The Dallas Cowboys are called “America’s Team” for a reason: no NFL club draws better television ratings in the United States. And it’s not a coincidence that this Sunday night the Cowboys play in prime time for the third straight week — and they will again on Monday in Week 16 — when they host the red-hot Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a potential playoff preview. This game wasn’t originally scheduled for a Sunday night slot but was “flexed” into that a few weeks ago because it became such an intriguing matchup with Tampa Bay’s surge. But the Cowboys are solid home favourites on Sports Interaction NFL betting odds.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Dallas Cowboys
Point spread: Cowboys -7
Date: Sunday, Dec. 18, 8:30 p.m. ET
Location: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Bucs (8-5) look like the NFC’s version of the Oakland Raiders and not just because both are nicknamed after pirates. They are each rising powers in their conferences with young, talented rosters. Tampa is tied for first place in the NFC South with Atlanta. The Falcons win the tiebreaker, though, so the Bucs are the NFC’s final wild-card team at the moment. So just to potentially look ahead, if Tampa were to finish in that spot and win its first playoff game on the road, it would visit the NFC’s top seed in the divisional round and that’s almost surely going to be Dallas.
Tampa Bay looked like it perhaps made a mistake in firing coach Lovie Smith after last season and promoting offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter to head coach when the team was 3-5 following a home blowout loss to Atlanta in Week 9. However, the Bucs haven’t lost since. The defense has been outstanding in that five-game winning streak in allowing just 64 total points. Last week, it held the high-powered Saints to just 11 in a five-point win, picked off the NFL’s top passer, Drew Brees, three times and kept him without a touchdown throw. It’s the first time the Bucs have won five in a row since 2002, the season they won their only Super Bowl. They haven’t made the playoffs since 2007.
If you want to nitpick, the Bucs could use a bit more help from the offense. The team has only six offensive touchdowns in the past four games. Former Heisman winner Jameis Winston (3,364 yards, 23 TDs) is having a fine season but can be inconsistent in his second year. Mike Evans has emerged as one of the NFL’s top receivers with 80 catches for 1,100 yards and 10 scores. I expect plenty of double-coverage on him Sunday as the Bucs aren’t running the ball well.
Tampa Bay is 8-5 against the spread and 5-1 ATS on the road.
The Cowboys (11-2) were 3.5-point favorites last week at the New York Giants with a total of 47.5 here at Sports Interaction. In my preview, I wrote I thought the Giants could win outright and at worst lose by only three — and to also go under the total. New York did win, 10-7 in frigid conditions. That ended the Cowboys’ franchise-record 11-game winning streak, and their only two losses this year are to the Giants. It also prevented Dallas from clinching the NFC East title and perhaps the top seed in the NFC playoffs. It’s possible for the Cowboys to achieve both Sunday depending on what happens earlier in the day.
There’s been plenty of angst in Cowboys Nation this week on the play of rookie quarterback Dak Prescott the past two games, with many fans calling for the team to bench Prescott in favour of Tony Romo. In a close Week 13 win at Minnesota, Prescott threw for only 139 yards and Dallas was 1-for-9 on third down with season lows in points (17) and yards (264). Prescott got worse in the Week 14 loss at the Giants. He completed 17 of 37 for 165 yards and the first multi-interception game of his career with two. Dallas was 1-for-15 on third down and had season lows in points (7) and yards (260).
Tthere’s a reason no team has won a Super Bowl with a rookie starting quarterback. Owner Jerry Jones and Coach Jason Garrett both said this week very clearly that Prescott remains the starter. But that hold could be tenuous because Jones also said “you’ll know it when you see it,” when talking about a potential change from Prescott to Romo. I tend to doubt it would happen during a game as that could ruin Prescott’s confidence going forward and he’s the future. But if the Cowboys lose again Sunday, Romo could well be the guy in Week 16.
Dallas is 9-4 against the spread this season and 4-2 ATS at home.
Bucs vs. Cowboys Predictions
These teams played one of the ugliest games of 2015, a 10-6 Tampa home win. Winston scored the winning TD on a 1-yard run with 54 seconds to go. The forgettable Matt Cassel was the Dallas QB that day. Obviously both clubs are much better this season, although I’d be a bit worried if I was a Cowboys fan right now. I like Tampa here, but take the 7.5-point alternate line at -123 on NFL odds. Go under the total.