Dallas Cowboys vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers NFL predictions, picks, odds & spreads: Wild Card Weekend ends with a thriller

The NFL’s Super Wild Card Weekend is a 3-day festival that comes to a close with a tasty NFC matchup on Monday night as the Dallas Cowboys visit the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It’s one of just two games this week for which the road team was favored, but that’s not surprising because the Cowboys had a 12-5 record in the NFC East while an 8-9 year was enough to make the Buccaneers the NFC South champions and give them a home playoff game.

While several teams have been forced to start backup QBs in the playoffs this year, we have a marquee pairing in this game as Dak Prescott of Dallas takes on NFL icon Tom Brady. An eighth Super Bowl success for Brady seems unlikely, but that’s also exactly what people were saying at this stage of the season before he won his seventh… Our expert has their picks, predictions and best bets for this exciting Cowboys vs Buccaneers matchup.

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NFL Dallas Cowboys vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers expert predictions

A 12-5 season would have been grasped with both hands by the Cowboys if they had been offered it before the first game was played, but there must be some frustration in Texas that they have won that many games and yet are on the road in the first round of the playoffs. That’s because the Eagles beat them in the NFC East with a 14-3 year, and to make matters worse, the Cowboys must now concede homefield advantage to a team that won 4 fewer games and had a losing season. The Cowboys have a point to prove after a tame display in their Week 18 loss to the Commanders, too.

The Buccaneers have benefited from playing in an NFC South division that no one showed much interest in winning this season. They have not strung together more than 2 wins all year, but have scraped together enough, mostly narrow, successes to punch a ticket to the postseason party. They had nothing to play for in their Week 18 loss to the Falcons, except some more individual records for Brady, which he duly collected before stepping out. The intensity level should be much higher on Monday night, but who will rise to the occasion?

Dallas Cowboys vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers spread, odds & betting lines

Odds courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook at time of publishing.

Point spread: Cowboys -2.5, Buccaneers +2.5
Total points over/under: 45.5 points
Money line odds: Cowboys -140, Buccaneers +120

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Dallas Cowboys vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers expert picks

We have 2 standout NFL picks for the clash between the Cowboys and Bucs.

Cowboys vs Buccaneers point spread pick: Cowboys -2.5 (-115)

This line opened Bucs +3.5 and was immediately bet down to 2.5. The narrative has been very negative on Dak Prescott this week after the Cowboys flopped in the season finale at Washington. Prescott looks like he’s not trusting his eyes right now and is not doing a good enough job reading coverages. The irony is they said the same thing about Matthew Stafford last season, who led the league in interceptions and pick-6s, only to put all of that behind him for an epic Super Bowl run. Do I think Dallas will win the big game this year? No. But I can make a case for why the Cowboys are undervalued at anything under a field goal considering the numbers both teams have compiled this season.

The case to be made for Tampa surrounds Tom Brady, who has looked better in recent weeks as the games have become more important. If Bucs OC Byron Leftwich finally wakes up and throws the ball more on early downs, I can make a much stronger case for them to win this game outright, but that would be bucking a season-long trend of conservative play calls on 1st and 2nd down. I see slightly more scenarios where Dallas takes advantage of a Bucs secondary that has been beaten up down the stretch, ranking 28th in passing DVOA since Week 10. But because the GOAT is on the other sideline, I can’t fully count out Tampa Bay doing what they did in last year’s playoffs and mounting a furious rally, which fell just short against the eventual champion Rams. I expect this to be a back-and-forth game, so the number matters a lot with which way you bet it. Under a field goal, take the Cowboys.

Be sure to check out our full Cowboys vs Buccaneers predictions

Cowboys vs Buccaneers over/under totals pick: Over 45.5 (-110)

There’s so much to like about this game being a good matchup for yards and points, as long as Leftwich wakes up and realizes his offense is much better suited being aggressive on early downs. The Bucs offensive coordinator defended himself this week by saying talks about Tampa’s struggles are overblown and the numbers aren’t that bad. I don’t agree with the latter, especially when you consider the Bucs are outside the top 25 in points per game and points per play, and outside the top 20 in red-zone TD percentage and 3rd-down conversion rates. It’s just hard to imagine a team with Tom Brady, Chris Godwin, Julio Jones and Mike Evans struggling so badly in such key situations. The shining light has been when Leftwich has turned up the throttle on 1st and 2nd down. For example, in the NFC South-clinching win over the Panthers, a game that featured 54 points and sailed way over the total of 41, Tampa had a 61% success rate on early down throws compared to just 33% on early-down runs. This is important against a Cowboys secondary that is 25th in passing DOVA since Week 13 — a stretch of games in which they only faced one legit starting QB (Trevor Lawrence) mostly getting torched by the likes of Davis Mills, Matt Ryan, Gardner Minshew, Josh Dobbs and Sam Howell. If Tampa Bay turns up the heat, I don’t see how it fails to reach 24 points in this game.

That means we only need at least 22 points from a Cowboys offense that is averaging 27.5 per game. I don’t like what I’ve seen from Dak Prescott lately — he has thrown at least 1 INT in 7 straight games. But the Bucs’ secondary is 28th in passing DVOA since Week 10 and overall the defense has underperformed expectations all season despite employing the same scheme and roughly same personnel from the dominant unit that won the Super Bowl 2 years ago. Another aspect about this over I like, regardless which team jumps out to a lead, is that I can see both teams turning up the aggression and responding quickly, especially Brady and the Bucs. Tampa is also finally getting healthy along the offensive line, which is key against the Cowboys elite front that’s 2nd in pass-rush win rate and 3rd in pressure rate this season.

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Dallas Cowboys vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers expert predictions

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