TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Buccaneers kick off the 2021 NFL regular season Thursday against the Dallas Cowboys looking to become the first team to repeat as Super Bowl Champions since the New England Patriots in 2004 and 2005.
The single game to start the season has been a recent innovation. It started in 2002 in the first year after September 11. Since then, the game has been held annually and has typically favored the home team, which is good news for the Bucs. Since 2002, the game has been 19 times with the home team coming out victorious in 15 of those games.
The Cowboys are 1-0, winning their only kickoff game in 2012 against the New York Giants. Tampa Bay will be playing their first Thursday kickoff game this year when they welcome in the Cowboys on Thursday. Historically though, the Bucs have struggled with the Cowboys.
Since 1977, the Bucs and Cowboys have also played 19 times, including the postseason. Coincidentally, the Cowboys have a 15-4 record against Tampa Bay during that time period. But, since 2006, Tampa Bay has owned the series, winning seven of the last eight games with the last loss to the Cowboys coming in 2015.
But, when it comes to this year’s game, all eyes will be on the two quarterbacks: Tom Brady and Dak Prescott.
There’s not much left that can be said about Brady. He’s the greatest quarterback of all time and led the Buccaneers to a Super Bowl despite admitting to not fully knowing the offense until midseason. This year, Brady comes off knee surgery and COVID, but has a full training camp and offseason with the team under his belt. Given his performance in year one, anything less than another deep playoff run, and Super Bowl appearance, may be a letdown for the Bucs.
On the other sideline, the Cowboys are welcoming Dak Prescott back to the field in a regular-season game for the first time since he suffered a devastating ankle injury during game five of the 2020 season. Prescott was having a great season before the injury. He averaged 371 yards per game and had nine touchdown passes to just four interceptions when he was lost for the year.
One other fun fact about the quarterbacks, when Tom Brady won his first Super Bowl with the New England Patriots, Dak Prescott was just eight years old.
But like any football game, this one will likely be decided in the trenches.
The Bucs’ defensive line flexed its muscle in the Super Bowl, making Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes miserable all night long. Ndamukong Suh and Vita Vea make any offensive line’s job much more difficult. Adding in the pass rush of Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaquil Barrett makes it even harder to know where the pressure will come from. Throw in rookie Joe Tryon-Shoyinka and the Bucs will test Prescott early and often in the game.
For Dallas, there will be a glaring hole in the offensive line with six-time Pro Bowl guard Zack Martin likely out for the game. He’ll be replaced by Connor McGovern, in his second season as a player. With Martin likely out, more focus will turn to L’ael Collins, who has battled injuries in recent weeks but is practicing this week. On paper, this looks like a big advantage to a hungry Bucs defensive line.
Now we know the players, what about Tampa's head coach?
Bucs head coach Bruce Arians has been called an offensive genius in the league for years and it all culminated with Tampa’s Super Bowl win in February. Last year, he had the league’s third-best scoring offense, 2nd best passing offense, and ranked seventh overall in total offense. Since joining Tampa Bay in 2019, Arians is 18-14 in the regular season, including 11-5 last season. Arians’ Bucs are coming off winning eight in a row en route to the Super Bowl championship.
And not to be left out, the game will be managed by referee Shawn Hochuli. Since he became a referee, he’s overseen four Tampa Bay Bucs games. In those games, the Bucs are 2-2 including a 27-20 loss to the Dallas Cowboys in 2018. The last game Hochuli oversaw for the Bucs was Tampa’s 30-20 victory over the New Orleans Saints in the NFC Divisional Round game in January.
Finally, the forecast for game time is about a 40 percent chance of rain and thunderstorms with light west winds. As of Tuesday, Tampa opens as a 7.5-point favorite to win the opener against the Cowboys with an over/under of 50.5 points.