Dallas Cowboys vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In just a couple of days, the 2021 NFL regular season will get underway with Thursday Night Football. Week 1 is always a unique time of year, and the opening game specifically has its own challenges to navigate. Not only have we not seen these teams play, we haven’t seen any teams play.
There’s a high degree of variance when it comes to handicapping these games. There’s just so much that’s unknown. Let’s try to make sense of it all by talking through this matchup and looking at some past openers.
Cowboys vs Buccaneers
Before we talk about season openers in general, let’s discuss this specific matchup a bit. Each team has a compelling emotional narrative here, the only question is which one you put more stock into. For the Cowboys, it’s a chance to turn the page on what was an incredibly disappointing 2020 season. A chance to put their problems behind them and show everybody they’re the favorites to win the NFC East.
It’s also the first game back for Dak Prescott after his gruesome ankle injury. The team should be highly motivated for Prescott’s comeback, and this game means something extra to the whole organization. On the flip side, the Buccaneers have a Super Bowl title to defend. It’s Tampa’s first chance to show that their playoff run was no fluke, and Tom Brady always has a chip on his shoulder. It’s up to you to decide which of these narratives matters most.
Crowds are back
What makes this opener unique from others is that the 2021 season is going to be very different from the 2020 season. For starters, there will be full capacity crowds. After a week or two of this NFL season we’ll likely be able to tell what kind of difference that makes, but for now we’re going in blind. Make sure to check out our article where we go through how the return of fans will change NFL betting.
Not only are crowds back for the first time, but the Buccaneers should have an especially raucous one with this being the first chance for fans to celebrate the Super Bowl en masse. Will the Cowboys be rattled by a potentially electric environment on the road? It’s possible. However, as is always the case, it’s just as possible that oddsmakers overcompensate for a factor like that, and create value on the opposite side. You’ll need to determine how much crowd noise is worth to you here.
Super Bowl winners have fared well
Now let’s look at some historical trends from past openers. Often, but not always, the NFL’s opening game features the team that just won the Super Bowl. That’s the case here, and those teams have traditionally fared pretty well. Since 2001, reigning Super Bowl champs have hosted the opening Thursday night game 14 times.
In those 14 games, they’ve gone 9-2-3 against the spread. That’s a pretty impressive cash rate. Last year the Chiefs beat the Texans by 14, covering a spread that was around -10. Are the Bucs going to build on that trend, or do the Cowboys have other ideas? You’ll need to read our full game preview, with free picks on the side and total, to find out.