It was over 50 years ago that Andy Williams recorded his famous song “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” The song referred to Christmas and how it is one of the best times of the year.
That song could have easily been written about the first two weeks of September when college football kicks off and then the countdown to the first weekend of NFL action.
This truly is the most wonderful time of the year for NFL fans. Every day is counted down until that magical day your favorite team kicks off their season.
For some, it’s a bit early. For example, kickoff may happen for your team on Thursday night. For others, it’s Sunday afternoon, and some of us have to wait till Sunday night. And then there are those few that must wait another agonizing day until Monday night for your team to begin the season.
For Buccaneer fans, it will be Sunday night in primetime when Tom Brady and this team will begin the quest to bring another Super Bowl to Tampa.
The opponent will again be the Dallas Cowboys, the same opponent with which the Bucs began the 2021 season.
The Cowboys are the defending NFC East champions, winning the division and then losing in the wildcard round to San Francisco 23-17.
The Buccaneers are coming off a season where they won the NFC South with a 13-4 record and then lost to the eventual Super Bowl Champion LA Rams 30-27 in a divisional game.
In what was a thrilling game at Raymond James Stadium, the Buccaneers beat the Cowboys 31-29 in the 2021 season opener.
The Cowboys took a step back this off-season by trading talented receiver Amari Cooper to Cleveland for a couple of draft picks. The Cowboys will also be missing Michael Gallup, who will miss the game against the Bucs as he recovers from a torn ACL, and James Washington, acquired from Pittsburgh, will not be ready until October.
Cee Dee Lamb did not play in any preseason game due to a foot injury. Lamb is expected to suit up against the Bucs on Sunday night but may not be 100 percent.
That means rookie wide receiver Jalen Tolbert will line up with Lamb and Noah Brown at the receiver position. Outside of Lamb, no one in this group will strike fear in an opponent’s heart until Gallup and Washington return.
The Cowboys led the NFL in scoring last season, averaging 31.1 points per game, but with all the injuries at the receiver position, I don’t see that offense being nearly as explosive this season.
The Cowboys also had the number two passing attack in the NFC last season, behind the Buccaneers.
The Cowboys running attack led by a healthy Ezekiel Elliott should be improved this season. And they have a capable backup in Tony Pollard. Elliott barely cracked 1,000 yards last season. So you would expect a little bit more for the money they are paying Zeke.
With The Cowboy’s passing game in disarray, the Cowboys may lean more heavily on the run instead of relying on the pass.
That will be a tall order, as the Bucs run defense has been one of the best in the league the last three seasons.
The Cowboys have gone from having one of the best offensive lines in the league just a few seasons ago to having a mediocre line at best.
They just signed 40-year-old Jason Peters to help shore up that unit after losing Tyron smith for the season with a leg injury. The Cowboys will use rookie Tyler Smith at least for the first game at left tackle.
That will be a daunting experience for the young man looking across that line and seeing Vita, Vea, Akeim Hicks, and Logan Hall ready to eat his lunch.
Right guard Zack Martin is coming off a season where he earned All-Pro owners for the fifth time in eight seasons.
You hope Dak Prescott’s legs are in good shape because he could be running for his life a lot this season.
The Bucs got good news at practice this week as wide receiver Chris Godwin shelved the knee brace and ran drills without it for the first time since the surgery.
Godwin has been working hard to get back into game shape and had this game circled on his calendar as a game that he wanted to be ready for.
Godwin said he does not know if he will play on Sunday night. However, he is more concerned with being able to play the second half of the season than rushing himself back for the opener.
This is the best offensive unit that Tom Brady has had to work with in his career. Will teams double Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, or Julio Jones? Add tight end Cam Brate and running back Leonard Fournette to the mix, and this offense could be lethal.
On paper, this is the best offense in Buccaneer’s history.
The Cowboy’s defense improved last season. The unit went from last in points allowed in 2020 to seventh in 2021.
The Cowboy’s defense also led the league with 34 turnovers, so the Bucs need to be careful with the football.
The newly reshaped Bucs offensive line will have their hands full with the Cowboys front seven led by defensive Rookie Of The Year Micah Parsons and DeMarcus Lawrence.
The Cowboys like to move Parsons around, so it will be imperative that the Buc’s offense know where he is at all times on the field. Parsons had 13 sacks, 20 TFL, and 30 quarterback hits last season.
The Cowboy’s defense will be licking their chops to get a hit on the 45-year-old Brady.
The Bucs may want to throw away from Trevon Diggs, the All-Pro Corner. Diggs tied a Cowboy record with 11 interceptions last season.
This game will be won or lost in the trenches. Both offensive lines are just a shell of what they used to be, and the team that executes the best and keep the opposing defense at bay will win the game.
The Bucs are 1.5-point favorites.
This will be an entertaining game. The Cowboys may hang in there with the Bucs for a short time, But I think this Bucs team is too talented and that the Bucs will pull away in the second half.
I like the Bucs to win this game 34-21