The Dallas Cowboys will take their second shot at clinching the NFC East title when they host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 16. Game time is set for 1:00 EST on Sunday, December 23, at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Fans in multiple markets can watch the game on Fox.
The Cowboys are currently listed as 7.5-point favorites at home. The over/under for the game is set at 47.5 points. Be sure to check out a full list of this week’s NFL betting odds.
The Cowboys saw their five-game winning streak come to a screeching halt last week. While they faced a tough a tough road game against the Colts, Dallas was completely out-classed, losing 23-0. With a win, the Cowboys would have locked up the NFC East with two weeks left in the season. As it stands, the 8-6 Cowboys still haven’t sealed their postseason fate.
Of course, the Cowboys have another chance to do just that this week. A win over the Bucs is all Dallas needs to lock up their third division title in the last five years. However, both the Eagles and Redskins only trail them by a game in the standings. With a loss on Sunday, the Cowboys could face a must-win situation when they visit the Giants in Week 17.
Meanwhile, the Buccaneers were officially eliminated from playoff contention with last week’s loss to Baltimore. To be fair, it was always going to be a long shot for Tampa Bay to jump back into the playoff race. After all, they were 3-7 a month ago. With back-to-back losses, the Bucs have clinched a losing season. That has fueled speculation that Dirk Koetter could be let go after the season.
For what it’s worth, there’s still a chance for the Buccaneers to finish second in the NFC South if they can win their last two games. That may keep Tampa Bay motivated for these last two games, in addition to trying to play spoiler for Dallas this week.
It would be easy to jump off the Dallas bandwagon after last week’s shutout loss, but I’m not ready to do that. One bad game doesn’t take away the fact that the Cowboys won five in a row before that loss. Admittedly, this is a big spread for the Cowboys to cover. But I think they’ll bounce back at home and win comfortably, covering the spread in the process.
Obviously, the biggest question facing the Cowboys is on offense. Dak Prescott has been a different quarterback since Amari Cooper came to town. In fact, the same can be said for the entire Dallas offense. Of course, all of that stopped last week, as it looked like the same old Prescott at quarterback and the same old Dallas offense. But after averaging better than 24 points per game in their previous five games, I’m going to assume last week was an aberration and not a sign of things to come.
In my opinion, last week’s game was more a result of the Indianapolis defense than the Dallas offense. The Cowboys should have a much easier time this week against a lackluster Tampa Bay defense. The Bucs, to their credit, are only giving up 18.5 points per game over their last four outings. But Tampa Bay is still a team with a lot of holes on defense.
Last week, the Buccaneers gave up 242 yards rushing against Baltimore. Obviously, the Ravens are a good running team with a quarterback who’s a serious threat with his legs. But the Dallas offense can be described in very much the same way. The only difference is the Cowboys also have a top-flight wide receiver in Amari Cooper. The key is putting Prescott in positions when he can throw rather than having to throw. As long as the Cowboys can run the ball effectively, which is usually a good bet against Tampa Bay, Prescott should be fine.
On the other side of the ball, the Tampa Bay offense remains dangerous but frustratingly inconsistent. For all the numbers he’s put up, Jameis Winston is still unreliable. He and the Tampa offense will be in good one half but terrible in the next half. They still don’t have a steady rushing attack and tend to struggle to finish off drives once they get in the red zone.
More importantly, good defensive teams tend to shut down Winston and company. The Saints and Ravens have held them to a combined 26 points over the past two weeks. I expect the Dallas defense to have similar success this week. A week ago, the Cowboys were hurt more by the Indianapolis running game than they were by Andrew Luck through the air. Against Tampa Bay, that should be less of a problem, allowing the Cowboys to make the Buccaneers one-dimensional on offense, making Winston vulnerable to errant throws and turnovers.
Ultimately, I still believe the Cowboys are a quality team. Last week’s loss was a setback but not a sign of things to come. Dallas is more than good enough to exploit Tampa Bay’s flaws and win by a comfortable margin that covers the 7-point spread.