It’s our first Saturday night NFL game of the season—and then nearly all of the Week 16 games are on Saturday (since Sunday is Christmas), followed only by Sunday games in Week 17—this week, and the Dallas at Tampa Bay matchup featuring two coaches who appear to have tenuous futures with their clubs.
It’s the home finale for the vastly disappointing Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-9), and it appears Raheem Morris’ head is definitely on the chopping block. Morris looked like one of the NFL’s up-and-coming coaches and Tampa Bay looked like a rising power last year in going 10-6.
However, the Bucs have regressed in a big way, hitting bottom last week in a 41-14 loss at Jacksonville for their seventh straight defeat.
Tampa Bay allowed 28 points to the Jags in less than eight minutes of the second quarter alone; Jacksonville hadn’t scored more than 20 in a game all year. Plus the Bucs had a whopping seven turnovers and 12 penalties—turnovers and penalties have been the problem this year and that’s often the sign of an unprepared team.
The other two NFL head coaches in the Sunshine State already have gotten the boot. It’s probably 50-50 on Morris, but a blowout loss in the home finale (the Bucs already struggle to fill the seats, although this one is a sellout) might seal his fate.
Dallas (7-6), meanwhile, blew a game last week against the Giants and now it's down to the head-to-head tiebreaker with New York for the NFC East lead—although the Cowboys and G-Men finish the season against each other. So Dallas still controls its own playoff destiny.
Jason Garrett has made some questionable decisions this season as the Cowboys have blown five fourth-quarter leads.
In a loss to Arizona two weeks ago, Garrett nullified a made field goal by calling timeout. He was criticized widely for icing his own player when kicker Dan Bailey missed the next attempt and Dallas went on to lose.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said this week, however, that Garrett isn’t going anywhere.
Cowboys at Bucs Betting Storylines
The Cowboys blew a 12-point lead in the final 5:41 last week against the Giants and are starting what could be another December swoon. Dallas is 0-2 so far in December this year and 13-17 in December/January since 2005.
Last week’s loss was doubly harsh as star rookie running back DeMarco Murray suffered a season-ending fractured right ankle to go with a high right ankle sprain on a first-quarter carry.
He will finish his season with 897 yards on 164 carries and two touchdowns. He also caught 26 passes for 183 yards. Tony Dorsett, Calvin Hill and Emmitt Smith are the only Cowboys to rush for more yards as rookies.
Felix Jones now gets his starting job back.
The Bucs lost four fumbles and threw three picks in Sunday’s loss—a game in which they led 14-0 before allowing 41 straight points—to drop their turnover margin to minus-10 for the season.
RB LeGarrette Blount has lost three fumbles in the past two games and Josh Freeman is a shell of himself from last year, throwing 12 TDs to 18 picks (he had six INTs all last year); he has multiple interceptions in three of the past four games.
Freeman has been playing through a shoulder injury but is expected to start.
Tony Romo and co. should thrive, even without Murray, against a defense ranked No. 29 in the NFL. Tampa Bay’s main chance is to get Blount about 25 carries and eat up the clock.
The Cowboys’ rush defense has been terrible of late, allowing a 100-yard rusher in four of the past seven games after none in the first six.
Keep an eye on Bucs WR Mike Williams as Dallas has allowed four straight receivers to have a 100-yard game.
The Dallas defense had perhaps its worst game of the season last week, especially the secondary. Eli Manning threw for 400 yards, and in the fourth quarter the Cowboys gave up seven passing plays of 10 or more yards and six of 15 or more yards.
It’s not clear if other Bucs starting WR Arrelious Benn will play after suffering a minor concussion last week.
The Cowboys have won three straight in the series, with the last meeting in 2009.
Cowboys at Bucs NFL Betting Odds and Trends
Dallas is a seven-point favorite with the total at 47 on NFL odds. About 65 percent of the lean is on the Cowboys.
Dallas is 4-8-1 ATS this season and 2-3-1 ATS away. Tampa Bay is 4-9 ATS and 2-5 ATS at home. "Over/under" records: DAL 6-7, TB 8-5.
The Cowboys are 2-12 ATS in their past 14 as a favorite of 3.5-10 points. Dallas is 0-5 ATS in the past five vs. NFC. The Bucs are 1-5 ATS in their past six as a dog. The "under" is 5-1 in the Cowboys’ past six vs. teams with a losing record. The "over" is 4-1 in the Bucs’ past five after a loss.
Dallas Cowboys at Tampa Bay Bucs Predictions and Football Picks
Tampa Bay hasn't dropped eight in a row in the same season since 1987, but that looks like a done deal.
However, I don’t think it’s by more than a touchdown. It the line stays at seven or lower, take Dallas. If it goes to 7.5 or higher, go with the Bucs.
Take the "over" regardless.
Doc Moseman is the owner of Doc’s Sports football picks Web site.