Game time: 8:20 p.m. ET, September 9, 2021
Venue: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, FL
Where to watch: NBC
Opening Odds at USA Sportsbooks
DraftKings: Buccaneers -7.5; O/U 51; Bucs -400, Cowboys +300
BetMGM: Buccaneers -7.5; O/U 51; Bucs -385, Cowboys +300
Caesars: Buccaneers -7.5; O/U 51.5; Bucs -380, Cowboys +300
2020 season record
Cowboys: 6-10 (3rd place, NFC East)
Buccaneers: 11-5 (2nd place, NFC South; won Super Bowl)
Ben Burns WON BIG in the preseason, as per usual. His two biggest plays involved the Patriots and the Dolphins. His #1 SIDE was on the Giants when they covered against the Patriots. His #1 total was on the Dolphins/Falcons 'over' the total. Those teams hook up for Week 1 in an important divisional matchup. Catch Ben’s and other plays available right now at the Shop Picks page, where you can find all of the Best Bets from our champion sports handicappers.
Cowboys - Buccaneers preview and analysis
Not a bad way to kick off the new NFL season with this matchup.
The defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers open their title defense against Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday night.
Prescott returns after suffering a gruesome ankle injury in Week 5 of the 2020 campaign on Oct. 11. Before the Cowboys’ franchise quarterback missed the remainder of the season, he had 1,690 passing yards through four games. That surpassed Kurt Warner (2000) for the most passing yards by a player in the first four games of a season in league history.
Dallas’ offense was humming with Prescott and new head coach Mike McCarthy, averaging 32.6 points per game through the first five weeks and creating a dangerous tandem with wide receivers Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and last year’s first-round pick CeeDee Lamb.
But the Cowboys only went 2-3 with Prescott under center because the Dallas defense was horrid beyond all possible measure. The Cowboys allowed 36 points per game through Week 5 and ultimately gave up 29.6 throughout the season, prompting the Cowboys to fire defensive coordinator Mike Nolan after one season and replace him with Dan Quinn.
Dallas has reason to feel optimistic about an improved defense in Year 2 under McCarthy. Trevon Diggs enters Year 2 as the No. 1 corner after a strong rookie season, and the Cowboys are loving what they see out of this year’s first-round pick, linebacker Micah Parsons. They also grabbed former first-round pick Malik Hooker from free agency.
But good luck to this defense. Your first task in 2021 is trying to stop ageless wonder Tom Brady and this high-octane Tampa Bay offense coached by Bruce Arians.
Remember that it took a four-game winning streak in the final four games to ensure a playoff spot for the Bucs. In their three losses to teams not named the New Orleans Saints, Tampa’s other losses came by one point and three points twice.
Even when it seems like people want to throw dirt on Brady, he comes back to throw for 4,633 yards, 40 touchdowns and 12 interceptions at 43 years old. He won his fifth Super Bowl MVP award last season by defeating the Kansas City Chiefs. This will be Brady’s 300th regular-season start and is 19 touchdown passes from 600 in his illustrious career.
Brady has shown no signs of slowing down, and the longer he has veterans Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown and Rob Gronkowski around, the Arians-coached Bucs are going to be a nightmare for defenses … especially young defenses like the Cowboys.
Dallas is going to need a much better pass rush than last season if it wants to get through to Brady; the Cowboys combined for 31 sacks in 2020 (led by DeMarcus Lawrence’s 6.5), good for 12th-worst in the league. The Bucs allowed the fourth-fewest sacks in the league (22).
DAL - TB Prediction
There’s always some hesitancy when a quarterback returns from a tough injury. While Prescott will be a full go for Week 1, he hasn’t thrown in an actual game in almost a year. On national TV, against the defending champs, is a tough task for anyone, even someone with the competitive nature that Prescott has. Brady has done this enough times to know how to get the job done on Opening Night, and you should feel comfortable with the home favorite here. Tampa Bay 34-24.
Tampa Bay is 2-8 straight up in its last 10 Thursday games.
Dallas is 5-11 straight up in its last 16 road games. The total has not favored either side in those games with eight overs and eight unders.
Players to watch
Cowboys: Seeing a full year of Dak Prescott throwing the ball to CeeDee Lamb is going to be insane. Lamb was second among rookies last year with 935 yards on 74 catches. He’s just a luxury on the Dallas roster at some point, but if he builds off a season where Andy Dalton was his quarterback, imagine a full year of him with Prescott.
Buccaneers: Mike Evans barely eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark in 2020, but that just shows the depth Tampa Bay has at receiver. Evans became the first player in league history to eclipse 1,000 yards in his first seven seasons and is 1,734 away from 10,000. So long as Brady keeps throwing him the ball, he’ll get there in due course. Watch how often the Cowboys put Diggs on him.
Statistical leaders from 2020
Passing: Andy Dalton -- 2,169 yards, 14 TD, 8 INT
Rushing: Ezekiel Elliott -- 979 yards, 6 TD
Receiving: Amari Cooper -- 1,114 yards, 5 TD
Defense: DeMarcus Lawrence -- 6.5 sacks; Jaylon Smith -- 154 tackles
Passing: Tom Brady -- 4,633 yards, 40 TD, 12 INT
Rushing: Ronald Jones II -- 978 yards, 7 TD
Receiving: Mike Evans -- 1,006 yards, 13 TD
Defense: Devin White -- 140 tackles, 9 sacks; Jason Pierre-Paul -- 9.5 sacks
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