Contributor: Eric is a football fanatic from Montreal Canada. He will be writing a weekly article in which he will discuss his predictions for the upcoming NFL games. You can find him and his other sports handicappers on Unlocked Sports.com.
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Pick: Tampa Bay +1
The Cowboys cannot afford to lose this one. They are 4-3 and are third place in the NFC East, arguably the league’s toughest conference. If they lose to the Bucs they will be 4-4 and their next 2 games will be against the 5-1 Giants and the 5-2 Redskins, 2 tough divisional opponents. Many experts or handicappers may pick the Cowboys because this is a must win game for them. The reality is that no team will give the game away to their opponent in a situation where the opponent cannot afford to lose. The Chargers lost in a must win situation last week against Buffalo and now find themselves with a record of 3-4. The Bills would have been 4-2 and probably could have still been in a favourable position to make the postseason if they lost to San Diego last week. However, the Bills outplayed their opponent and convincingly won the game. The point is that Tampa Bay will not give the game to Dallas for the reason being that the Cowboys cannot afford to lose. At this point, given Dallas’ struggles as of late and their injury situation, the Bucs are in a much stronger position to win the game. Dallas is 1-3 in their last 4 and their only victory during that stretch came against the 0-7 Bengals.
There is no question that Dallas is going to have significant difficulty at generating any kind of offense against Tampa. Missing Tony Romo and Roy Williams completely alters its passing game. Brad Johnson was quite pitiful against the Rams. The 40 year old completed only 50% of his passes and threw 3 picks. It won’t get any easier for him against Tampa. The Bucs are only allowing an average of 15.3 points per game, ranking fourth in the NFL in that category. With a weaker passing game, Dallas will have to rely more on its running game to keep the sticks moving. The problem with that is sensational rookie running back Felix Jones is out with an injury. Given Marion Barber’s brutally physical style of play, he will quickly get worn down if he’s forced to carry the ball more than 20 times. The bottom line is that Dallas will have to rely on a phenomenal performance by its defense in order to have a remote chance of defeating Tampa.
The Cowboys have not been a strong defensive team this season. They are allowing an average of 25 points per game. Given the challenges its offense will be facing coming into this game, there is no doubt that Dallas cannot afford a defensive lapse. The Cowboys will have to find a way to limit the Buccaneers to 17 points or less in order to outscore them. The Bucs have been limited to this amount only once this season. They are averaging 23 points per game and Jeff Garcia has been quite impressive in his last 2 starts. He’s thrown 2 touchdowns, completed 75% of his passes for 483 yards and had a rating above 100 in both games. The Bucs are one the most efficient teams at moving the ball. They are ranked 8th in yards gained. Their main strength is their running game. They have a solid set of running backs and rank 9th in the league in rushing. When you combine the aspect of a strong running game with a solid performance from Jeff Garcia, it appears that Tampa will win the ball game.
At this point, Tampa Bay has a better active roster than Dallas. With Brad Johnson at QB, the Cowboys are not a dominant powerhouse by any means. The way they’ve been playing, they depend heavily on a strong offensive performance to win a football game. When you combine the fact that Brad Johnson will have a limited impact and that Tampa Bay is one of the strongest defensive teams it appears evident that the Cowboys will not be able to get the offensive output they need to win this ball game. Additionally, the numbers favour Tampa in this one. The Bucs are 5-1 against the spread in their last 6 games. The Cowboys are 0-4 ATS in their last 4 and 0-5 in their last 5 at home. Expect Tampa to get an early lead and focus on maintaining possession throughout the game in order to secure the victory.
Prediction: Tampa Bay 20 Dallas 13