There are many fascinating storylines heading into the season opener between the Dallas Cowboys and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday. Neither team’s quarterback has thrown a meaningful pass since the 2021 playoffs, and a number of key positions feature new faces who have yet to participate in a full-speed contest.
Players on both sides are teed up and ready for the game. Cowboys linebacker and Rookie of the Year sensation last season, Micah Parsons, made his NFL debut against Tampa Bay last season and said that he is approaching the rematch with a different level of focus after gaining a year of experience.
“It’s just a different focus and a different mindset right now,” Parsons said. “I’m just locked in way more. I think the fun time is over. But now this is the real deal and real thing, and I need to hit it head-on with everything.”
A key for the Bucs to have success against any team this season will be protecting quarterback Tom Brady, who temporarily retired following the 2021 season only to realize that “sometimes, all you need is a vacation,” as he stated in a commercial this offseason. The task falls to his offensive line, which features a second-year starter and a rookie left guard, both playing in new positions for the first time.
The Buccaneers’ offensive line will contend with Parsons along with Demarcus Lawrence, while tackles Quinton Bohanna and Osa Odighizuwa are both primed for breakout years in Coach Dan Quinn’s defensive lineup. When Brady does throw, it will be largely to a group of receivers that he has not spent much time with him. Mike Evans is the only returning receiver from last season, while Julio Jones — a long-time star with the Atlanta Falcons — joined this offseason but has not played in a game with Brady.
Last season, the Cowboys’ defense opened the year up with a pair of interceptions but could not get a sack. One of the interceptions was by Trevon Diggs, his first of a franchise-tying record 11 in 2021. Ball-hawking safety Jayron Kearse will also be looking to make Brady pay for errant tosses, while linebacker Leighton Vander Esch is anticipated to have a bigger season after a significant improvement in 2021.
The Cowboys’ offense will be the biggest spotlight. Similar to the situation in Tampa Bay, quarterback Dak Prescott will have only a few familiar faces downfield on Sunday. CeeDee Lamb is now WR1 after the ‘Boys traded Amari Cooper in the offseason. Prescott, who was a limited participant in practice Thursday due to a pair of cleats that made his surgically-repaired ankle uncomfortable, will have to do without Michael Gallup, who was ruled out as he recovers from an ACL tear last season.
The biggest question mark for the Cowboys may come down to special teams. Last year, the Buccaneers won on opening night with a field goal that gave them a two-point lead with two seconds remaining in the game, but former Cowboys kicker Greg Zuerlein missed two field goals and an extra point in that game. On Sunday, it will be Brett Maher in the most stressful spot in football, though he is still listed on the practice squad. Maher won out in a kicking competition in the offseason but has a history of being erratic when kicking medium-range field goals like the ones Zuerlein missed last season.
Sports betting sites currently show the Cowboys as slight underdogs, a position most teams would find themselves in facing Brady in Week 1 when there are not a lot of reliable numbers to anticipate a team’s performance. The key for the Cowboys will be to get pressure on Brady and convert field goal tries, while the Buccaneers will need to get receivers open downfield in a hurry to have success in North Texas.