Even at 2-6 with Tony Romo (collarbone) still out, the Cowboys still have hope in the NFC East. But this week they face a Buccaneers team that has shown improvement in head coach Lovie Smith's second season.
What will be Sunday's result? Here are the gut feelings from staff writers Rob Phillips, Bryan Broaddus, David Helman and Nick Eatman.
David Helman: This is probably the most manageable opponent of the seven teams the Cowboys have played without Tony Romo. If Matt Cassel continues to improve and the running game continues to churn out yards, it's absolutely plausible to think the Cowboys can escape Tampa with a win. That said, we've now seen Dallas lose six games and a row, and – just like last week – I can't justify picking them until they buck the trend. I would love to be proven wrong, but we've seen no evidence during the last seven weeks that this team knows how to win without Romo. For a defense with a problem getting takeaways, a rookie quarterback would seem like a fantastic matchup, but Jameis Winston hasn't thrown a pick in a month. Meanwhile, Lovie Smith's defense is tied for eighth in the NFL with 15 takeaways on the year. The Buccaneers also have a solid run defense, which should help them against Darren McFadden, while they're own ground game is averaging 132 yards per contest. My prediction is that the Cowboys will force one turnover out of Winston, but they'll give up two of their own. McFadden will top out at around 75 rushing yards, but Doug Martin will reach 100. It'll be Jason Witten's turn to benefit from Dez Bryant's presence, and he'll find the end zone. It won't be enough, though, as Winston will lead a late drive to claim a Buccaneer win. Another week of close, but not close enough – something like 34-31, Tampa Bay.
Bryan Broaddus:This team has wasted too many opportunities during this six game losing skid. Not finishing drives on offense, not making stops on defense and allowing big plays on the special teams. There has been failures at all levels and for that reason they sit where they are - needing a miracle. The Buccaneers are talented at certain spots and could present problems especially running the ball. My gut feeling is that this is the first weekend since Week 2 that the Cowboys play that complete game in all phases and come away from Tampa with a much-needed victory. No letdowns here with untimely interceptions, lack of pressure or poor tackling - for one weekend they put it all together. Dallas 27, Tampa Bay 13.
Rob Phillips: Switching my pick to the opposing team this week, and actually this is a game I circled as a potential upset way back in the spring. Of course, circumstances are much different for Dallas now, with Tony Romo missing his seventh straight game this Sunday. I still think the Cowboys are due – I've been thinking that for like a month and counting – but their injuries at linebacker concern me. Sean Lee has been ruled out this Sunday due to a concussion, and Rolando McClain and Anthony Hitchens are listed as questionable. If the Buccaneers can get rolling on the ground, Jameis Winston has a much better chance to manage an efficient game. He'll avoid an interception for the fifth straight week, and Matt Cassel will play a turnover-free game, too, but in the end Tampa Bay grinds it out with over 100 yards rushing in a narrow 24-20 victory over Dallas.
Nick Eatman: I think the Cowboys are a better football team. But as we've seen in the first half of the year, it doesn't always equate to wins. Will that change on Sunday? I don't know what to think anymore. Something tells me this Cowboys team will play inspired knowing that they're still in the division race and their quarterback is now just a week away from returning. They've played well on the road in just about every game and this won't be an exception. I see more offensive plays from Lucky Whitehead in an attempt to stretch the Bucs laterally. Look for Beasley to continue to find mismatches and I'm saying Gregory will get at least one sack. But as for picking the game ... I think I'll do us all a favor since I've been so bad here lately. For the sake of changing the tide, I'll pick Tampa to win, 24-23. But I definitely think the Cowboys are a better team.