If you just started paying attention to the NFL a week ago, you'd think the Dallas Cowboys had a horrendous season.
Since a loss to the Washington Commanders in Week 18 — which was ugly but ultimately a meaningless game to Dallas — we've heard about how Dak Prescott needs to go, Mike McCarthy is going to get fired and everything with the Cowboys is broken. No team brings out overreaction like the Cowboys, and this past week was something else.
There is a team that had a losing season and limped into the playoffs in Monday night's wild-card playoff game, and it's not the Cowboys. Dallas takes on the 8-9 Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Monday night, and the Cowboys are a fairly short 2.5-point favorite at BetMGM.
With all the negative energy coming at the Cowboys, it's easy to forget they were really good this season. Dallas went 12-5. The defense was one of the best in the NFL. The offense had some issues, particularly with Prescott's interceptions, but it was still fourth in the league in points scored despite Prescott missing five games. Before Week 18, Dallas had won six of seven, with the only loss coming in overtime on the road to the Jacksonville Jaguars, but you'd have never guessed that based on all the recent criticism.
The team that probably deserves criticism is the Buccaneers. Tampa Bay has been mediocre, at best, across the board all season. If it weren't for some late-game miracle drives by Tom Brady, the Buccaneers wouldn't be in the playoffs. But because the Buccaneers have Brady and a few other stars, there has been a prevailing thought that they'd turn it on when the postseason began. That ignores four months of evidence that they're a bad team.
I'll happily take Dallas laying less than a field goal. You might not know it if you watch various shows, but the Cowboys were by far the better team this season. One loss in the finale doesn't change that. And if the Cowboys get eliminated on Monday night, it's going to be one loud, long offseason.
Here is the first look at the sports betting slate for Monday night:
A big MLK Day NBA schedule
The NBA has its usual day-long schedule of games for Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It starts with the Boston Celtics (-8.5) at Charlotte Hornets at 1 p.m. Eastern and goes through a 10:30 p.m. Eastern tip between the Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Lakers (-5.5). There are nine games on Monday.
The most compelling game could end up being the suddenly hot Miami Heat (-1.5) at the Atlanta Hawks, a game between two teams that are a bit disappointing this season and want to get off the playoff bubble. The Heat look pretty good in that game. There's also the New York Knicks as 2.5-point home favorites against the Toronto Raptors. The Knicks are on the second game of a back-to-back, but they've played well lately and they're not laying too many points at home.
Three Top 25 teams in action
There's a good mid-afternoon college hoops game, as No. 3 Purdue plays at Michigan State. Purdue is favored by 3.5. Purdue is 16-1, but it's still hard to win on the road. The other Top 25 games are No. 22 College of Charleston as a 16.5-point favorite against William and Mary, and No. 16 Miami (Fla.) favored by 7.5 over Syracuse.
NHL has 11 games
The NHL has a big Monday as well, with five of the 11 games coming in mid-afternoon. The best game could be the surprising Seattle Kraken, who are 26-12-4, hosting the 27-13-1 Tampa Bay Lightning. Seattle is a +115 home underdog.
What's the best bet?
If the Cowboys lose on Monday night, they deserve all the scorn they'll get over the offseason. The Cowboys have been the much, much better team this season.