The final game of the first round of the playoffs showcases Tom Brady and the Buccaneers hosting America's Team, the Dallas Cowboys. By most accounts the Bucs vastly underperformed this season, but were able to win the weak NFC South with an 8-9 record. The Cowboys put together an impressive season with a 12-5 record, despite a lackluster performance in their final game of the season.
The Cowboys are currently 2.5 point favorites on the road against Tampa Bay, and the total is set at 45.5 points. Are the Bucs really as bad as they have performed this year, or does the ageless wonder Tom Brady still have enough playoff magic in that right arm to pull out a win? Let's dig in and find out.
Spoiler, we are going with quite a few prop bets in this game too. Let's have some fun, shall we?
Is the NFL Really Making Tom Brady a Home Underdog in the Playoffs?
At first I was wondering if Vegas was doing this to entice bets on the Bucs from casual fans who want to root for Tom Brady, but then I realized that the largest group of fans in the NFL support the Cowboys. The passionate fans who back Dallas often skew primetime lines against the Cowboys, because sportsbooks know money will come in on Dallas regardless of where they set it. So this might be the true equilibrium Vegas believes.
These teams met in Week 1 in Dallas with the Bucs coming away with a 19-3 win on the road. Entering that game the line was actually flipped, with the Bucs as 2.5 point favorites. When previewing that early season game I wrote this:
"Can you believe the disrespect of this line? I am stunned at our good fortune that we get to bet with Tom Brady and the best roster in the league as only 2.5-point favorites. I have pictured this game about 15 ways and none of them have Tom Brady losing a primetime Sunday Night Football opener in his final season. No way."
The most wrong thing about that quote might be that this is Brady's final year. Imagine how Brady must feel now with his 7 Super Bowl rings, winning one every other year since 2013, knowing his team is an underdog at home. I can already tell he's fired up.
What's the Problem with the Tampa Bay Offense this Year? Why has Their Loaded Roster Underperformed?
The reality is the Bucs offensive line has been in shambles all season long and that has led to struggles on offense and the worst rushing attack of any team in the league. The Bucs will have their hands full against Micah Parsons and a Cowboys defense that creates a ton of pressure. In my opinion it is absolutely the most critical matchup of the game.
But at this moment, despite a long list of players on the injury report, the Bucs line might be the healthiest it has been all season, and there are even rumors Pro Bowl center Ryan Jensen may return for this game. With a healthy offensive line that could mean a little more time for Tom Brady and a bit more space for "Playoff Lenny" Fournette. If the Bucs can't protect Brady or run the ball even a little, then it will be their quick passing offense facing off against a talented Cowboys pass defense. That is a matchup that would play right into the strength of the Dallas defense.
How Much Stock Should We Put into the Fact that Tom Brady is 7-0 in His Career Against the Cowboys?
It's true, The GOAT is undefeated against America's Team... but actually that really isn't too important. Most of those games occurred under completely different coaching staffs and with vastly different personnel groups.
What does interest me is how Brady has fared against defenses run by Cowboys Defensive Coordinator Dan Quinn. Quinn ran the defenses for the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks "Legion of Boom". However, Quinn and the Seahawks also lost a Super Bowl... to Brady. Quinn got a rematch against Brady in the big game in 2016-17 as head coach of the Atlanta Falcons, but fell short again.
In the 2014-15 Super Bowl the Seahawks got tons of pressure on Brady with just four lineman (similar to tactics used by this year's Cowboys team) and generated two interceptions and shot out to a 10-point fourth quarter lead, before Brady and the Patriots came back to win. In that game Brady exploited Quinn's defense with an underneath passing attack that included 11 catches by New England running back Shane Vareen. Brady set what was then a Super Bowl record with 37 completions.
In the 2016-17 Super Bowl between Dan Quinn's Falcons and Brady's Patriots, we saw a stunning amount of similarities from their first Super Bowl matchup. Early in the first quarter Quinn's defense was able to force a pick six and part way through the third quarter the Falcons held a 28-3 lead... and we all know what happened next. Brady led one of the greatest comebacks of all time while breaking his own Super Bowl completions record with 43. In a very similar role to Shane Vareen's two years earlier, James White caught 14 passes for 110 yards and finished the game with 3 total touchdowns.
So what does all this mean? It means that Cowboys bettors can't get too high if the defense comes out on fire, and the Bucs can't get too worried if Brady and co. get behind in the first half.
It also means we can fire on some prop bets because of how Brady will attack Quinn's defense underneath- I'm looking at you Leonard Fournette over 4.5 catches, Rachaad White over 2.5 catches and Tom Brady over 27.5 completions.
As for the other side of the ball, he talking heads love debating if Dak Prescott is the type of upper echelon quarterback that can bring the Cowboys to the Super Bowl. Well that journey truly starts on Monday and considering the Cowboys haven't won a road playoff game in 30 years, a win could go a long way for Dak in that debate.
The Cowboys offense is very strong on paper, with a top 10 rushing offense and a top 10 passing offense combining for Dallas to score 27.5 points per game. In the 12 games that Dak has started, the Cowboys have scored 24 or more points in 10 of them. The only exceptions were the first and last games of the season (and one of those was against the Bucs.)
Tampa's defense is led by some of the best and most impactful sideline-to-sideline linebackers in football, Levonte David and Devin White. In addition, they have two impressive run stopping defensive tackles in Vita Vea (listed as questionable) and Akiem Hicks. Everything about the Cowboys attack is predicated by success on the ground, which in turn opens up play-action passes, so the role of the linebackers and defensive tackles will be a big one in this contest.
That brings us to the most important piece of the Cowboys offense, limiting critical turnovers. No statistics correlates more to wins than the turnover margin, and the Cowboys +10 turnover differential is good for second in the league. What makes that number even more impressive yet concerning, is that the Cowboys have thrown 18 interceptions, good for second most in the league.
The Dallas defense has been a turnover machine but has at times been undercut by Dak Prescott's poor decisions with the football. Prescott has thrown at least one interception in his last 7 games. Tony Pollard and CeeDee Lamb are game breakers and if they can both have a consistent impact it will be a long day for the Bucs. Dak must take care of the ball if he wants the offense to shine.
Can Any Betting Trends Help UsMake a Decision Around this Game?
Right now 56 percent of the bets and 68 percent of the money is on Tampa Bay to cover the spread. Early bettors are also expecting a high scoring affair, with 64 percent of the bets and 70 percent of the money placed on the over.
What this is telling me is that sharp money loves plus money at home in the playoffs, especially with one of the best of all time under center. The over is also likely based around the idea the Bucs will surpass the expectations of their typical 18 points per game output.
So Does Dallas Get its First Road Win in 30 Years or Does Tom Brady Have Another Playoff Run Left in the Tank?
When push comes to shove, I don't think Tom Brady fought through his most complicated season off the field in his 20-plus year career, just to lose in the first round at home. He hasn't been playing behind a porous offensive line and dumping his soul into the team without the true belief the Bucs can get it done here. That work just isn't going to end on a Monday Night at home in the playoffs.
I believe the Cowboys are a very good team, this is one of the best they have put together in ages, but we've seen what Brady can do to a Dan Quinn defense in the playoffs and it's time to open the clip: I love a ton about this game.
I am betting under 45.5 points as my largest wager as I just think the Bucs defense absolutely handles the Cowboys rushing attack. I am betting the Bucs at +2.5 substantially, because I think getting points with Brady at home in the playoffs is a unicorn experience, so who am I to say no no a bet like that. I will be also betting money on the Bucs to win outright at +125, because in the end one roster and coaching staff is just better and you are getting them at plus money.
I am also going to place bets on those props I mentioned earlier in the article, particularly that Leonard Fournette will catch more than 4.5 passes, which I think might be the best prop bet of the postseason. I will be placing oodles on Brady to complete more than 27.5 passes (and I'll bet that line up to 30) because he leads the league with 29.4 completions per game and is facing the style of defense he broke completion records again. I'm so confident he will be passing to players out of the backfield, I'll even put a small wager on Rachaad White to catch more than 2.5 passes.
That's right the clip is open. I think this game is going to consist of a lot of long drives, and in the end the GOAT gets it done, with the Bucs winning 26-10. It's going to be a long offseason for the Cowboys. The over/under for the amount of time after the game until someone mentions on-air Sean Payton as a candidate to coach the Dallas Cowboys should be set at about 5 minutes.
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