FOOTBALL IS BACK, BABY!
It’s FINALLY here. We’ve been waiting for it; ever since Matt Gay hit that game-winning field goal as time expired in the divisional round game against the LA Rams last season. Week 1 of the 2022 NFL season is underway, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ difficult road to the Super Bowl in Arizona begins on Sunday Night Football against the Dallas Cowboys in the house that Jerry built for their first of two road games to start the season. The Bucs open their regular season against the Cowboys for the second straight year after beating them in Tampa last September. The Week 1 matchup might be the same, but the cast of players is different. Let’s take a look at both teams to see how they match up in this week’s game.
This team finished 12-5 last season, losing to the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Wildcard round of the playoffs. They still have Dak Prescott at quarterback and Ezekiel Elliott at running back. They still have a solid offensive line, even though they did lose starting left tackle Tyron Smith for at least 6 weeks to a torn hamstring. And they still have a ton of playmakers on defense. This team is dangerous for sure but are they dangerous enough to beat Tampa Bay?
PLAYERS TO WATCH
DEFENSE – Micah Parsons
Parsons is what NFL coaches call a “game wrecker“. The 2021 Defensive Rookie of the Year finished with 84 tackles, 20 tackles for loss, and 13 sacks last year. He’s designated on the Cowboys depth chart as the weak weakside linebacker, but Dallas plays him all over the field to create mismatches. He’s one of those players that the offense has to account for any time he’s on the field, or he’s going to cause problems.
OFFENSE – CeeDee Lamb
With Amari Cooper shipped off to Cleveland, Lamb is now the man in Dallas. Over his first two seasons in the league, he has totaled just over 2,000 yards and 11 touchdowns, averaging more than 13 yards per catch. He’s a problem! Both Carlton Davis and Jamel Dean will get their shots at him, and they’ll both need to bring their A-game to keep him in check.
This has been quite a rollercoaster offseason for the Bucs, and I’m glad it’s over, and we can get to some real, live football. This team enters the season with high expectations and Super Bowl or Bust aspirations, so anything less than a championship would be a disappointment. Tom Brady and Byron Leftwich have some new toys on offense like; Julio Jones, Russell Gage, and Kyle Rudolph, even though there is no Gronk on the team (yet). And Todd Bowles has a few new pawns to move around on his defensive chess board like; Akiem Hicks, Logan Ryan, and Keanu Neal. Even though they added a bunch of experienced veterans to this team, it’s the rookies like; Luke Goedeke, Logan Hall, Rachaad White, and Cade Otton that will need to make the biggest impacts. We’ll see really quick if they’re up to the challenge.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
DEFENSE – Joe Tryon-Shoyinka
JTS has a real opportunity in this first game to show what he’s capable of and make Bucs fans forget all about not having Jason Pierre-Paul anymore. With Shaq Barrett most likely lined up against the rookie left tackle and Vita Vea and Akiem Hicks keeping the three interior guys busy, he’ll have plenty of one-on-one with new right tackle Terence Steele. Hopefully, he can take advantage of them.
OFFENSE – Robert Hainsey & Luke Goedeke
These youngsters are being thrown straight into the fire, but that’s a good thing. I think. This game will either give Bucs fans hope for this season OR confirm the fears they’ve been having since Ryan Jensen got injured. The Cowboys have a really solid defensive line with a good mixture of experienced veterans and talented young players. The Buccaneers’ rookie and second-year starters will be tested early and often in this one. Hopefully, they pass.
1. Mike Evans vs. Trevon Diggs
Evans has made a career out of making the opposing team’s #1 corners look silly, but Diggs is a tough matchup. He led Dallas with 11 interceptions last year and is one of the best cover corners in football. Evans will have his hands full in this one, but the good news is that it should open up things for Jones and Gage to make big contributions.
2. Tom Brady vs. Micah Parsons
As I said before, Parsons is a “game wrecker“, and Brady will need to know where he is and what he’s doing at all times. This is going to be a chess match between Brady and Leftwich and Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn. Tommy Boy has never lost to Dallas, and I don’t think he has any plans to start now, especially on his last ride through town.
3. Shaq Barrett vs. Tyler Smith
The Cowboys’ O line has been their strength for the last several years, and left tackle Tyron Smith has been a key component in that run. However, he suffered a torn hamstring during training camp and was placed on IR to start the season. Dallas has decided to start rookie offensive lineman Tyler Smith in his place. Knowing Todd Bowles, Barrett will probably be lined up on that side all night long to test the rookie as much as possible. Hopefully, it pays off.
The Buccaneers have just one player listed as officially “OUT” on their final injury report, which is rookie cornerback Zyon McCollum (hamstring). The other two players listed are wide receivers Chris Godwin (knee), who will be a game-time decision (his decision), and Russell Gage (hamstring), who’s listed as “QUESTIONABLE“.
Like the Bucs, the Cowboys have just one player officially “OUT” for this game, which is wide receiver Michael Gallup (knee). They only have one other player listed as “QUESTIONABLE” on their final report, which is safety Jayron Kearse (neck). It should also be noted that veteran starting left tackle Tyron Smith (hamstring) is on IR and will not be playing.
I don’t think either team is going to run away with this game. It’ll be a close one, but I think the Buccaneers are just too talented, and Tom Brady just has too much “unfinished business” for them to lose in Week 1. Bucs win.
Bucs 23 Cowboys 17
This is going to be a fun game. The Bucs vs. The Boys, under the lights in AT&T Stadium, on Sunday Night Football. It doesn’t get much better! Dallas is a solid playoff team playing at home, so this will be a true litmus test for Tampa Bay. It’s a helluva way to open up the season, and it should give us a good idea of where the Bucs are as a team heading into this year. Now that you know all you need to know about this week’s matchup, there’s only one thing left to say.