The Buccaneers will open their Super Bowl 55 title defense against the Cowboys, a team that has spent 25 years since winning their last NFL championship ring. When Tampa Bay hosts the traditional Thursday night opener (8:20 p.m. ET NBC) against Dallas, the quarterfinals light up the marquee the most (as usual) as Tom Brady takes on Dak Prescott.

With Brady just completed offseason knee surgery, Prescott is hoping to be fully healed from the frightening ankle injury that cut short his 2020 season and a shoulder problem that surfaced at training camp in 2021. The Bucs’ loaded defense, which ended Patrick Mahomes in his last game, will look to pick up where it left off against Prescott and an explosive overall attack from the Cowboys.

Brady will try to get the job done against a rebuilding defense with a lot of weapons, led by wide receivers Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown. Prescott versus with CeeDee Lamb, Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup, as well as his backfield mate Ezekiel Elliott.

Will the Bucs make an early statement as they look to repeat? Or will the Cowboys pull a shock that will trigger a confident turnaround with Prescott this season? Here is the distribution of bets:

The Buccaneers held on as touchdown favorites plus as they put their starting lineup (and then some) intact. For the Cowboys, there have been concerns that Prescott is entering a hostile environment and a defense that might not be able to confuse Brady much.

This will be the 20th meeting between the teams. The Cowboys have dominated the previous 19 games, going 15-4. They have won seven of the last eight games since 2006. But the Buccaneers haven’t been so dominant in a while against Dallas. In the last two games, in 2016 and 2018, the Cowboys have won one-possession contests by similar scores of 27-20 and 26-20.

—66 percent of punters side with the Cowboys to keep the game going in a touchdown and cover the gap.

—Only 51% of punters are convinced the game will exceed point totals, given the Bucs’ defense potential.

“The Buccaneers went 9-7 ATS last season. The Cowboys only had 5-11 ATS in a 2020 year mostly without Prescott.

Whichever metric you use, Bucs are nasty against rushed attacks. They’ve had the No.1 run defense in consecutive seasons, allowing a low of 1,289 rushing yards at 3.6 yards per carry in 2020. That solid front seven is intact, which could mean a tough sledge. for Elliott, especially without loyal right guard Zack Martin (COVID-19 roster).

Elliott appears to be in great shape after his least efficient season, in which he averaged just 4.0 yards per carry. Prescott will open things up in the passing game will help, but don’t expect Elliott to help Dallas win through ball control.

Dallas finished with the No.11 pass defense in 2020. It’s misleading, because the Cowboys were so bad against the run – No.31 in yards allowed per game, No.30 in yards allowed per carry – that the opponents didn’t need to throw a ton to beat them, especially when Prescott wasn’t around to face their QBs. The Cowboys are stronger at linebacker with first-round rookie Micah Parsons and a healthy Leighton Vander Esch, but despite some assists promises, they are suspects in the high school away from young cornerback Trevon Diggs.

Brady will separate the full-back by getting rid of the ball quickly and the Cowboys will face coverage mismatches created by the Bucs swinging between 11 people (with wide Evans, Godwin and Brown) and 12 people (with tight ends Rob Gronkowski and JO Howard).

That’s Brady’s combined passer rating in his first four games of the previous season, all with the Patriots. He’s gone 3-1 in those games, averaging 299 passing yards with 9 touchdowns for just one INT. He lost the last kickoff in New England in 2017, a life-changing 42-27 loss to Kansas City, All Teams. Brady will be motivated to make sure there aren’t any surprises or clues of a Super Bowl hangover for the Bucs.

The Buccaneers will control the game with Brady outside the gate, the offense looking sharp and causing trouble for the Cowboys everywhere. Look for the Bucs to build a nice halftime lead and stay relentless with passing and running, so Dak’s unlikely to end the comeback with limited help from Elliott. Tampa Bay wants the party to continue as a big favorite to win the NFC again. It means delivering an intimidating first message to the rest of the NFL.

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