Before Dallas faces off against the reigning champs, here are three bold predictions for this Week 1 matchup.
1. Micah Parsons forces an early turnover
We haven’t seen him in any regular season action, but it sure seems like the Cowboys struck gold with first-round pick Micah Parsons. The former Penn State linebacker was clearly the Cowboys' most impressive defensive player during training camp, excelling on the practice field and in-game action. Parson's play led him to record the fourth-highest Pro Football Focus defensive grade (91.0) for the preseason of all rookies.
Kwity Paye - 94.2— PFF (@PFF) September 2, 2021
Micah Parsons - 91.0
Each NFL team’s highest and lowest graded rookie this preseason: https://t.co/he8JHtIUmR
Expectations have only grown higher for the linebacker as we near the start of the regular season. Parsons has impressed so much that he won the voting by Fox Sport on who will take home the 2021 Defensive Rookie of the Year Award.
This prediction was backed up by 105.3’s Bryan Broaddus who has raved about Parsons’ potential this preseason.
Parsons is going to be Defensive Rookie of The Year. https://t.co/lpADtYtFU9— BryanBroaddus (@BryanBroaddus) September 6, 2021
It’s safe to say Parsons is coming into his NFL debut with some serious expectations, but the linebacker showed during the preseason he is capable of living up to the hype. In the Hall of Fame Game, Parsons made an immediate impact recovering a fumble and getting the Cowboys' first turnover of the season.
On Thursday night, Parsons is going to follow up suit by forcing a turnover in his first NFL regular season game. Whether it be a strip-sack or an interception, Parsons is going to force 44-year-old Tom Brady into a turnover right out of the gate.
2. Tampa Bay sacks Dak Prescott 3+ times
With All-Pro guard Zack Martin highly unlikely to play in this game, it’s going to be a huge challenge for the Cowboys to stop Tampa Bay’s front-seven. Last season, Tampa Bay was rated by Pro Football Focus as the eighth-best pass rush in football. They also tied for the fourth-most sacks in the NFL (48), and had four players with six or more sacks.
Tampa Bay has two of the better interior defensive linemen in football in Vita Vea and Ndamukong Suh, so third-year guard Connor McGovern will have a lot to deal with.
I don’t think blocking Vita Vea would be much fun pic.twitter.com/XCD86wlO3p— Jon Ledyard (@LedyardNFLDraft) August 30, 2021
If McGovern is to struggle on the inside, it also will open up opportunities for guys like Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaquil Barrett to generate more pressure off the edge, making things even tougher for the Cowboys’ offense.
Jason Pierre-Paul finished the final two games with five sacks, but his total impact is so disruptive beyond the sack numbers. Take a closer look in the latest #PlayByPlayByCheah pic.twitter.com/kLfaBu2bZa— Steven Cheah (@StevenCheah) January 3, 2020
To make matters worse for the Cowboys, starting right tackle La’el Collins still may not be at 100% in this game. Collins practiced Sunday for the first time since Aug. 27, but who knows how effective/how long he will be able to stay out there if his neck stinger pops up again.
A big test today for Cowboys RT La’el Collins (neck). He practiced Sunday for first time since his Aug. 27 stinger. Team to practice this morning in pads. Heaviest workload of its preparation for Buccaneers. Good gauge for his Thursday status; arrow is pointing up.— Michael Gehlken (@GehlkenNFL) September 6, 2021
Tampa Bay is going to get after Dak Prescott on Thursday night. With Martin out, it’s going to be extremely hard for the Cowboys to control the line of scrimmage, and ultimately it might end up costing them the game.
3. Amari Cooper reminds people why he is WR1
It’s been a quiet preseason for Amari Cooper. The 27-year-old wideout was on the Cowboys PUP list recovering from offseason ankle surgery for most of camp. In his absence, CeeDee Lamb stole the show. The second-year wideout was a human highlight reel, having one of the most impressive camps in recent memory.
Lamb is going to have an outstanding season, there’s no denying that, but on Thursday night against Tampa Bay, Amari Cooper is going to remind people why he is the Cowboys WR1.
Cooper certainly does not get as much credit as he should for how well he played last season. With a backup quarterback for most of the year, Cooper caught a career-high 92 passes for 1,114 yards. If Prescott was able to stay healthy all season, there’s a good chance Cooper catches over 100 passes and goes for 1,200 or more yards.
reminder: Amari Cooper is one of the best route runners in the NFLpic.twitter.com/lIlFr1lzpA— Tom Downey (@WhatGoingDowney) February 28, 2021
On Thursday night, Cooper is going to continue the excellence that we saw last season, leading the Cowboys in receiving yards and scoring their first touchdown of the season.