ARLINGTON, TEXAS – AUGUST 26: Quarterback Dak Prescott #4 of the Dallas Cowboys celebrates after safety Juanyeh Thomas #40 of the Dallas Cowboys intercepted a pass thrown by quarterback Jacob Eason #17 of the Seattle Seahawks in the fourth quarter of a NFL preseason football game at AT&T Stadium on August 26, 2022 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Dallas Cowboys (0-0) vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-0)
Game time: Sunday, 7:20 p.m.
TV/radio: NBC/Universo / Westwood One
What’s at stake: Despite being just week one of the season, this home opener against reigning NFC South champion Tampa Bay, in front of a national audience, feels almost like a must win. With three more games against 2021 playoff teams in the next five weeks, a victory over one of the NFC favorites will be a confidence boost for a team that stumbled to the finish line last season before falling flat in the wild card round of the playoffs.
When the Cowboys have the ball: The hope for Dallas fans is that franchise QB Dak Prescott won’t be running for his life from the season’s opening snap. The Cowboys will have three new starters on the offensive line to start the year, including at left tackle, where rookie Tyler Smith replaces All-Pro Tyron Smith, who is out until at least December after tearing his hamstring during the preseason. Tyler Smith will have his hands full with Tampa DEs Akiem Hicks and William Gholston and LBs Shaquille Barrett and Joe Tryon-Shoyinka.
When the Bucs have the ball: Is this the year that father time finally catches up with Tampa Bay QB Tom Brady? The 3-time MVP has more weapons at his disposal this season than maybe any time in his career. Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Russell Gage, Julio Jones, Cameron Brate and Kyle Rudolph give Brady one of the more talented receiving corps in the NFL. If the Cowboys can take away the air attack, then the Bucs have Leonard Fournette to run the ball.
Key Cowboys to watch:
LT Tyler Smith – The first-round pick spent the entire preseason at left guard, but a late injury to Tyron Smith moves the rookie out to left tackle to protect Dak Prescott’s blindside. He will be tested all day. They signed Jason Peters earlier in the week, but he may or may not be ready to go Sunday, so it is likely Smith’s job Week 1.
LB/Edge Micah Parsons – The addition of linebacker Anthony Barr allows Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn to move the versatile Parsons to several different spots across the Cowboys’ front seven. That should keep the Bucs offense guessing all day.
WR/KR KaVontae Turpin – The 2022 USFL MVP can change the game every time he drops back to return a kick. And, with injuries to Michael Gallup and James Washington, the former TCU standout should get some chances at wideout against Tampa Bay.
QB Dak Prescott – With three new starters on the offensive line, Prescott will be under pressure all night from a seasoned defense that finished 2021 fifth in the NFL. Along with the inexperience up front, Prescott will be missing two of, what should have been, his top four pass catchers. To make matters worse, it appears that Prescott could be nursing an ankle injury. All this could make for a long night for Dak.
The bottom line: It is year three of the Mike McCarthy era in Dallas and the head coach is clearly on the hotseat. So, getting off to good start with a win over the Buccaneers will quiet the naysayers, and put the Cowboys on a path to a second straight NFC East title for the first time since the 1995 and 1996 seasons.