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Cowboys @ Panthers expert picks: Cowboys comfortable as underdogs

Can the Cowboys win their season opener? The experts we polled don’t seem to lean that way.

Arizona Cardinals v Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys travel to Carolina on Sunday in the season opener and are looking to get the season started on the right foot.

The Cowboys are slight underdogs heading into the Sunday afternoon game against the Panthers. The oddsmakers have the Cowboys as 3-point underdogs in Carolina, which isn’t really that much, given that the oddsmakers generally start with a base 3-point advantage for home teams in the NFL. The over/under is set at a moderate 42.5, indicating that about a half dozen touchdowns are to be expected, but perhaps not a blowout.

As far a season openers go, pre-game predictions often don’t mean all that much. Whether or not the experts have a good feel for what will happen on Sunday remains to be seen, but here’s what those experts are predicting for the game.

Sporting News (Steele): Panthers 33, Cowboys 24

How many plot lines can be squeezed into one opener? Ezekiel Elliott without NFL discipline hanging over his head. Dak Prescott needing to re-prove himself. Dez Bryant, gone but on everybody’s minds too much. Jason Witten, also gone. Randy Gregory back. That’s one team. The other, which chronically cannot protect its $60 million franchise quarterback, lost left tackle Matt Kalil for the season.

Miami Herald (Cote): Panthers 27, Cowboys 23

Young Cowboys don’t have a lot of firepower after Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott, but Cam Newton and Christian McCaffrey are working behind an injury-wracked O-line. Home field tips the pick.

NFL (Harrison): Panthers 24, Cowboys 21

A familiar face to Cowboys fans will make his debut as the Panthers’ OC against Dallas on Sunday. Norv Turner, a huge figure in the ascendancy of the Cowboys’ offense that dominated in 1992 and ‘93, looks to tweak a Cam Newton-led attack. Much has been made of the QB’s ability -- or inability -- to be a pocket passer. Newton could improve in that area without completely giving up the traits that have made him a tough out over the years. And he’s still far superior to Dak Prescott as a complete player, regardless. Can’t wait to see what Turner does with Run CMC and Greg Olsen.

Pro Football Talk (Smith): Panthers 24, Cowboys 14.

The offensive line, which a couple years ago was the strength of the Cowboys, now has to be a concern. Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott are going to struggle.

CBS (Prisco): Panthers 21, Cowboys 14

Both teams have offensive-line issues, which could make this a defensive battle. Something looks off with this line, though (Carolina -3). I think the Panthers are the better team right now and they are at home, but the line doesn’t reflect that the way it should. Even so, I will go with Carolina.

Pro Football Talk (Florio): Panthers 17, Cowboys 13.

The man who seemed to be destined to coach the Cowboys now runs the Carolina offense. The real question is whether the Dallas offense can do anything with a banged up offensive line.

Wisconsin Post-Crescent (Kohn): Cowboys 31, Panthers 17

A healthy Sean Lee on defense should make a world of difference for Dallas, trying to rebound from a disappointing 2017 which saw them go 9-7. Ezekiel Elliott is also back full time after serving a big chunk of time due to suspension. It’s been three years since the Panthers lost to the Broncos in the Super Bowl. Cam Newton and company may be running out of time if they are to return anytime soon

New York Times (Hoffman): Cowboys

The Cowboys are 19-6 in Ezekiel Elliott’s starts over the last two seasons, and were 3-3 in the games he missed as a result of a suspension. With Elliott, a third-year running back, no longer dealing with legal entanglements, the world can get back to crediting Dak Prescott for Dallas’s top-notch offense. Pick: Cowboys +3

Las Vegas Sun Times (Keefer): Cowboys

It feels foolish to expect new offensive coordinator Norv Turner to catalyze the Panthers’ dwindling offense given his underwhelming recent track record. It feels even more foolish to ignore how efficient the Cowboys’ offense has performed with both running back Ezekiel Elliott and left tackle Tyron Smith healthy.

78% of the experts and algorithms tallied by favor the Panthers over the Cowboys, but NFL games can often go in an entirely different direction than one would have expected. And with this being the season-opener, almost anything is possible on Sunday.

Overall, the Cowboys are the underdogs in the court of public opinion, a role that has suited them well in the past and may fuel their 2018 season.

What are your expectations for the game?

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