The Dallas Cowboys take on the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the first game of the 2021-22 NFL season on Thursday night.
Our team of experts at VSiN has the game covered from all angles, with a market report from South Point oddsmaker Chris Andrews, along with a pick on the game from our handicappers Adam Burke, Will Hill, Jonathan Von Tobel and Matt Youmans.
Happy handicapping this season!
Dallas Cowboys at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-8, 51.5)
Andrews: We’ve been all over the place in this game. I opened Tampa Bay -6.5 way back in May and the first bet was on Tampa Bay, so I went up to -7. They laid that, -7.5, -8, and even -8.5 when there was some concern over the summer about the status of Dak Prescott. At 9.5, sharps finally came in on the Cowboys. They took 9.5 and 9.
I’m back at Tampa Bay -8 right now, but it might be -8.5 by the time you read this. Recreational bettors became even more interested in the Bucs when Cowboys guard Zack Martin was ruled out of the game with COVID-19. That support will affect teasers too. With a six-point teaser, you can drop the line through the key numbers of 7 and 3. Sharps have been doing that for decades. Teaser impact will be part of my thinking process in the hours before kickoff. I might have to go to -9 to play some defense against teaser bettors.
I’ve been getting good two-way action on the total. I opened 49.5, and that was bet up to as high as 52. When Under money started coming in hard, I dropped to 51.5. That looks like a pretty good number right now.
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Youmans: Nothing indicates the Cowboys are about to roll into Tampa to ambush the Buccaneers, who return 22 starters from their Super Bowl title team and bring in the far better defense. There will be spots to fade Tampa Bay and take inflated numbers, but this does not appear to be one of them. Dallas will be without its best offensive lineman, in the six-time Pro Bowl guard Martin, who’s a big key to the running game. That’s bad news for Ezekiel Elliott as he takes on a Buccaneers defense that ranked No. 1 in the NFL against the run (80.6 yards per game) last season. It’s asking a lot for the offense’s timing to be in sync after Prescott was sidelined for most of the preseason with a shoulder injury.
I’m not into laying points with big favorites, but I will tease a strong home favorite down through key numbers, and it’s difficult to envision a scenario in which the Bucs play poorly enough to lose.
Pick: Buccaneers -2 on a teaser with Rams -1.5 (vs. Bears)
Hill: The public will be all over the Super Bowl champs as they raise their banner Thursday night in the season opener. I would love nothing more than to fade the public and grab all of those points against a team that I think is generally overrated in the market.
Given the state of the Cowboys, however, I simply can’t get myself to do so. Martin is out, La ‘el Collins may not play and it wasn’t long ago where we saw what it looked like to take on the Bucs with a compromised offensive line. The vaunted Kansas City Chiefs offense couldn’t find the end zone last February when they limped into Tampa Bay with injuries up front, and a quarterback that wasn’t completely healthy, an eerily similar scenario to what America’s Team faces in Week 1.
Prescott hasn’t played since last October, as reports of a sore shoulder kept him completely out of the preseason. The Bucs were dominant against the run last year, and were top-five in both offense and defense, according to Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric. Still, I’m not in the habit of laying this kind of number, especially this early in the season, and the Cowboys certainly have the firepower to sneak in through the back door to perhaps cover this number. I will use the Bucs in a teaser with a 49ers team that is far superior to the rebuilding Lions on Sunday.
Pick: Bucs-2 in a teaser with 49ers -1.5 (at Lions)
Von Tobel: Dallas seems like it is in a terrible spot with personnel with the loss of Martin. He was their highest graded run-blocker last season and a quality pass-blocker that allowed just 13 pressures and 1 sack. Tampa Bay has some really good interior pass-rushers in Vita Vea and William Gholston, and will likely be able to generate pressure inside on Prescott, who has seen no live action since his injury last season. This Cowboys defense does not look like it will be much better, either. The unit finished 23rd in defensive efficiency, YPP (5.9) and YPG (386.4), and was the 28th-graded defense by Pro Football Focus. While they completely overhauled the defensive staff, bringing in Dan Quinn at DC and replacing the DL and secondary coaches, there weren’t enough personnel moves made this offseason to improve this unit.
Tom Brady will consistently challenge this shaky secondary on Thursday. His average depth of target last season was 9.4 yards downfield, a career-high. He completed 65.9% of his passes of 10-19 yards for 12 TD and 10.5 yards per attempt last year. Are the Cowboys going to be able to consistently stop that? I do not believe so, but the number has been pounded by the market. At -8, there is some teaser protection, but bettors can still get through two key numbers with a six-point teaser which is my strategy. I will pair the Bucs with Kansas City, which squares off against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday.
Pick: Buccaneers -2 in a teaser with Chiefs PK (vs. Browns)
Burke: The opening game of the season features the return of a rusty Prescott against a really stout Buccaneers defense. The Dallas first-team offense didn’t really get any reps in the preseason and now Martin will also miss the game on the COVID list. As a result, a couple of correlated Cowboys player props are on my mind.
Prescott under 293.5 passing yards is one pick. The Buccaneers gave up more than 294 passing yards just five times last season, and two of the QBs were Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers. The others were actually Jared Goff, Teddy Bridgewater, and Matt Ryan, but four of those five games featured at least 46 pass attempts from the opposing QB.
With shoulder discomfort in the preseason and Prescott coming off of a major ankle injury, it is hard to see Mike McCarthy forcing Prescott to drop back that often. It is also hard to see Prescott completing a high percentage of passes, especially for big gains with that Buccaneers defense.
My guess is that the game plan is to try and run to protect both Prescott and the defense, so Ezekiel Elliott over 14.5 rushing attempts is another bet. The juice is heavy on the under with a possible timeshare with Tony Pollard, but Elliott came into camp in great shape and should get rewarded for it. He got the vast majority of the snaps early last season, which should be the case again with a big salary to live up to once again this season.
The Buccaneers are also part of a teaser leg with the Rams at -2. It is really tough to see Tampa Bay losing this game and this teaser goes through the key numbers of 3 and 7, along with some increased importance on 4, 5, and 6 with the longer extra point.
Picks: Prescott Under 293.5 Passing Yards; Elliott Over 14.5 Rush Attempts; Buccaneers -2 (six-point teaser w/ Rams -1.5)