An Educated Guess At A Cowboys-Bucs First Round Playoff Spread

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mike mccarthy

The Dallas Cowboys are in an interesting position in the NFC playoff race. At 10-4, Dallas has already clinched a playoff berth, and they will most likely be the 5th seed, barring a late-season collapse.  

Of course, the NFC East division race isn’t quite wrapped up yet. But at this point it would take quite a bit of fortune for Dallas to win the division crown. The Cowboys will need to win out, starting with a victory against the Philadelphia Eagles this weekend, and have the Eagles lose out to overtake them atop the division. 

The recent injury to Eagles QB Jalen Hurts makes this a little more possible than it was just last week. But as we sit here a few days before Christmas, we can probably assume the Cowboys will be the fifth seed. And that actually isn’t all that disappointing. 

Dallas will most likely travel to face the winner of the NFC South. Other than a first-round bye, you couldn’t ask for a much better draw. This likely means a Week 1 rematch with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is on the horizon, although the Buccaneers are having an awfully hard time locking up the worst division in football. So what would that prospective rematch look like four months since their season-opening showdown? 

The Buccaneers are in shambles 

That’s a crazy statement to make about a team led by the greatest QB of all-time and has a still-loaded roster. But things are bad in Tampa. The Buccaneers sit at 6-8, with several late comeback victories. Tampa’s only win against a team projected to make the playoffs was its 19-3 victory over Dallas in Week 1, which wasn’t even all that impressive. 

The story of the season for Tampa has been terrible offensive line play that’s crippled the entire offense. Tampa ranks 26th in yards per play and 28th in points scored. And while Tampa’s line has only given up 19 sacks, the consistent pressure has forced Brady to get the ball out quickly, with no time to uncork passes downfield to Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. 

In the first meeting, the Cowboys sacked Brady twice, hit him four times and held him to 212 passing yards. The front seven led by Micah Parsons should be able to create even more havoc in a potential rematch. 

The Cowboys will need better from Dak Prescott 

As bad as Tampa Bay’s offense was, Dallas’ was even worse. Dallas averaged 3.8 yards per play and recorded just 12 first downs in the season opener. And while the Tampa offense has regressed in 2022, the defense still ranks 9th in DVOA. 

Dak Prescott was poor in his season debut before eventually leaving the game with a fractured thumb. It didn’t help that he was constantly under duress, as Dallas’ offensive line also struggled. The Cowboys yielded four sacks and struggled to get downhill in the ground game. 

In a potential rematch, the key for Dallas will be establishing the ground game. The Cowboys didn’t utilize Tony Pollard much at all in the season opener, as he had just eight total touches. Utilizing Pollard’s speed on off-tackle runs could help soften this Tampa front seven. 

Dallas would be road favorites vs. Tampa Bay

In Week 1, Dallas closed as 2.5-point home underdogs and failed to cover. However, a ton has changed since then. While the Cowboys haven’t played their best football in recent weeks, they still rank 4th in DVOA while Tampa ranks 15th

Jeffrey Benson, sportsbook operations manager at Circa Sports, tweeted the following before last week’s games. It’s worth keeping in mind that this was before the Jags collapse, but the Bucs also lost to the Bengals by double-digits:

Dallas could, and probably should win a rematch with the Buccaneers 

It’s hard to say this confidently after the Cowboys nearly lost to the Texans and fell apart against Jacksonville. But assuming health, Dallas should beat this Buccaneers team. The defense is built to give a static quarterback like Brady fits in the pocket. And Pollard’s presence gives Dallas more explosiveness to challenge Tampa along the edge. 

The pressure is on Dallas to advance after last year’s disappointing ending. And an opening round matchup with the Bucs, or whoever wins this miserable NFC South might be the fortunate draw the Cowboys needed to embark on a deep playoff run. 


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