On January 16, 2022, the Cowboys lost to the 49ers in the Wild Card round of the playoffs, ending their last season much earlier than expected. While no one in the organization ever fully admitted as much, everything the team has done since then has been about avenging that loss.
Now, on January 16, 2023 - one full year later - the Cowboys finally have their chance. They’ll have to go on the road and do something this franchise has never done - beat Tom Brady - in order to atone for last year. Do our writers think they can get it done?
When Tampa Bay has the ball
Make sound tackles
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Tom Brady gets the ball out fast. It’s true: no quarterback in the NFL has a faster time to throw this year and, as a result, no quarterback has a lower sack rate or pressure rate. Don’t expect Micah Parsons and this pass rush to get to Brady too much.
But Brady’s lightning fast release has its downsides, too. Only two quarterbacks are averaging less air yards on completions than Brady while his receiving corps is tied for the fourth fewest yards after the catch per reception. In other words, Brady is throwing short and his receivers aren’t making plays for him. The Cowboys will need to be sound in their tackling in this game to keep it that way. If they can do just that, Brady will be forced to hold the ball a little longer and look for the big play, and that’s all this pass rush needs against a Buccaneers offensive line ranked 25th in pass block win rate.
When Dallas has the ball
Put CeeDee Lamb in the slot and let him feast
CeeDee Lamb was named a second-team All-Pro on Friday for his stellar season, and Lamb’s proficiency coming out of the slot has been a big reason for his play. After a bumpy start to the year, Lamb found his footing and logged 100+ yards in three of his last four games this year. Not coincidentally, Lamb was in the slot twice as often as he was outside in those three games.
Matching him up against Antoine Winfield Jr., the Buccaneers’ slot defender, seems like a no-brainer. Winfield has struggled all season for the Buccaneers, and his 107.0 passer rating allowed is the highest of any Tampa Bay defensive back with at least 40 targets. The Cowboys offense has thrived when they feed Lamb this year, and here he has a great matchup to exploit in Winfield. Successfully doing so will be the key to this offense putting up points against a pretty stingy Buccaneers defense.
Now onto the predictions from your BTB writers...
Tom Ryle (11-6):
Before I make my prediction, it is pertinent to note that the past few Cowboys games have pretty much gone the opposite of what I expected. I’m not saying I’m trying to reverse jinx Dallas, but I’m not saying I’m not, either.
I just don’t think that the Cowboys can reverse so many negative things at once. Literally every phase of the game was a failure against the Commanders. I think it will not be nearly as embarrassing as last week, but I do think they fall short against the Buccaneers on a late touchdown throw by Tom Brady.
Buccaneers win, 27-23.
Tony Catalina (10-7):
A lot is on the line for the Dallas Cowboys this week. The conversation around this franchise if they were to provide another one and done playoff performance would be deafening. The narrative around Dak Prescott whether fair or not will change to a sour one and the talk about Mike McCarthy and his job status will rear its ugly head.
This team is absolutely capable of going out on Monday night and taking care of business and with so much at stake I think they will. This team typically rises to the occasion and when faced with a challenge after a poor performance the week prior is when they seem to lock in.
Give me the Cowboys 24-20.
Matt Holleran (9-7):
This game terrifies me. I know the Buccaneers have not been even played like a real playoff-caliber team this season, but Tom Brady in the playoffs is a different animal. Brady is going to attack Dallas’ struggling secondary and I see Tampa moving the ball with ease on Dallas’ defense. I think we’ll see the Cowboys, and in particular Dak Prescott, bounce back in a big way from last week’s dismal offensive performance.
Prescott and Brady match each other throw for throw, but Tampa Bay ends the game with the ball. Brady does what he’s done for 20+ years now, driving Tampa Bay down the field and getting them in range to kick a game-winning field goal. Dallas’ season comes to an end in Tampa.
Give me the Buccaneers, 27-24.
Brandon Loree (11-6):
The Cowboys have a lot going against them this weekend. The curse of the Navy jersey, playing on grass, when Micah Parsons starts on the left side as opposed to the right, at what time Mike McCarthy decides to call his first timeout… Okay, the last two I made up, but you get the point. There’s no way that outside of the players on the field, anything else changes the fate of Dallas’ season.
The Cowboys don’t fall into 12 wins by accident. They’ve had a fantastic season with a top-five offense and a defense that led the NFL in takeaways in back-to-back seasons. The last time that happened was when shag carpets still existed. If the league were about “what have you done for me lately,” the Cowboys would be in trouble. But every player on the roster has earned the right to change fate, given what’s happened over 17 games. Tom Brady has never lost to Dallas, and NFL films made sure everyone knew he knows it. There has been a lot of chest pumping from an 8-9 team that almost lost their division to Sam Darnold and Andy Dalton.
The Cowboys win in Tampa 27-21, and the defense steps up on the Buccaneers’ final drive as Brady tries to score. Dallas moves on to the divisional round with a plethora of momentum.
Matthew Arizzi (11-6):
This is the hardest game to predict all weekend long. The Buccaneers can’t run the ball, they are last in the league in rushing yards per game. The Cowboys turn the ball over at will and the Buccaneers have forced eight turnovers over the last four games. Those are the two things to watch, will the Bucs be able to run the ball on early downs and will the Cowboys turn the ball over?
Just has the all too familiar feel of a Cowboys loss by a 50-yard field goal with seconds left. A gut wrenching, punch in the face, so to speak. It’s become commonplace, and the last few weeks of football have the build up feel to exactly that; a letdown. Give me the Bucs in what would be the worse Cowboys loss in recent memory.
Buccaneers 27, Cowboys 23.
Mike Poland (12-4):
Everyone worries about the run defense at Dallas. Tampa are ranked last in team rush yards and in the last three games it only improved a little ranking 27th in total rush yards. It’s true Brady is throwing ball more than anyone else in the league. But for all of his efforts Tampa ranks only 12th in passing touchdowns per game. If Dallas can get their edge rushers to hurry Brady who will look to stand in the pocket a little longer now he’s in the playoffs, then the pressure will come at Brady and lose his rhythm.
Cowboys win 28-14.
Brian Martin (12-5):
These aren’t the same two teams who played each other in Week 1 in the season opener. While the Tampa Bay Buccaneers got the best of the Dallas Cowboys in that meeting, I’m predicting the opposite is true in this Wild Card matchup. After embarrassing performance last week, I think the Cowboys have bounce back game and take down the Buccaneers in front of their hometown crowd.
Cowboys win, 27-23.
RJ Ochoa (11-6):
When the Dallas Cowboys lost to the San Francisco 49ers in the playoffs last year we heard all about how they would never let anything like that happen to them again. While they have certainly had their share of missteps this season they have gone a long way towards avenging the sins, at least their own, of the past.
As unfair as it may be all of the good will that was built up over the last six months could evaporate in the blink of an eye if things go south on Monday night. This is the game, the moment, the chance that they pledged to never squander again. They are the better team and I expect them to take care of business. But that hardly means it will be easy.
David Howman (12-5):
Earlier this year, the Cowboys had an opportunity to slay a dragon that’s tormented them for years in Aaron Rodgers. I picked the Cowboys to win that game against my better judgment, and my gut feeling proved to be right on that one. Sadly, my gut feeling is once again warning me about another dragon, though this one is much older.
Beating Tom Brady is hard. Beating him in the playoffs is even harder. There’s also several other historical trends going against Dallas - their record on grass, their record in navy jerseys, their last road playoff win coming in 1993 - and it’s just hard to believe in them breaking all those trends. I see this game being a very physical one with not much scoring. That’ll set it all up for another patented Brady game winning drive, and another opportunity for the quarterback to rip poor Dan Quinn’s heart out of his chest.
Buccaneers win, 24-22.