When the Cowboys and Bucs kick it off on Monday Night Football, Dallas will likely be a slight favorite to win.
After all, Tampa Bay won the NFL South with an 8-9 record, the only losing team in the postseason. Dallas rolled to a dozen wins in the NFC East, preserving Mike McCarthy’s head coaching job for at least another week.
So why is the spread less than 3 points? Because Mike McCarthy’s Dallas Cowboys specialize in the unexpected.
In Week 1, they lost to the Bucs in Texas 19-3. Dallas rushed for just 71 yards and quarterback Dak Prescott made little impact before leaving the game in the second half with an injured throwing hand.
Enter backup Cooper Rush. Amid media speculation regarding who Jerry Jones might sign to play the QB position, Rush led Dallas to 4 straight victories. Hmm?
After a loss in Philadelphia, Dak Prescott returned and the Cowboys won six of their next seven games. A dominant pass rush was rattling opposing passers, and an alternating two-back ground attack was keeping defenses honest.
Despite Philadelphia’s continued success, numerous NFL pundits suspected Dallas might be the superior team. And when Prescott converted a third down and thirty against the Eagles to spark a Christmas Eve come-from-behind 40-34 victory, the Cowboys bandwagon grew quite full.
But lingering doubts persisted when two overtime losses exposed Dallas’s vulnerabilities.
In Week 10 at Lambeau, the struggling Packers righted their season with a 31-28 come-from-behind win over the Cowboys. At one point in the third quarter, Dallas led by 14.
But their pass rush pooped out and the Cowboys punted three times without scoring in the fourth quarter. Hmm??
On December 18 in Jacksonville, Dallas held a 27-10 third quarter lead. But several Cowboy defensive lapses coupled with a Prescott interception resulted in a 34-34 score at the end of regulation.
In the OT period, another Prescott interception (though definitely not Dak’s fault) was returned 52 yards for a game-winning TD in a 40-34 Jaguars victory. Hmm???
The final straw came last weekend. Despite the ultimate meaningless of the game for playoff seeding, Dallas soiled their sleeping arrangements in Washington, losing big 26-6!
That sorry exhibition included a fumbled punt snap, a muffed fair catch, and back-to-back passes by Prescott that both could have been pick-sixes. Only the second one was.
So which Cowboys team shows up Monday night in Tampa to face Tom Brady and the battered Buccaneers?
The team that lost to Tampa 19-3 on Opening Day? The team that won twelve of fifteen games after Opening Day? Or the pitiful Cowboys that stunk up FedExField last Sunday?
Mike McCarthy’s Dallas Cowboys seem to specialize in the unexpected. Only this time, Mike’s future may depend on the outcome.