FRISCO, Texas – Now that should have made the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.
Sept. 9, 2021, Cowboys at Buccaneers, Thursday, 7:20 p.m.
Kicking off the 2021 NFL season with a bang.
What more could a head coach want to inspire his players in the offseason. To retain their attention during training camp. To take the preseason games seriously. To keep everyone on point for the next 18½ weeks.
Knowing they are preparing to kick off the entire 2021 NFL regular season on national TV against the defending Super Bowl champions on the road at Raymond James Stadium.
My gosh, guys should be flocking to The Star, stoked to continue working out in earnest, thoroughly pumped knowing what lies ahead.
Heck, if I'm Mike McCarthy, I'm posting a countdown clock in the locker room, above a sign with TAMPA BAY, Sept. 9, 7:20 p.m., NBC.
Probably no need to point out facing Tom Brady, the Super Bowl LV MVP, the guy who has beaten the Cowboys all five times he's faced them with New England and has engineered the NFL's second-ranked passing offense this past season in his first with the Bucs and an offense averaging 30.75 points a game, ranking third in the NFL.
Not sure if that's already put a lump into the throat of new Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, knowing he is inheriting a defense giving up 29.6 points a game last season, tasked with fixing what was broken.
Or maybe two in the throat of Dak Prescott, knowing his presumed first game back after suffering the dislocated and compound ankle fracture that ended his 2020 season in the fifth game will be against that Bucs defense finishing sixth overall last year and No. 1 against the run.
Then again, maybe not, with the offensive gang from last year back together again, and with a little more inspection over perception, this potentially potent Cowboys offense going up against a defense giving up at least 27 points in seven games last year, and unlike in their 31-9 Super Bowl victory over the injury-ravaged Kansas City offensive line, 26 to the Packers in the NFC title game.
Let's go. Can't wait for the Cowboys to take their shot at the champs.
· Easy My Derriere: So it already has started, the Cowboys having one of the easiest strength of schedules to deal with this year. And the combined record of their 17 opponents comes to 122-148-2, a winning percentage of .452, ranking 31st in the NFL, only the Eagles' lower at .430. But this is easy because of playing six games against the last year's pathetic NFC East. That's not the Cowboys' problem residing there. Their problem is the other 11 games against their non-division opponents. Check this out. Playing each of the NFC East opponents twice, that strength of schedule comes to 34-60-2, or a .354 winning percentage. But against the other 11 opponents, theirs comes to 88-88, or a .500 winning percentage. In other words, the Cowboys had better make hay within the division. Then there is this, in the last 17 combined games against these opponents, Carolina, Denver, Chargers and New England, the Cowboys are 0-17. Yikes.
· Buc-ing A Trend: Believe it or not, the Cowboys have beaten Tampa Bay in seven of the last eight meetings, winning the past two meetings, 26-20 in 2016 and 27-20 in 2018, meaning Dak hasn't lost a game to them in his career and are 13-4 overall against the Bucs. Not that that has anything to do with the defending Super Bowl champs. This will be the third time the Cowboys have opened a season against Tampa Bay, beating the Bucs 34-21 in 2009 with Tony Romo throwing for 353 yards and three touchdowns, completing TD passes for 66, 80 and 42 yards, along with another 44-yarder to set up a fourth touchdown. And for some reason I'll never forget this opening loss, the Bucs beating the Cowboys 10-6 in the 2001 opener, Quincy Carter's NFL QB debut absolutely atrocious, completing all of nine of 19 passes for a anemic 34 yards, two interceptions and a 14.5 QB rating. And if you can believe this, one of the other losses to the Bucs also was 10-6, in 2015, no Tony Romo (Matt Cassel starting). Bucs starter Jameis Winston, got the win with his 55.9 QB rating, and ended up scoring the winning touchdown on a one-yard run, but only after his fumble into the end zone from the three that the Cowboys recovered for a touchback with 59 seconds left was nullified by a defensive holding penalty on Jeff Heath.
· Opening Acts: There was a time the Cowboys were unbeatable in season openers, winning 17 straight from 1965 through 1981 and went 21-1 from 1965-86. But over the last 34 season openers the Cowboys are 17-17. And since 2010, the Cowboys are just 5-6 in season openers.
· Once Again: The NFL is convinced it is doing the Cowboys a favor by making them play those three games in 12 days around the annual Thanksgiving Day game. Well, they did it again, scheduling the Cowboys to play Nov. 21 at Kansas City, then the Raiders four days later on Thanksgiving and then a night game the following Thursday at New Orleans, never a good place to play a night game anytime. And not until then do the Cowboys get a break for having to play so many games in less than two weeks, picking up on Dec. 12 at Washington. But that's a lot of "at's," right, facing four away games in a five-game span with at the Giants following the Washington game.
· Dwindling Space: This normally is a moving target, but best can tell, while just counting the top 51 cap hits at this point for 2021, and knowing none of the draft choices have been signed, the Cowboys have like $8.9 million left in salary cap space. That's peanuts since the top 51 cutoff is $850,000, and considering the cap hits for a couple of the top draft choices will reach at least $1 million and then two more salaries must be included by the first week of the season. That is why every $1 million counts, unfortunately for restricted free agent Antwaun Woods ($2.1 million cap hit), released last week, but probably more so for his size than his cost. Possibly his connection to Cowboys former DC Rod Marinelli helped him land in Indy, where Rod's former Cowboys linebacker coach Matt Eberflus is now the defensive coordinator.
· Mini-Hits: With this weekend's rookie minicamp limited to 11 draft choices, 13 undrafted free agents and maybe a couple of rookies from last year, the Cowboys will have around 25 guys attending, but mostly for meetings and individual drills . . . While some thought it was a lock the Cowboys were going to sign free-agent QB Jeff Driskel when he visited last Friday, little did they know Driskel had a few more visits scheduled with other teams . . . Another veteran backup type is no longer a possibility, Blaine Gabbert re-signing with the Bucs to be Brady's back on a one-year, $2.5 million deal . . . Seattle WR DK Metcalf discovered this past weekend at the USA Track and Field Golden Games there is a difference between football fast and track fast, his 10.37-second 100 meter last in his nine-man heat and 15th of the 17 competitors. He needed a 10.05 to qualify for the USA Olympic Track and Field Trials . . . We'll find out if this is a good thing while trying to rebuild a defense giving up 473 points last year, knowing they will be without four starters in the final game of the season: Xavier Woods, Sean Lee, Tyrone Crawford and Aldon Smith, with CB Chidobe Awuzie limited to just 24 snaps . . . Another schedule oddity or two, with the Cowboys playing Washington twice in 15 days in December and four of the last five games against NFC East foes.
And I'll take the final word this time. You know all those mock drafts you guys have been monitoring for the past three months, there is a good reason they call 'em "mock" drafts. I randomly scored four mock drafts, and the most accurate one of the bunch had six accurate picks out of the first round's 32. Not bad, but four were in the top five. After that, it was two in the next 27. Then there was another with five accurate picks, three of the first four and two of the next 28. Another with three of the first four right and then just two of the next 28.
So fair warning, be careful what you're buying into when judging the drafts, even in the first round, based on these mocks.