One game remains for Wild Card Weekend, as the Dallas Cowboys will head to Tampa Bay to take on the Buccaneers. The winner of this game has a date with the San Francisco 49ers waiting for them, and the loser will have a long offseason with many questions that need to be answered. We’ll preview the game before reviewing how I’ll be betting on it.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers franchise should be thankful for many things, but the biggest may be that they’re in the NFC South division. It’s very likely that if the Bucs were in a different division, they would already be on vacation at this point, but instead, they find themselves hosting a playoff game tonight despite a losing record.
Tom Brady and the Buccaneers' offense finished the regular season 25th in points per game and statistically the worst rushing offense in the league, but they managed to win games when it mattered the most. Tampa Bay had the highest pass-play percentage this season at 66.7%, and Brady was second in the league in passing yards per game with an average of 269.8.
Solid defense did help take some of the weight off the offense's shoulders, as the Bucs' defense ranked 12th in points and 10th in yards allowed per game. Statistically, their pass defense was much stronger than their rush defense, as they allowed an average of 203.6 passing yards per game.
The Cowboys' offense will pose a challenge to the Bucs with their ability to generate a ton of offense on the ground. Dallas finished the regular season fourth in points per game and tenth in yards per game, mainly due to their running back duo of Ezekiel Elliot and Tony Pollard. The duo helped the Cowboys average the second-most rushing touchdowns per game and have a third down-conversion percentage of 45.4%.
Turnovers were a huge problem for the Cowboys' offense this season, but they were the strong suit of the defense, as they finished with a league-best 1.9 takeaways per game. Tampa had problems protecting the football this season, so the turnover battle will be one of the biggest factors in this game.
At the time of writing this, the number and price for this game are moving around depending on the shop. I was able to get the Buccaneers +3 at (-124), and that is my best bet for the game. I’m willing to take it at (-124) because I can get the football number at that price, so between the football number and the fact that betting against Tom Brady in the playoffs has never made anyone rich, I’ll be backing the Bucs.
The Cowboys' defense was inconsistent in the last half of the regular season, and in the previous two games they played legitimate passing attacks, they got exposed. Gardner Minshew threw for 355 yards, while Trevor Lawrence threw for 318 yards and four touchdowns on the Dallas secondary. I think Brady can connect with Evans and Godwin enough to keep them in this game.
Tampa Bay may have struggled at times with the run, but they were also seventh in opponent third down conversion rate and tenth in opponent rushing touchdowns per game. If they can force Dallas into long third downs and get them off the field quickly a few times, I think they can force a mistake out of Dak Prescott, who finished the regular season with 15 interceptions.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers +3 (-124)