(1/16/23) 8:15 PM Eastern.
Spread: Cowboys -3 / Buccaneers +3
Moneyline: Cowboys -145 / Buccaneers +125
Total: Over / Under 45.5.
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An eventful wild-card round finishes up with Tom Brady taking on a struggling Dak Prescott at home on Monday night. America’s team (Tom Brady’s team) is looking to go 8-0 against Dallas, beating them as a Buccaneer in the season opener two years running. The Buccs dominated, winning 19-3 in week 1. They held the Cowboys to just 244 yards of total offense, sacked Dak 4 times, and turned him over once. And before you get mad at us Cowboys fans, there’s only 11 players on Dallas’s roster that were alive the last time Dallas played in a Superbowl… Come on, America’s Team?
Now 4 or 5 weeks ago I’m not sure anyone would have given the Buccs a chance against Dallas but how quickly things change in the NFL. First off, this Tampa Bay team is healthy. They have two guys doubtful but they come into this match-up with one of their cleanest bills of health this season. Notably Vita Vea and Akiem Hicks. When the two beefy down linemen play more than 10 snaps in a game together, the Buccs are 6-1. They only won 8 games… They may even get Pro Bowl Center Ryan Jensen back which is just a bonus. He went down with a knee injury before the season and hasn’t played a snap all year. He returned to practice a couple weeks ago.
Per usual, Tom Brady’s offense started turning it on right before the playoffs. Excluding the final game of season vs the Falcons (starters rested/limited snaps), the Buccaneers offense combined for 874 yards of offense in their last two. The deep ball between Evans and Brady finally clicked as he hit Evans 10 times for 207 yards and 3 touchdowns their last time out. Brady threw for a total of 432 yards in that game, completing passes to 8 different receivers.
Their ground game is a concern but their offensive line is getting healthy when it matters. There’s also comfort in the fact that they ran for 152 yards (they average 76.9) on this Cowboys defense back in week 1. The big stat from that match-up is 2 sacks. The number of times Brady was sacked. TB’s misfit O-line kept Tom Brady upright for most of that game.
Even on just a quarter and a half of work in their season finale, Brady completed 13 of 17 passes for 84 yards and a touchdown. Even with an offensive line that rested both starting tackles, a WR core that rested Mike Evans, and RB room that rested Fournette. Tampa Bay is clicking, which isn’t surprising this time of year considering it’s a Tom Brady let team.
On the flip side, what’s going on in Dallas? They played Washington last week and got smoked. If they beat Washington and the Eagles lost to the Giants, the Cowboys would have won the division. Both games kicked off at the same time too, so it was a crucial game. They scored 6 points and gave up 26 to the Commanders C+ offense. Rookie QB Sam Howell made his first start and neither of their top 2 running backs played. Washington only had 309 total yards but 151 of it came rushing and they dominated Time of Possession with over 36 minutes.
That’s been the general theme for the Cowboys defense the last month. Dallas is surrendering an average of 28.25 points per game their last 4. The last time they faced a playoff QB, Trevor Lawrence dropped 34 on them. Dallas’s defense collapsed, allowing 27 second half points. Dak came in clutch for Jacksonville at the end and threw a pick-six to lose the game in Overtime.
Other than Jacksonville, not a single starting QB in their last 4. Gardner Minshew and the Eagles offense scored 27. Philly scored 34 but Dak threw a pick six in that one too. They did a “decent” job against Joshua Dobbs and the Titans and held them to 13 but Dobbs joined the Titans 8 days before that game so woohoo. Then there’s the Commanders game where the they allowed 26 points to a Rookie QB making his first start. This “daunted” pass rush also has just 6 sacks in those 4 games. It’s hard to find anything positive to say about Dallas’s defense.
Offensively they’re still scoring but Dak’s been a turnover machine. He has 11 interceptions in his last 7 games. He’s struggling under pressure and struggling to decipher defenses. That’s a recipe for disaster against this Todd Bowles defense. He loves his zone blitzes. They disguise their looks and fire guys from all different places on the field and will drop anybody into coverage. Even the 350-pound nose tackle Vita Vea gets dropped into coverage. Look at the Buccs/Packers games from week 3 and ask Aaron Jones how he feels about Vea sitting over the middle. Jones caught a pass on an angle route out of the backfield and proceeded to get blasted by Vea, coughing up a fumble at the 1 going in. Against Bowles defense in week 1, Dak completed just 14 of 29 passes (48.3%) for 134 yards, no touchdowns, and 1 interception. His worst performance of the season.
The ground game hasn’t been as strong in recent weeks either. Against Philly 3 weeks ago, Zeke and Pollard combined for 74 yards on 25 carries (2.96 YPC). The following game against TN, Zeke and Mike Davis (Pollard OUT) had 76 yards on 29 carries (2.62 YPC). Then last week against Washington, Zeke, Pollard, and Davis combined for 48 yards on 20 carries (2.4 YPC). The Buccaneers run defense faltered at times this year but it’s been elite when Vea and Hicks play like they will in this one. Those two played against Dallas in week 1 and TB held Dallas to just 71 yards rushing.
Then on top of all that, TB is 5-1 ATS L6 meetings vs DAL and the Underdog is also 5-1 ATS. TB is 4-1 ATS L5 playoff games while Dallas is 0-4 L4 playoff games and 2-5 L7 wildcard games. Dallas is also just 1-3-1 ATS L5 overall, 1-4-1 L6 road games, and 6-18 ATS L24 January Games (Chokers). For the total, the Over is 4-1 in Tampa’s L5 and 5-2 in Dallas’s L7. There’s also playoff trends in our favor, Wild Card Round hosts who made last year’s playoffs: 25-12-3 ATS (68%), Wild Card teams at .500 or below: 8-1 ATS (89%) and 6-3 SU (67%), Wild Card teams 15+% worse than opponent: 6-0-1 ATS (100%), Wild Card teams who won by 14+ in the previous meeting: 9-3 ATS (75%), Wild Card road teams on a one-game losing streak: 14-3 ATS (82%).
These are two teams trending in entirely opposite directions and we’re taking the hotter team. The Cowboys Dad (Tom Brady) will have the Buccs ready to roll as he goes for a perfect 8-0 against the Cowboys. They’ll be able to score on a struggling Cowboys defense and the inevitable Dak turnover should lead to some quick timely points. With both teams struggling to run the football and being forced to throw, this clock will bleed slow and you can expect plenty of possessions to help push this past the 45.5 total.