-G Zack Maritn (COVID-19) is OUT week 1.
-S Jordan Whitehead (hamstring) is OUT week 1 after not practicing all week.
The Cowboys (9th in FAT's Power Rankings) get the unfortunate task of taking on the defending Super Bowl champion Buccaneers to start the season, thus forcing them to stand idly by while the Bucs enjoy pre-game celebrations for winning the Lombardy Trophy. Dallas's bright spot to start the season is they're healthy. After taking the "best defense is a good offense" strategy in the 2019 off-season, they quickly burst into flames after losing starting QB Dak Prescott as well as 3 standout offensive lineman (Zack Martin, Tyron Smith, and La'el Collins). Though Martin is out with some disease called "COVID-19", everyone else is back, and the dominant Dallas offense should return to form, lead by arguably the best receiving trio in football (Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, and Michael Gallup) and duo at running back (Zeke Elliot and Tony Pollard). The defense on the other hand, which ranked 23rd in DVOA last season, is unlikely to be much better. The defensive line is a lot of bad with Demarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory -- Lawrence is incredible, but Gregory is up and down at best. They brought in Malik Hooker from the Colts, and Domontae Kazee and Keanu Neal from the Falcons to start at safety, but none of the three were particularly great last season. The corner trio of Trevon Diggs, journeyman Anthony Brown, and Jourdan Lewis likely won't have much luck stopping anybody on Tampa. The Cowboys defense can hang their hat on a massive upgrade at coordinator (anything is better than Mike Nolan, and Dan Quinn did at least have success as the Seahawks defensive coordinator during the Legion of Boom days before striking out in Atlanta as Head Coach) as well as one of the better linebacker units in the league, led by Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch, and rookie Micah Parsons.
The Buccaneers took a three-prong approach to the 2021 NFL offseason: Run. It. Back. If you think the team you see tonight looks awfully similar to the team you saw in the Super Bowl last season, it's because it's literally the same team. In terms of starters, there will be two differences between tonight and the Super Bowl: Alex Cappa will slide in to play right guard -- he was the Bucs starter for the entire season before fracturing his ankle in the wildcard round, so this is hardly a change. Other than that, S Jordan Whitehead is out with a hamstring injury. It's still Tom Brady, entering his *checks notes* 22nd season in the league. It's still one of the best offensive lines in football with arguably the best group of receivers (Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and Antonio Brown). Gronk is still playing tight end. The defense that ranked 5th in DVOA last season is completely unchanged. Vita Vea and Shaq Barrett will lead the way up front. Lavonte David, who is consistently one of the best linebackers in football, will team up with super-athlete Devin White. Jamel Dean and Carlton Davis remain at corner, as does second year safety Antoine Winfield Jr. Mike Edwards will slide in for Whitehead at safety -- who was a solid contributer last year for the Bucs when called upon. There simply isn't a weakness anywhere on the field. The Bucs are second in our power rankings, but the truth is they are neck and neck with Kansas City for the best team in football -- I wouldn't argue with anyone who ranked Tampa 1st and KC 2nd.
The total is 52.5, the highest of week 1. Though I have no doubt the Tampa offense will tear up the Cowboys defense, I also see the Bucs secondary struggling to stop the Cowboys many weapons. The model believes 8.5 points is simply too many, and as a big "fade the public" guy, I love the idea of fading the defending Super Bowl champion week 1.