Cowboys-Bucs best bets: Can Tampa's offense be stopped?
It's been way too long since we've put together a Thursday Night Football best bets roundtable, and we're thrilled to have finally made it to the start of the 2021 NFL season.
Here are our best bets for Cowboys-Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium:
We've never seen a defending Super Bowl champion quite like these Buccaneers, who return all 22 starters from last year's title group. We've also rarely seen one fail in this spot — the last 20 reigning champs went 14-6 ATS in Week 1, with the previous two winning by a combined 44 points.
We know the Cowboys' offense is dangerous when healthy, but their defense is still a major question after ranking 28th in points allowed (29.6 PPG) a year ago. Dallas rebuilt that unit over the offseason but still has lingering concerns in the secondary, where the team will likely trot out second-year corner Trevon Diggs alongside a cast of rookies and disappointing veterans.
Don't expect that to fly against Tom Brady and Tampa Bay's quartet of All-Pro pass-catchers in Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown, and Rob Gronkowski. The Bucs are the better squad in nearly every facet of this game, and their continuity comes in stark contrast to the Cowboys' rebuilt roster - especially in this season opener.
- C Jackson Cowart
Who wants to cheer for an under on opening night? This stacked Tampa offense will still overmatch Dallas' improved - but still bad - defense. However, it's not enough for me to lay the current price with the Bucs after a -6.5 open.
The Cowboys' offensive line issues aren't ideal up against a ferocious Tampa front, but Dak Prescott's mobility helps to alleviate those concerns - as does the impressive skill group of Ezekiel Elliott, Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, and Michael Gallup. Prescott was on a record-breaking pace before going down last season, and this offense is equipped to turn this contest into a track meet and keep things interesting.
This total is discounted thanks to concerns over Prescott's ankle and shoulder injuries, but he said he's definitely ready. Head coach Mike McCarthy echoed those sentiments, calling him a full go for Thursday's opener. This high-powered Dallas offense made a habit of fourth-quarter comebacks early last year before Prescott went down, so instead of sweating a possible backdoor cover here, I feel much more comfortable backing these dynamic offenses to push the opener comfortably over the total.
- Alex Moretto
Rob Gronkowski under 30.5 receiving yards (-115)
The Cowboys' defense will have a new look under defensive coordinator and former Falcons head coach Dan Quinn. Atlanta was No. 9 in blitz frequency last season at 62.06%, a number that actually brought down their 68.69% average under Quinn the three campaigns prior. What changed? Well, Quinn actually fired himself and handed play-calling duties to Raheem Morris, who stopped blitzing as much.
Why is this important? If Quinn can't keep himself from blitzing to the point where he has to remove himself from play-calling, what's he going to do in his new gig in Dallas? Blitz! When teams pressure the Bucs, Gronkowski stays in to block instead of running routes, leaving Brady to use one of his numerous other receiving outlets.
Furthermore, since Brown arrived in Tampa, Gronk has gone over 30.5 receiving yards just four times in 11 games. Of those seven unders, two of them came against ... wait for it ... Quinn's Falcons.
- Matt Russell