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Cowboys vs Buccaneers: Week 1 NFL preview

The NFL Kickoff Game for the 2021 season arrives with the Dallas Cowboys facing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to begin Week 1 of the regular season. Unfortunately, COVID-19 is already impacting the 2021 season with Zack Martin sidelined by the virus.

In a game featuring Dak Prescott and Tom Brady, our Cowboys vs Buccaneers preview examines game info, key matchups and predicts the outcome for the game.

Click here to see where the Cowboys and Buccaneers land in our Week 1 NFL power rankings

Cowboys vs Buccaneers: What you need to know

Let’s examine the key matchups that will decide the Cowboys vs Buccaneers opener.

Related: Dallas Cowboys star Zack Martin tests positive for COVID-19, out for Week 1

Dak Prescott vs Tom Brady

Cowboys vs Buccaneers, Week 1
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Fans couldn’t ask for much more than two of the best quarterbacks in the NFL facing off to begin the 2021 season. Tom Brady is coming off his seventh Super Bowl win and still looking to prove himself by defying Father Time even more in his age-44 season.

Check out our Dallas Cowboys preview and season predictions

Dak Prescott put himself on track for a historic season in 2020, then a gruesome ankle injury wiped it away. While he missed the entire preseason due to a late injury, the Pro Bowl quarterback will look to prove he is worth that massive contract extension. On the big stage, he and the Cowboys could send a statement with a victory.

  • Locked In: Brady got off to a slow start in 2020, due to a shortened training camp and the transition to a new system. But the greatest quarterback in NFL history set defenses on fire late in the year. Brady posted a 126.9 passer rating with a 12-1 TD-INT ratio in his final four regular-season starts. With a full year in this system and even better chemistry with the receivers, TB12 could build on that in 2021.
  • A Star is Born: It’s easy to forget just how good Prescott was before the injury. Over his last 14 starts, dating back to 2019, Prescott had a 27-8 TD-INT ratio, 4,635 passing yards and a 98.5 passer rating. With one of the NFL’s top receiving corps and a healthy offensive line, Prescott is a darkhorse MVP candidate. If he finds a way to upset the Bucs, we can talk about Dallas as a Super Bowl contender.

Advantage: Tom Brady

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Buccaneers’ wide receivers vs Cowboys’ secondary

Cowboys vs Buccaneers
Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

The Buccaneers arguably have three No. 1 receivers on their depth chart. Mike Evans has seven consecutive 1,000-yard seasons to begin his career, Antonio Brown’s on-field resume speaks for itself and Chris Godwin will be paid like an elite talent next offseason. We’ll see them all together in the Cowboys vs Buccaneers game, a treat for the football world.

Click here for our Tampa Bay Buccaneers preview and season picks

This matchup is the definition of strength versus weakness. The Cowboys’ secondary is the defense’s Achilles’ heel. There isn’t one starting cornerback who you can feel supremely confident in single coverage against a high-end wide receiver. So, for Dallas to have a shot in this one, young players must step up like never before.

  • Size Matters: Dan Quinn loved using lengthy, tall cornerbacks during his days in Seattle and it mattered when facing wide receivers like Mike Evans. Unfortunately for Dallas, it doesn’t have the size to cover a 6-foot-5 offensive weapon that makes leaping catches look easy. A two-touchdown or 100-yard game wouldn’t be surprising.
  • Diggs In: Dallas threw Trevon Diggs, their second-round pick, into the fire last season as a rookie. He allowed a 96.9 passer rating in coverage, per Pro Football Focus. Expectations are higher in 2021 and the former Crimson Tide star will need to prove himself against elite competition. He should line up against Mike Evans a majority of the time and while we like his size, Evans holds the edge.

Advantage: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Kellen Moore vs Todd Bowles

NFL: Super Bowl LV-Kansas City Chiefs vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

We might look back on this Buccaneers vs Cowboys clash a year from now as a matchup between multiple NFL head coaches. Todd Bowles didn’t generate a ton of consideration after his incredible work helped bring the Lombardi Trophy to Tampa Bay, but he is one of the leading candidates to become a head coach in 2022.

Tampa Bay will be without safety Jordan Whitehead for Thursday’s game due to a hamstring injury. While the Buccaneers will lose out on his snaps, it isn’t a significant blow with all the talent on the roster.

Find out where the Buccaneers land in our latest NFL defense rankings

On the other side, Kellen Moore is just waiting for his shot. If the Cowboys miss the playoffs or the team simply doesn’t live up to Jerry Jones’ expectations, Moore could be the guy to take over for Mike McCarthy. Remember, Moore turned down Boise State and that only happens if you know a bigger job is possible.

  • Bring the Heat: The Cowboys must prepare for the blitz in this matchup. Under Todd Bowles, Tampa Bay blitzed on 39% of its defensive snaps last season. They also don’t miss when the pressure gets through, finishing with the fourth-most sacks (48) and third-most quarterback knockdowns (68).
  • Finding Balance: If there’s one major point of emphasis Dallas needed to address this spring, it was recognizing the running game was abandoned in 2020. Ezekiel Elliott is apparently in the best shape of his life and if this offensive line stays healthy, it can dominate. Mix that in with some RPOs, play-actions and deep shots, Moore will have this offense cooking.
  • Big Blow: With Zack Martin unavailable, Dallas will be forced to start Connor McGovern. Against a defensive front that features Vita Vea and Ndamukong Suh, the Cowboys will likely struggle to keep the interior pocket clean for Prescott.

Advantage: Todd Bowles

The bottom line: We couldn’t ask for anything better to begin the 2021 NFL season. Everyone loves highlights and you can bet there will be plenty in a high-scoring Cowboys vs Buccaneers game. Tampa Bay holds the edge in a lot of key matchups, but an upset is always possible.