The NFL season kicks off Thursday with the reigning Super Bowl Champion Tampa Bay Bucs hosting the Dallas Cowboys. It's one of the most anticipated openers we have seen in a while. It pits the league’s most legendary quarterback, maybe ever, playing against the sport's biggest team brand. It pits two division favorites, stars on both sides of the ball with the familiar Al Michaels on the call.
The Super Bowl champions literally bring literally everyone back of importance off last year's team. Eighty-five percent of their starters are back from last year's championship team.
Here are the odds via DraftKings Sportsbook:
Odds: Tampa Bay -9.5
The Bucs will host a healthier version of the Cowboys. Dallas star quarterback Dak Prescott is slated to play, although left guard Zack Martin was scratch earlier this week. The Cowboys won’t have Martin in the middle to create holes in the ground game against the NFL’s top-ranked run defense the last two years. The Cowboys ranked first in the NFL in offensive pace last season averaging 23.6 seconds per play last season, and so I expect the tempo to be a major part of the game plan in this one.
Dallas’s best chance for success is for coach Mike McCarthy to try to turn this game into a 7-on-7 contest. In a high vacuum passing contest with multiple possessions, the scoreboard should light up in the NFL’s opening showcase. The Cowboys have the ability to do this with three solid receivers to test the Bucs' young, but talented secondary. Expect running back Ezekiel Elliot to be involved heavily in the passing game as well- more on that later.
But let's go back to last year first. Remember, in the first four weeks, Prescott lead the NFL in passing yards and ranked second in yards per attempt before his injury. So he’s used to slinging the rock around. With Tyron Smith back in the fold at left tackle, the Cowboys should be able to protect their star quarterback. Left guard replacement Connor McGovern, has above average pass blocking grade. For those doubting Prescott’s health status he did give this quote to the Athletic earlier this week:
“I plan to come out starting fast," Prescott told The Athletic. "I plan to come out better than I was last year, to be honest. That's just the work that I've put in going all the way back to February when I got back on the field. I'm excited for it."
When Tampa has the ball, we should have Tom Brady dominate on national TV for the millionth time in our lifetimes. The Buccaneers should move the ball with ease against a Cowboys defense that allowed 29.6 points per game last season (28th in the NFL last season). Tampa Bay went on a tear offensively after their bye week late last season. Overall the Bucs ranked third overall in offensive DVOA, ranked second in points per game, and sixth in yards per play. They found a ground game led by Leonard Fournette, and the Tampa offense utilized Brady efficiently in the play-action passing game. The Dallas defense should be slightly better long term with new defensive coordinator Dan Quinn in the fold. He should improve their performance defending the run.
However, Tom Brady is going to absolutely pick apart their Cover 3 scheme. Brady has all-star of weapons to throw the ball to from Mike Evans, Rob Gronkowski, Chris Godwin, or Antonio Brown. This may be a good spot for Fournette as well. Dallas’s defense allowed 5.0 yards per rush last season.
In conclusion, we should see an exciting NFL game on Thursday. Tampa Bay should win the game, but I think the Dallas offense has a chance to make enough splashes to keep it close. With tons of passing and big-play potential, we are going to make OVER 52 out official play in this one. So sit back be grateful that football is back and root for points.
The pick: Over 52
Props Ezekiel Elliott over 20.5 receiving yards (-120)
Elliott had 30 receiving targets in the four games Prescott played last season. Like we mentioned before, Martin’s absence will shift Dallas’s focus to the passing game. Elliott will be used often in that. This is a pretty great value bet. Elliott has eclipsed over 20 yards receiving in over 60 percent of his games when Prescott is under center. With a violent Tampa pass rush, Elliott will be available for Dak’s check downs.
Lock in this number with confidence.
CeeDee Lamb: OVER 5.5 receptions
Lamb had 74 receptions in his rookie season. This is more of a volume play than anything. Lamb will be the hot route underneath when Tampa sends pressure. The Cowboys will use quick screens as an extension of the run game. Lamb averaged eight targets per game in the games Prescott played last year. Lamb will line up outside when the Cowboys are in 12 personnel. More snaps and more opportunities for Lamb.
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