The Dallas Cowboys cap off Wild Card weekend tonight against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and there’s a lot of mixed feelings among the Dallas faithful.
The oddsmakers are expecting a tight game, as the line currently sits at Cowboys -2.5, according to BetMGM Sportsbook. But there’s reason to believe Dallas could win this one with ease.
Tampa Bay narrowly won the NFC South with an 8-9 record. The Bucs divisional rivals combined to hold a 21-30 record. So the Cowboys have that going for them.
On the other hand, there are a few less than favorable trends for Dallas. First, Tom Brady is 7-0 in his career vs. the Cowboys. Second, Dallas’s last road playoff victory came in 1993.
There’s also an unsettling feeling about facing a seven-time Super Bowl winning QB in the postseason, even if his team finished below .500.
The outcome of tonight’s game could go a million different ways. But there are three things the Cowboys could do to give themselves an excellent shot at advancing to the Divisional Round:
Run the damn ball
Dak Prescott’s 15 interceptions are tied for the most in football this season, and he’s thrown a pick in seven consecutive games. Establishing the run would go a long way in bucking that trend.
In Week 1 vs. the Buccaneers, the Cowboys scored just three points. Then in Week 18, Dallas only mustered up six points. Those were far and away the worst performances by the offense this year. It’s also no coincidence that Dallas rushed for 71 yards and 64 yards in those matchups, respectively.
An efficient rushing attack opens things up in the passing game, leading to more points and less interceptions from Dak. Big games from Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard could make this an easy win for Dallas.
The Cowboys are expected to get C Tyler Biadasz back after a Week 17 ankle injury sidelined him in the regular season finale. A handful of offensive linemen shifted to new, unfamiliar spots in Week 18, and it didn’t make for a pretty performance. If he’s active tonight, it will be a huge boost offensively.
Limit Tom Brady
This one won’t be as easy to accomplish. Not just because it’s the greatest football player of all-time, though that’s nothing to scoff at.
The Cowboys have dealt with a lot of injuries at CB this season, and we’ve seen many QBs exploit that weakness. In Week 18 vs. Washington, Trayvon Mullen made his Cowboys debut and played well. But he’s already been ruled out Monday night with an illness.
But last Monday, Dallas signed veteran CB Xavier Rhodes off waivers. Rhodes is in his 10th NFL season and is a three-time Pro Bowler and one-time All-Pro. He’s also played in six postseason games in his career.
It’s unclear if Rhodes will suit up Monday night. But his veteran presence would be a big boost to Dallas’ young CB group. Other CBs expected to get time, besides Trevon Diggs, includes:
- DaRon Bland (rookie)
- Kelvin Joseph (second season)
- Nahshon Wright (second season)
- C.J. Goodwin (seventh season)
If Rhodes does play, it’s unlikely he’ll get many snaps. But having a veteran with playoff experience should be a boost.
Pressure the QB
Getting after the passer was the Cowboys calling card for most of the regular season. Dallas tallied 54 sacks, tied for the third-most in the NFL.
But to close the year, the pressure dwindled. In the final five games of the season, the Cowboys only sacked the QB six times. The defensive line needs to get back to its old ways to beat Tampa Bay.
This is particularly important vs. a pass-heavy Buccaneers team. Tampa Bay had the second-most passing yards per game, and the lowest rushing yards per game in football this season.
Brady attempted 733 passes this year, which set an NFL record. Micah Parsons and Co. making Tom uncomfortable in the pocket would go a long way in helping to mask the Cowboys depth issues at CB.