We’ve made it! The 2021 NFL Season is upon us! What better way to kick off the NFL’s biggest season yet than with the World Champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers and “America’s Team” the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday Night Football.
Tampa and Dallas have more than just hot summers in common as they boast two of the most prolific offenses in the league. Tampa averaged 30 PPG last season, and Dallas wasn’t far behind with 24 PPG. Both teams have top offensive line units and wide receiver cores with stars such as: Mike Evans, Amari Cooper, Chris Godwin, and CeeDee Lamb, as well as young defenses built through the draft. What are the hottest matchups to watch as the season kicks off?
1. Dak Prescott vs Buccaneers Front 7:
The talk around the league this offseason has been Dak Prescott. Coming off of a nasty broken ankle injury that he suffered early last season, all ears and eyes were fixed on how Dallas’ franchise player would look mobility-wise in the preseason. There was news that broke that he was dealing with some soreness in his shoulder, and questions surfaced as to if Dak would be 100% healthy against Tampa. The same Tampa team that forced Patrick Mahomes to run around for 500 yards trying to avoid them in the Super Bowl. The Buccaneers front seven had 48 sacks in 2020, which was good for fourth-best in the NFL.
2. Ndamukong Suh vs Connor McGovern:
News broke earlier this week that Cowboys Pro Bowl Guard Zack Martin would miss Thursday’s game due to being placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list. This forced Connor McGovern to step in and replace him. McGovern is no rookie as he started 8 games last season. He will go up against one of if not the nastiest linemen Tampa has in its arsenal —known “bad boy” Ndamukong Suh. Suh’s stats won’t jump out at you, as he had 6 sacks in 2020, but his strength is pushing players backward and collapsing pockets.
3. Mike Evans vs Trevon Diggs:
Tampa’s three-headed monster in their WR corps is spearheaded by star WR Mike Evans, who last season became the first WR in NFL history to start their career with seven straight 1,000-yard seasons and will look to make it eight starting Thursday against blooming star CB Trevon Diggs. Diggs may be young but had a solid rookie season with three interceptions and 14 passes defended. This will be a battle between two big, physical players down the field all night long. Evans is known for winning “50/50” balls, and Diggs has seemed to play better against bigger receivers as opposed to the speed WRs making this a popcorn-ready matchup.
4. Carlton Davis III vs Amari Cooper:
Dallas trading for Amari Cooper in 2018 has been one of the biggest wins in recent years, as the 27-year-old has posted two straight 1,000 yard campaigns. Cooper is known for his elite route running and sure hands, having caught 68-70% of passes since becoming a Cowboy. He’ll be across from Carlton Davis III on Thursday night, Tampa’s CB1. Davis III, a 4th-year man out of Auburn, has made a name for himself with four interceptions and 18 passes defended in 2020. This included an impressive outing against Saints WR Michael Thomas in the NFC divisional matchup where he held Thomas catch-less. WR1 vs CB1 under the bright lights should be a great matchup to watch.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers outside linebacker Lavonte David (54) gets into position during the second half of an NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs in Tampa, Fla., Sunday, Oct. 14, 2012.(AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
5. Tampa’s Linebackers VS Ezekiel Elliot:
2020 wasn’t kind to Ezekiel Elliot, as he saw his lowest rushing total since entering the league. He tied his highest number of fumbles in a season with six. This could be due to the Cowboys’ offensive line being decimated due to injuries. Talk spread like wildfire that Elliott, who had 1300+ yards in 2018-2019, may just be slowing down; and is eager to prove the world wrong. Tampa’s stud LB duo Lavonte David and Devin White know it too and will need to be at their best to slow him down. David, a do-it-all LB enters his 9th NFL season, can get sideline-to-sideline in an instant and speedster Devin White has started picking the trait up as the two combined for 257 tackles and 27 TFL in 2020. Expect plenty of interactions between Elliott and the Buccaneers linebackers right at the line all night long.