IT’S THE BUCS VS THE BOYS ON MONDAY NIGHT!
Playoff football. It just feels different. The “Win or Go home!” finality of the NFL postseason is upon us. On Monday night, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Dallas Cowboys will meet for the second time this season and for the first time since Week 1 when the Bucs beat the Cowboys 19-3 in Dallas. It was the Buccaneers ONLY win by more than 10 points this year, but a lot has changed since then. Both of these teams have evolved since then. Both teams are better than they were then. Both teams have been through a lot since then. Now it’s time to see what both teams have learned about themselves since then.
These are two very different teams. The Buccaneers struggled to score points all season, while the Cowboys were one of the top scoring teams in the league. The Bucs strength on offense is their passing game, while the Cowboys strength on offense is their run game. The Bucs weakness on offense is their offensive line, while the Cowboys have one of the best o-lines in football. Both teams have good pass defenses, but the Bucs are better at stopping the run. The Bucs won their division with an 8-9 losing record, while the Cowboys at 12-5 didn’t even win their’s. The Bucs have a defensive minded head coach in Todd Bowles, while the Cowboys have an offensive minded one in Mike McCarthy. The Buccaneers have a quarterback with the most postseason wins in NFL history, while the Cowboys QB has never won a playoff game. There’s a ton of differences between these two teams, but they have one thing in common. They BOTH want to win this game. And it’ll come down to which team wants to win it the most. So before the toe hits the leather on Monday night, let’s take a deeper look into both of these teams and see how they measure up for this primetime playoff matchup.
DALLAS COWBOYS (12-5)
Ah, “America’s team“. Whatever that means. The Cowboys only lost five games this season, but after each loss they went on either a two-game or a four-game win streak. They were humiliated by the Commanders 26-6 in Week 18, so does that mean another win streak is about to start? I’m not too sure about that. History is not on their side. They haven’t won a road playoff game since 1992. Tom Brady is 7-0 against the Cowboys in his career. The Cowboys are just 1-6 when wearing their blue uniforms. They are wearing blue Monday night. Just saying. There’s a lot of things going against them in this game.
The Cowboys 11th ranked offense averaged 355 total yards per game, but they finished as the 4th ranked scoring offense averaging 27.5 points. Their 14th ranked passing offense averaged just 220 yards through the air, while their 9th ranked rushing attack averaged 135 yards on the ground. Dak Prescott finished the season completing 66% of his passes for 2,860 yards, 23 touchdowns and a league-leading 15 interceptions in 12 games. Believe it or not, Tony Pollard led the team in rushing with 1,007 yards and 9 touchdowns while averaging 5.1 yards per carry. Ezekiel Elliott wasn’t far behind with 876 yards, but he had 12 touchdowns and only averaged 3.8 yards per carry. Pollard also added 371 receiving yards and 3 touchdowns in the passing game as the Cowboys biggest dual threat back. Their leading receiver BY FAR was CeeDee Lamb with 107 catches for 1,359 yards and 9 touchdowns. However, they had three other players with 400+ receiving yards including tight end Dalton Schultz (577), wide receivers Noah Brown (555) and Michael Gallup (424).
The Cowboys 12th ranked defense is allowing 330 total yards and 20 points per game. The 8th ranked pass defense is giving up just 201 yards through the air, while the 22nd ranked run defense is allowing 129 yards on the ground. Safety Donovan Wilson leads the team with 101 tackles, while linebacker Leighton Vander Esch is second on the team with 90 tackles. Outside linebacker Micah Parsons leads the team with 13.5 sacks AND 13 tackles for loss. In the secondary, cornerback Trevon Diggs leads the team with 14 pass break-ups, while cornerback DaRon Bland leads them with 5 interceptions.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
OFFENSE : WR CeeDee Lamb
In Week 1, Lamb was held to just 2 catches for 29 yards by Carlton Davis and the “Gravediggers“, his lowest output of the season. He had 75+ yards in nine of his 17 games this season, including 100+ yards in three of the last four games. The Bucs secondary is FINALLY healthy and should have everyone available for this game, so it’ll be important for them to keep him contained again.
DEFENSE : OLB Micah Parsons
He is one of the biggest “game-changers” in the game today. Opposing teams have to game-plan for him. In Week 1, he got to Tom Brady for 2 sacks. In fact, he had at least 2 sacks in 6 games this season. Even though they move him around a lot, he’ll be matched up with Bucs left tackle Donovan Smith in this game and you see how that worked out the first time.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (8-9)
The Bucs may have had a “losing” season, but that doesn’t matter to them now. They are starting fresh. They are getting healthy. They ended the season playing good football, winning two and a half of their last three games. Oh and they have Tom Brady, the greatest postseason quarterback in NFL history. He has more playoff wins and more postseason experience than ALL the other quarterbacks left combined. His offense might be the healthiest it’s been all season. He might have his starting center Ryan Jensen back. He might have the best version of Julio Jones that he’s seen all year. There’s no more excuses. It’s go time.
The Bucs finished the regular season with the 15th ranked offense averaging 347 total yards per game, but they only had the 25th ranked scoring offense averaging just 18.4 points per game. Their 2nd ranked passing offense averaged 270 yards per game through the air, while the 32nd ranked rushing offense averaged a league-worst 77 yards per game on the ground. Tom Brady finished the season completing 67% of his passes for 4,694 yards, 25 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. The Buccaneers two-headed rushing attack of Leonard Fournette and Rachaad White combined for 1,149 yards and 4 touchdowns, while averaging just 3.6 yards per carry. Tampa Bay finished with a pair of 1,000-yard receivers in Mike Evans (77 rec/1,124 yds/6 td’s) and Chris Godwin (104 rec/1,023 yds/3 td’s).
Their 9th ranked defense allowed just 324 total yards and 21 points per game. The 9th ranked passing defense is giving up 204 yards per game through the air, while the 15th ranked rushing defense is allowing 121 yards per game on the ground. Linebackers Lavonte David and Devin White are tied for the team lead with 124 tackles each. Defensive tackle Vita Vea still leads the team with 6.5 sacks, but Devin White and outside linebacker Anthony Nelson are close behind him with 5.5 sacks each. Lavonte David also leads the team with 10 tackles for loss. In the secondary, cornerback Carlton Davis leads the team with 12 pass break-ups, while safety Mike Edwards and cornerbacks Jamel Dean and Sean Murphy-Bunting are all tied with 2 interceptions each.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
OFFENSE : WR Chris Godwin
In Week 1, he had 3 catches for 35 yards against the Cowboys. He finished the season with at least 5 catches and 54+ yards in each of his last 8 games. He’s been on a roll, getting healthier and building more chemistry with Tom Brady. Look for his production to continue as the Cowboys secondary focuses on Mike Evans.
DEFENSE : S Mike Edwards
He’s been a ballhawk since the Bucs drafted him in 2019, but he’s got just 2 interceptions in 13 games this season. He’s due. Dak Prescott not only lead the NFL in interceptions this season, but he had 11 picks in his last 7 games, including 2 picks each in four of those games. I expect Edwards to keep that streak going on Monday night.
1. Donovan Smith vs Micah Parsons
In their first meeting, Smith allowed Parsons to sack Tom Brady twice. That can’t happen again. Hopefully, Smith is healthy now and ready to go for this game. Keeping Parsons away from Brady’s blindside will be important to the offense’s success in this game.
2. Anthony Nelson vs Tyler Smith
In the last 7 games, Nelson totaled 30 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 4 QB hits and 3 forced fumbles. Since Shaq Barrett went out with a season-ending knee injury, Nelson has gotten better and better each game. He’s got a tough matchup with Smith on Monday night, but if he can get some pressure on Prescott, it could force him into a turnover or two.
3. Bucs D-line vs Cowboys RB’s
In their first matchup, the Bucs defense did an outstanding job stopping the Cowboys rushing attack, holding BOTH Ezekiel Elliott AND Tony Pollard to a combined 16 carries for 60 yards. They need to do that again and force Dak Prescott to beat them through the air. The more times he has to throw, the more likely he is to throw a pick.
Believe it or not, Tampa Bay doesn’t have a single player officially “OUT” for this game. They have two players listed as “DOUBTFUL” including guard Nick Leverett (knee/shoulder) and tight end Kyle Rudolph (knee). They also have nine players listed as “QUESTIONABLE” including defensive tackle Vita Vea (calf), left tackle Donovan Smith (foot), safeties Mike Edwards (hip), Keanu Neal (hip) and Logan Ryan (knee), cornerback Carlton Davis (shoulder), outside linebacker Carl Nassib (pectoral), center Robert Hainsey (hamstring) and offensive lineman John Molchon (ankle). All eleven players should be healthy enough and available to play on Monday night. Not included in this injury report is center Ryan Jensen (knee), who could possibly be activated in time to play Monday night as well.
The Cowboys injury report isn’t nearly as extensive as the Bucs. They have just one player ruled “OUT” for this game in cornerback Trayvon Mullen (illness).
KEYS TO THE GAME
1. CONTROL THE LINE OF SCRIMMAGE!
Control the line of scrimmage. Control the clock. Control the flow of the game. That’s how it works. The Bucs need to stop the Cowboys rushing attack. They need to get some pressure on Dak Prescott. They need to try to establish some kind of run game on offense. And they need to keep Micah Parsons away from Tom Brady. That’s it. It’s as simple as that.
2. WIN THE TURNOVER BATTLE!
Even though Dak Prescott led the league in picks, the Cowboys were the 2nd best team in the NFL in turnover differential at +10 this season. They caused 33 turnovers this season on defense, while the offense committed just 23 turnovers. Each team had one interception in their Week 1 game. The Bucs will need to do better than that in this game to win again.
3. SCORE TOUCHDOWNS!
The Buccaneers will not be able to beat this Cowboys team by kicking field goals like they did in their first game. Ryan Succop was 4 of 5 on his kicks, scoring 12 of the Bucs 19 points in that game. Tampa Bay will need AT LEAST three touchdowns to win this game. Touchdowns, not field goals. That’s the mantra this week.
ODDS & ENDS
Odds : Cowboys -2.5/Bucs +2.5 Over/Under : 45.5 points
Moneyline : Cowboys -145/Bucs +120
WHEN & WHERE TO WATCH
When : Monday, January 16th @ 8:15 pm EST
Where : Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida
TV : ABC, ESPN, ESPN+ Radio : 97.9 FM WXTB, 98 Rock
Temps in the mid-50’s with a 0% chance of rain
Don’t expect another 19-3 game from these two teams. It’s going to be a nail-biter. I think it comes down to a last possession, or possibly even overtime, where Tom Brady has to orchestrate another game-winning drive or Ryan Succop has to kick another game-winning field goal (Hopefully it’s under 50 yards). It’s gonna be close, but I do think the Bucs pull this one out in the end and move on to the second round of the playoffs. Bucs win.
BUCS 24 COWBOYS 20
THE WRAP UP
This is it. This is where the excuses stop and the actions start. It’s do or die time. Win or go home time. Either you move on to the next round or you head off to vacation. There’s no more “We’ll come back better next game“. There’s no more “better luck next week“. Like Tom Brady said in his last press conference, it’s not the best team who wins, it’s the team that plays the best that day who moves on in the playoffs. Let’s not fool ourselves, the Buccaneers are not the best team in the playoffs. Not by a long shot. They’re not even the best team in the conference. Hell, they were barely the best team in the NFC South. But they don’t have to be the best. They just have to be better than Dallas on Monday night.
And that they can do.
So now that you know everything you need to know about the Bucs wildcard round matchup, there’s only one thing left to say…