Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs Dallas Cowboys (-7, 46.5 o/u)
Only the Dallas Cowboys (11-2, 9-3-1 ATS) could turn a dominant season into a complete circus heading into the playoffs. After a remarkable run cemented Dak Prescott as the Cowboys starter, all it took was two poor outings for owner Jerry Jones to work the Tony Romo chatter into a full frenzy.
As if life wasn’t hard enough for a rookie quarterback, now we’ll see how Prescott responds to an unsupportive owner when the Cowboys take on the red-hot Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-5, 8-5 ATS) this Sunday night at Jerry World (8:30 PM Eastern).
Things could certainly be worse for Dallas. Even though they mustered just 24 points and went a dismal 2 of 24 on third down in their last two games, the Cowboys managed to go 1-1 thanks to an improving defense. But their 10-7 loss to the Giants kept them from clinching a division title and means their hunt for homefield advantage won’t end until Week 16 at the earliest (barring a Detroit-New York tie, which seems more likely than usual this season).
It may ultimately work in the Boys’ favor that they haven’t locked everything up this early. Fighting until the bitter end not only means they’ll be less rusty come playoff time, it means there won’t be an opportunity to insert the backups (a.k.a. Romo) into games.
If Prescott wants to quell the uprising Jones is spearheading, he’ll have to do better this week against a Tampa D that has been one of the best in football over the last month. During their five-game win-streak, the Buccaneers are allowing just 12.8 points per game and have generated an astounding 14 takeaways. The secondary has made an outstanding turnaround from where it was at the start of the year, and is giving opposing quarterbacks fits.
However, Dallas represents a different challenge for this Bucs D. They’ve had tremendous success with just a four-man pass rush, and against the Cowboys number-one offensive line, that may not be enough. Minnesota and New York slowed Dallas by leaving one-on-one matchups on the outside and sending extra defenders in the box to rush, or help against the dynamic Ezekiel Elliott in the backfield. Tampa currently runs mostly a Cover 2 defense, allowing corners, safeties and linebackers to break on the ball.
If they want to continue playing that style, then linebackers Kwon Alexander and Lavonte David will have to have an outstanding game in order to stop a Dallas run game that’s averaging 152.2 yards per outing.
On the flip side, Tampa’s offense doesn’t come into this game as the world’s most intimidating unit. Jameis Winston and company have cut down on the turnovers, but the offense has found the end zone just six times in the last four games. Despite not posting gaudy numbers, the Bucs have been able to control the clock, ranking third in the NFL in average time of possession (just behind the Cowboys who sit second).
With two offenses that want to control the clock and two quarterbacks that want to avoid making a mistake, the game flow should favor the big underdog trying to keep it close. With Tampa having won five-straight against the spread, and Dallas dropping three straight, recent trends support the Bucs too.
Only if you believe Prescott is due for a grand bounce-back game does laying the points make sense here. And though I may not be as down on the rookie as Jones, I am gonna roll with Tampa.
Pick: Buccaneers (+7).
Photo credit: Keith Allison (Flickr)[https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/].