The wait for game week is finally over. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will soon kick off the 2021 season against the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday night in Raymond James Stadium. Unlike last year, however, the game will be played in front of a packed house.
There are plenty of storylines to monitor and matchups to analyze as the game draws closer and we've already waited long enough to get here, so let's go ahead and get to the Week 1 preview.
- All-time series: The Cowboys are 15-4 all-time against the Bucs.
- Longest win streak: Dallas won the first eight games of the series from 1977-1990.
- Largest margin of victory: The Bucs were shellacked, 38-0, in 1982.
- 2020 offensive and defensive rankings: The Bucs finished 2020 with the NFL's seventh-best offense (2nd pass, 28th run) and the sixth-best defense (21st pass, 1st run). Tampa Bay scored 30.8 points per game on offense (3rd) and allowed 22.2 points per game on defense (8th). The Cowboys fielded the 14th-best offense (8th pass, 17th run) and the 23rd-ranked defense (11th pass, 31st run). Dallas scored 24.7 points per game (17th) and allowed 29.6 points per game (28th).
What To Watch For
- The return of Dak Prescott: This one is pretty obvious, but it's certainly worth mentioning. Prescott hasn't played since breaking his ankle last year. He didn't even play in the preseason thanks to a strained shoulder, but it's been reported that he's 100% and ready for this game. There's bound to be some rust, right? We'll find out for sure on Thursday night.
- Familiarity vs. New Territory: The Bucs have talked about their growth and improved rapport on offense all offseason long. Mike Evans recently said that the offense is "miles" from where it was at this point last year. The Cowboys' defense is in new/unfamiliar territory with Dan Quinn, a new defensive scheme, and a lot of new players on that side of the ball. Can the Bucs take advantage of the Cowboys in this regard?
- COVID-19: Yes, the NFL is still dealing with COVID issues like the rest of the world. Cowboys All-Pro guard Zack Martin will miss the game, which is not ideal since Dallas is going up against one of the best front sevens in the league. Will there be any more fallout as game day approaches?
- The trenches: It all starts up front and the Cowboys are already having injury issues in both the offensive and defensive trenches. Neville Gallimore, a rising defensive tackle, dislocated his elbow in camp and will miss the first few games of the season. As mentioned earlier, Martin will miss the game. The Bucs, on the other hand, are 100% healthy and ready to go. Missing Gallimore and Martin will put the 'Boys at a big disadvantage up front.
- Dallas' defense: There's a lot of hype surrounding the offense and for good reason, but the defense has to improve if the Cowboys want a shot at the postseason. What better test than Tom Brady and the Bucs? How Quinn's unit performs Thursday night will give us a good idea of what's to come. Even if it is just Week 1.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- QB Tom Brady: Does this one really need an explanation?
- RB Ronald Jones II: Jones is one of the league's more underrated runners and should have a good game against a rather soft run defense.
- WR Mike Evans: He's in the best shape of his career and is fully healthy, which should scare the rest of the NFL.
- DT Vita Vea: The fourth-year defensive tackle creates so many matchup problems for opposing protection schemes.
- LB Devin White: A rising star, White is one of the fastest linebackers in the league and can also rush the passer.
- CB Carlton Davis III: He'll be going up against the Cowboys' talented trio of receivers, so it's important he is on his game.
- QB Dak Prescott: This is will be the first live action for Prescott since he broke his ankle last year; he didn't even play in the preseason.
- RB Ezekiel Elliott: The sixth-year back is still one of the league's best and will need to find running room against the Bucs' top-ranked run defense.
- WR CeeDee Lamb: Big things are expected of Lamb in 2021. Tampa Bay has a solid secondary, but Lamb will be a tough test.
- DL Demarcus Lawrence: He's been watching Bucs' film since OTAs and is ready to get after it on Thursday night.
- LB Micah Parsons: How will the talented rookie fare during his first taste of NFL action?
- CB Trevon Diggs: Diggs is Dallas' best corner, but will have his hands full against the Bucs receivers.
- The Buccaneers offense scored a touchdown on 42-of-61 trips inside the red zone last season, while leading the NFL with a 95.1 scoring percentage (58-of-61) on red zone drives.
- Brady finished his first season in Tampa Bay with 40 touchdown passes (the most ever by a player in his first season with a team) and 4,633 passing yards (the second-most ever by a player in his first season with a team). Over his last eight quarters of regular season football, Brady threw for 1,067 yards and 10 touchdowns with just one interception.
- Evans set a new franchise record with 13 receiving touchdowns in 2020 (fourth in the NFL) and is Tampa Bay's all-time leader in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns.
- The Buccaneers defense has been one of the best in the league in creating turnovers since Todd Bowles took over as defensive coordinator in 2019. From the start of the 2019 season, Tampa Bay ranks tied for fourth in takeaways and second in points off turnovers.
*Stats provided by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Communications Department
The Bucs are currently favored by (+7.5) to win this game and with good reason. There are a bunch of questions surrounding the Cowboys and there aren't many questions surrounding the Bucs outside of, "Can they do it again?"
Most of the attention will be directed toward Prescott's return, but it's the defense that has to show up if the Cowboys want a shot at winning this game. Granted, the Cowboys have a better shot at winning a shootout than they do a defensive, grind-it-out-type game, but at the same time, you're not beating Brady if you can't stop him.
It's Week 1, so we can't go too deep into the analysis, but the fact remains that the Bucs will win if they come out and play their game and aren't too hyped from hanging the banners. But don't overlook the Cowboys too much. They still have the weapons and the talent in the right areas to pull off the upset.
When it's all said and done, the Cowboys will hang with the Bucs for a little while, but Tampa Bay ends up starting the season 1-0 Thursday night.
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