Cowboys vs. 49ers odds: Insider picks, predictions from veteran NFL expert for preseason Week 1

The NFL's exhibition season hits in full force this week. On Thursday at 10 p.m. ET, the old NFC rival Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers meet in the Bay Area. The 49ers are 3.5-point home favorites, with the over-under for total points scored set at 35. Before you make your Cowboys vs. 49ers picks, listen to what SportsLine senior analyst Josh Nagel has to say. The veteran Nevada-based handicapper hit 70 percent of his NFL spread picks last season (14-6), and he heated up down the stretch with an 11-2 mark that included a perfect 3-0 in the postseason.

Part of his success: Nagel uses analytics, motivational spots and contrarian thinking combined with an ultra-selective approach to making and releasing selections.

He used these methods to produce a winner in the Hall of Fame Game already. Nagel advised followers to fade the court of public opinion, which heavily favored the higher-profile Baltimore Ravens, and instead told SportsLine readers to support the underdog Chicago Bears by taking the points (2.5). The result: The Bears covered and anyone who followed Nagel won big.

For Thursday, Nagel knows San Francisco quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and counterpart Dak Prescott likely will get little playing time if any at all, but both clubs will have a chance to see what they have in some upstart prospects.

San Francisco backup C.J. Beathard reportedly earned the respect of his teammates with a respectable showing under difficult circumstances as a rookie last season. He started five games and threw for 1,430 yards. Nick Mullens, an undrafted free agent, is the third-stringer.

Behind Prescott is second-year quarterback Cooper Rush, who was an undrafted free agent last year, but worked his way up the depth chart to become No. 2 by season's end. Rookie Mike White, a fifth-round pick from Western Kentucky, is the third quarterback.

The 49ers reportedly plan to take a good look at their wide receiver prospects, who include undrafted free agent Steven Dunbar and explosive rookie Dante Pettis, a second-round pick. San Francisco will be without newly-acquired cornerback Richard Sherman, who is sitting out with a hamstring injury.

Dallas is eager to see the progress of linebacker Jaylon Smith, who reportedly is at full health for the first time since he was drafted in 2016. The tight end position also is up for grabs following the retirement of Jason Witten. Blake Jarwin and Rico Gathers are among those vying for the job.

Nagel knows one team will have a major advantage in a key skill position Thursday. He's sharing what it is, and who to back, only at SportsLine.

So which side of Cowboys-49ers should you be all over Thursday? Visit SportsLine now to see what side of the spread prevails, and what team's huge edge determines the winner, all from an expert who went 11-2 to close out last season.

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