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The Dallas Cowboys can lock up the NFC East in their clash with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday, although Dirk Koetter’s men will prove a tough obstacle to overcome at AT&T Stadium.
Tampa Bay are battling for a place in the post-season themselves, and currently hold an identical record to the Atlanta Falcons at the top of the NFC South in their bid for the divisional crown.
Jason Garrett’s side need the New York Giants to slip up this weekend and to overcome the Buccaneers on home soil, which would allow them to secure everything other than home-field advantage for the playoffs. There is a lot at stake for both clubs, with a playoff atmosphere expected in their duel on Sunday night.
Dallas have been dominant this season, losing only two of their 13 matches thus far. Both of those defeats came at the hands of the Giants, including their 10-7 loss at MetLife Stadium last week. As a result they will be determined to get back to winning ways to stave off any notion of a late-season collapse that could see them miss out on the number one seed in the NFC.
However, the Buccaneers have produced their best football against the better teams in the division, defeating both the Seattle Seahawks and the Kansas City Chiefs, with the latter victory coming on the road at Arrowhead Stadium – one of the most fearsome venues in the NFL. Koetter’s men are a tough outfit and will make life difficult for the Cowboys.
The home side’s rookies’ Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott have been at the heart of their success this term, but have shown signs of slowing down in recent weeks. Therefore the Buccaneers are not a bad option at +235 with Bookmaker EU on the money line to secure a victory on the road to boost their playoff charge.
The Cowboys have been extremely impressive this term and are proven to be one of the season’s surprise packages. No player has exemplified that more than rookie quarterback Prescott, who has been a revelation since replacing the injured Tony Romo during the pre-season, dislodging the veteran from the starting spot even after his return to full health. He has been poised in the pocket and made a number of brilliant throws throughout the campaign to guide his side to their 11-2 record. However, in the past two weeks against the Minnesota Vikings and the Giants he has shown signs of slowing down, which could be due to the impact of the rookie wall.
Elliott has also been outstanding during his first year in the league as he currently leads the NFL in rushing yards, notching over 1,200. The running back has been helped by the strength of the Dallas offensive line, but has still made a plethora of excellent runs throughout the season to play an equal part in their success alongside Prescott. He too has started to feel the strain of the campaign due not being as electric as he was earlier in the term, and the club may have to ease the burden on him by allowing Alfred Morris more carries in the backfield.
The Cowboys could well wrap up a first-round bye on Sunday, but will have a point to prove against the Buccaneers that they indeed have not reached their peak yet. Garrett will have to get the best out of his team, and especially his rookies in the key offensive positions to ensure they get over the line, but the visitors at AT&T Stadium will make it a difficult challenge having bested Russell Wilson and Alex Smith in recent weeks. This is a good litmus test for the Cowboys to have before they compete in January.
After a slow start to the season, Tampa Bay are emerging as a strong contender in the NFC. Koetter’s men have won their last five matches on the spin to improve from a 3-5 record at the start of October, leaving them level with the Falcons at the top of the NFC South. However, their rivals do have the edge in the NFL’s tie-breaking system at the moment; therefore the Buccaneers need a victory in their visit to AT&T Stadium to keep the pressure on Atlanta.
The club are a strange outfit from week-to-week due to their propensity to win matches in different manners. In their victories over the Seattle Seahawks and the New Orleans Saint their defense shut down Wilson and Brees’ offenses respectively, conceding just five points against the NFC West outfit in a hugely impressive home performance. Their best display in their outstanding run of late was their 19-17 win over the Chiefs on the road, where few teams leave with their respect intact never mind a victory.
Quarterback Jameis Winston has been solid throughout the campaign and has shown a great deal of maturity in pressurised situations. His link-up with wideout Mike Evans has been crucial in their surge for the playoffs, and should the two men perform to their best against Dallas it could be enough to sway the contest in their favour. Meanwhile, their defense will have to continue to be opportunistic in the secondary to keep on making game-changing plays, while remaining stout against the best offensive line in the NFL in the trenches. This match will dictate whether Koetter’s men are ready to take the leap forward and reach the playoffs this season.
Who Has The Edge?
The Buccaneers are in the lower half of the league in stopping the run and that could be crucial against the power of the Cowboys’ offensive line. Should Elliott be allowed to run riot that would ease the pressure on Prescott and allow the home side to control the game.
Dallas hold the advantage going into the contest, but should the Buccaneers produce when the pressure in on, and limit the running game and Elliott’s impact, they may have a chance to force Prescott into mistakes that could turn the match in their favour to secure a famous win.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers to beat Dallas Cowboys
Sunday 18th December 20:30 ET (Monday 19th December 1:30 GMT)
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