Cowboys Vs. Buccaneers Wild Card Preview (1/16/23): Betting Odds, Prediction, Depth Chart
In what could be the final game of his unprecedented career, Tom Brady and the Buccaneers (8-9) host the Dallas Cowboys (12-5) on Monday Night Football to cap off the NFL’s wildcard weekend. The winner of this game will face the San Francisco 49ers in the divisional round next Sunday, January 22 at 6:30pm EST.
This will be the second time this season that Dallas and Tampa Bay have met in primetime after the Bucs defeated the Cowboys 19-3 on Sunday Night Football in week 1. Tom Brady holds a perfect 7-0 career record against the Cowboys.
After clinching the NFC South division title in week 17, the Buccaneers were able to rest their starters for most of last week’s game against the Falcons. The Cowboys did not have the same luxury, as they still had a chance to win the NFC East, so they played their starters for most of the game against Washington. They lost 26-6 to a Commanders team led by rookie quarterback Sam Howell making his first career start.
Does Brady have another playoff run in him, or will the Cowboys finally defeat the greatest quarterback of all time?
Let’s take a look at the odds, injuries and depth charts for this Cowboys vs. Buccaneers matchup and see my picks and predictions for the game.
Dallas Cowboys vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers Betting Odds
The Cowboys opened as 3-point road favorites at many sportsbooks, but that line has settled in at Cowboys -2.5 and I expect it will hold there until kickoff. The public is showing more confidence in Brady’s Bucs, as nearly 70% of the handle is on the Bucs with the points.
Tampa Bay’s moneyline odds are at +120 while the Cowboys are -140. Earlier in the week, approximately 80% of the money was on the Buccaneers with plus odds, but on Friday morning the money was split virtually 50/50. As of Monday morning, the handle had shifted back in the Bucs’ direction, with roughly 60% of the money on the Bucs.
The over/under for this matchup opened at 44.5 and has moved to 45.5. The public money has moved quite a bit on this line throughout the week. Early in the week, roughly 60% of the handle was on the under. As of Friday morning, it had flipped to being closer to 60% on the over. By Monday, it had flipped to under again at approximately 80% of the money.
The implied outcome of these odds is the Cowboys winning 24-21.5.
Dallas Cowboys vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers Prediction
Is this pick as simple as betting on the GOAT as a 3-point home underdog in the playoffs? Not quite, but it’s close.
Neither of these teams looked particularly strong to finish the year, but I have more confidence in the Bucs right now. The last time Brady played meaningful snaps, he had his best game of the season. That was in week 17 against the Panthers in a de facto divisional championship game, when he completed 34 of 45 passes for a season-high 432 yards with three touchdowns and a season-high 127.3 passer rating.
The Cowboys ended the season losing two of their last four games, and they barely squeaked by league bottom feeder Houston in week 14. Their two wins also came against backup quarterbacks for Philadelphia (Gardner Minshew) and Tennessee (Joshua Dobbs).
Quarterback Dak Prescott has been a turnover machine. He’s thrown a league-high 11 interceptions since week 12 and tied for the most in the league this season with 15, despite missing five games. That earned him the dubious honor of being the first quarterback in NFL history to miss at least five games and still lead the league in interceptions.
This game is about more than just the quarterbacks, but in what is expected to be a tight, down-to-the-wire type of game, I have way more confidence in Brady to make the right plays and avoid the big mistake when it matters the most. Based on recent performances, I have the exact opposite feeling about Prescott.
So I am taking the points and I am also taking the plus odds on the Buccaneers to win this game outright. If this is indeed Brady’s last season – which I don’t think it is – then I also just can’t see him going one-and-done in his final postseason appearance.
In a game with two teams that are stronger on defense than on offense, the natural inclination is to bet the under on 45.5 points, but I’m going the other way on that. Normally I don’t give much consideration to playing surfaces, but it’s worth noting that Dallas has struggled playing on grass this season, and Raymond James Stadium in Tampa is indeed a grass field.
The Cowboys are 1-4 when playing on grass this season, and more importantly their vaunted defense has allowed 10.1 more points per game on grass. A five-game sample size with that big of a disparity between grass and turf is too big to ignore, and it’s leading me to pick the over.
My Prediction: Buccaneers win 26-24, Buccaneers cover, over 45.5 points
- Cowboys are 0-4 ATS in their last four playoff games, and 2-5 ATS in their last seven wildcard games.
- Buccaneers are 1-5 ATS in their last six wildcard games.
- The Over is 6-1 in the Buccaneers’ last seven games in January.
- The underdog is 5-1 ATS in the last six meetings between these teams, and the road team is 4-0 ATS in the last four meetings.
- The Under is 6-1 in the last seven meetings between these teams.
Dallas Cowboys Injuries: CB Trayvon Mullen (O – illness), DE DeMarcus Lawrence (Q – foot), OT Tyron Smith (Q – knee), C Tyler Biadasz (Q – ankle), LB Leighton Vander Esch (Q – neck), DT Johnathan Hankins (IR – pectoral), OT Terence Steel (IR – knee, ACL), CB Anthony Brown (IR – Achilles), C Alec Lindstrom (IR – undisclosed), CB Jourdan Lewis (IR – foot)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Injuries: CB Sean Murphy-Bunting (Q – shoulder), G John Molchon (Q – ankle), G Nick Leverett (Q – knee/shoulder), WR Mike Evans (Q – illness), TE Kyle Rudolph (Q – knee), OL Robert Hainsey (Q – hamstring), S Keanu Neal (Q – hip), WR Julio Jones (Q – knee/illness), OT Donovan Smith (Q – foot), DT Vita Vea (Q – calf), S Mike Edwards (Q – hamstring/hip), S Logan Ryan (Q – knee), CB Carlton Davis III (Q – shoulder), OLB Carl Nassib (Q – pectoral), OT Josh Wells (IR – knee), OLB Genard Avery (IR – abdomen), OLB Shaquil Barrett (IR – Achilles), CB Anthony Chesley (IR – undisclosed)
Here’s today’s injury report for Bucs and Cowboys. Nick Leverett not practicing is a potentially big issue for offensive line: pic.twitter.com/hFSaX685pG
— Greg Auman (@gregauman) January 13, 2023
Based on Thursday and Friday’s practice participation, it seems the players most at risk of missing the game for the Cowboys (besides Mullen, who has already been ruled out) are Lawrence and Smith, who were added to the injury report this week. It would be a bit surprising if either player missed the game, but it bears monitoring. Both would be significant absences for Dallas. It’s also worth noting that Hankins had his 21-day practice window activated this week, so there is a chance he will be activated for this game.
The Buccaneers have a lengthier injury report, but several key players are trending in the right direction. They are expected to have their top three cornerbacks (Davis, Jamel Dean and Murphy-Bunting) and their top three safeties (Antoine Winfield, Edwards and Ryan) all back on the field together for the first time since week four.
On Monday morning, the Buccaneers got more good news when they activated Pro Bowl center Ryan Jensen, who had been out with a knee injury since the second day of training camp. He is expected to make his season debut against the Cowboys. This solves a major concern they had at center, where both Hainsey and Leverett are trending towards not playing. Hainsey filled in for Jensen and played every snap at center this season until tweaking his hamstring in the regular season finale against Atlanta. In that game, Leverett slid over from left guard to center and played every snap in that game, but left the game with knee and shoulder injuries that have him looking doubtful against the Cowboys.
We've activated C Ryan Jensen from injured reserve 👀#GoBucs
— Tampa Bay Buccaneers (@Buccaneers) January 16, 2023
Check out the key matchups and mismatches for Dallas Cowboys vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers below.
Tom Brady vs. Cowboys’ pass rush
The Cowboys had one of the most productive pass rushes in the league this season, generating the third-highest pressure rate (25.2%) and tied for the third most sacks (54). However, they did most of that damage in the first half of the season.
They averaged 4.2 sacks per game through the first 10 games, but just 1.7 per game over the final seven. Star pass rusher Micah Parsons said after week 15 that part of the reason for that was quarterbacks getting rid of the ball more quickly.
As usual for him, Brady got rid of the ball faster than any other quarterback this season, averaging 2.45 seconds per pass attempt according to NFL Next Gen Stats. But he struggled more than usual when facing pressure this season.
Brady had a QB rating of 44.4 when facing pressure (37th), completed just 44.4% of his passes (29th) and had a 2-5 touchdown to interception ratio. With a clean pocket, he had a 100.2 passer rating (17th), 71.4% completion percentage (18th), and a 23-4 touchdown to interception ratio.
The ability of the Cowboys to get pressure on Brady, and Brady’s ability to handle it, will be one of the most important factors in this game.
Cowboys wide receivers vs. Buccaneers’ secondary
This might be the biggest mismatch in this game. CeeDee Lamb has looked like one of the best wide receivers in the league this season. He racked up the fifth-most catches (107), the sixth-most yards (1359) and ranked sixth in Football Outsiders’ DYAR advanced metric for pass catchers.
The recently acquired T.Y. Hilton has also looked like a nice addition to the Cowboys’ wide receiver corps. Hilton has seven catches on 10 targets for 121 yards in his three games with Dallas. Five of those seven catches have gone for first downs, and Cowboys QBs have a 110.8 passer rating when targeting him.
The Buccaneers’ passing defense struggled over the second half of the season. Since week 10 they have allowed 221.4 yards per game, a 65% completion rate and a 97.5 QB rating, all ranking in the bottom third of the league.
If Dak Prescott can avoid the turnovers and errant throws that have plagued him over the last five weeks, he should be able to find success with his receivers against the Buccaneers’ secondary.
Dallas Cowboys Depth Chart
QB: Dak Prescott
RB1: Ezekiel Elliott
RB2: Tony Pollard
LWR: CeeDee Lamb
RWR: Michael Gallup
SWR: T.Y. Hilton
TE1: Dalton Schultz
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Depth Chart
QB: Tom Brady
RB1: Leonard Fournette
RB2: Rachaad White
LWR: Mike Evans
SWR: Russell Gage
RWR: Chris Godwin
TE1: Cameron Brate