seasons
DALLAS is 1-0 against the spread versus ARIZONA over the last 3 seasons 
DALLAS is 1-0 straight up against ARIZONA over the last 3 seasons 
1 of 1 games in this series have gone UNDER THE TOTAL over the last 3 seasons
All games played at ARIZONA since 1992
ARIZONA is 6-6 against the spread versus DALLAS since 1992
DALLAS is 7-5 straight up against ARIZONA since 1992
7 of 12 games in this series have gone UNDER THE TOTAL since 1992
Games played at ARIZONA over the last 3 seasons.
DALLAS is 1-0 against the spread versus ARIZONA over the last 3 seasons 
DALLAS is 1-0 straight up against ARIZONA over the last 3 seasons 
1 of 1 games in this series have gone UNDER THE TOTAL over the last 3 seasons
Key Player Injuries
[OG] Kyle Kosier expected to miss 2-3 weeks - Foot - 09/22/08
[SS] Roy Williams is expected to miss at least 3 weeks. - Forearm - 09/16/08
[DT] Tank Johnson is %27?%27 - Ankle - 10/01/08
[FB] Deon Anderson is expected to miss at least 2 weeks - Knee - 09/17/08
[C] Al Johnson I.R. - Knee - 09/01/08
[DL] Bertrand Berry expected to miss 2-3 weeks - Groin - 10/01/08
[OT] Gabriel Watson is upgraded to probable - Knee - 10/01/08
(!) [WR] Anquan Boldin injured last game expected to miss - Head - 09/28/08
[DB] Adrian Wilson missed last game %27?%27 - Hamstring - 09/28/08
[TE] Jerame Tuman missed last game %27?%27 - Hamstring - 09/28/08
[DB] Eric Green is "?" - Knee - 10/01/08

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