Photo courtesy of Tampa Bay Buccaneers
With quarterback Tom Brady at the helm, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers made history last season by becoming the first team to win the Super Bowl at their home stadium. That’s where they’ll be on Thursday night as they open the 2021 season by playing host to the Dallas Cowboys.
Tampa Bay enters the campaign as a popular pick to repeat. With the likes of Brady, Chris Godwin, Mike Evans and Rob Gronkowski on offense and Shaquil Barrett, Jason Pierre-Paul and Devin White on defense, the Buccaneers have a loaded roster. In 2020, Tampa Bay finished in the top 10 in scoring offense and scoring defense.
The Buccaneers started 6-5 last season before closing the regular season with five straight wins and going 4-0 in the postseason. They capped the year with a 31-9 victory over the reigning champion Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV.
The story for the Dallas Cowboys is the return of quarterback Dak Prescott. Prescott had put up big numbers through five games before suffering a season-ending injury. There is talent at the skill positions with running back Ezekiel Elliott and wide receiver Amari Cooper.
The glaring weakness for Dallas last season was the defense. Dallas ranked just 28th in scoring defense in 2020 en route to a 6-10 finish.
Linebacker Jaylon Smith ranked second in the NFL last season with 154 total tackles. Head coach Mike McCarthy is hoping new coordinator Dan Quinn can transform the Dallas defense.
Thursday night’s contest will be the first meeting between the teams since late in 2018. The Cowboys won that contest, 27-20. This season’s opener begins at 8:20 p.m. ET and airs nationally on NBC.
Prediction: Tampa Bay 34, Dallas 21
Other Games Across the State
No. 13 Florida (1-0) at South Florida (0-1)
Saturday, Sept. 11 at 1 p.m. ET (ABC)
Through one week of the 2021 season, Florida leads the nation in rushing yards per game. Led by backup quarterback Anthony Richardson, the Gators finished with 400 yards on the ground. South Florida allowed two NC State backs to hit the 100-yard mark last week in a shutout loss. This will be the first meeting between the teams since 2010.
Prediction: Florida 52, South Florida 7
Georgia Southern (1-0) at Florida Atlantic (0-1)
Saturday, Sept. 11 at 3:30 p.m. ET (Stadium)
Florida Atlantic has lost four straight games dating back to last season and allowed 400 rushing yards in last week’s 35-14 loss to Florida. Known for its prolific rushing attack, Georgia Southern handled the Owls last season, 20-3. The Eagles did struggle in their season opener against Gardner-Webb.
Prediction: Florida Atlantic 20, Georgia Southern 16
Bethune-Cookman (0-1) at UCF (1-0)
Saturday, Sept. 11 at 6:30 p.m. ET (ESPN+)
Fresh off a thrilling comeback win over Boise State, UCF will look to start 2-0 for the fifth straight season. Bethune-Cookman will playing an FBS school for the second straight week. It fought valiantly in a 38-28 loss to UTEP last week.
Prediction: UCF 55, Bethune-Cookman 9
Appalachian State (1-0) at No. 22 Miami (0-1)
Saturday, Sept. 11 at 7 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
Opening with Alabama is no small task, but Miami will be at home for the first time this season on Saturday. Appalachian State has talent at the skill positions and could put up some points against the Hurricanes. Miami will try to avoid starting 0-2 for the second time in three years. It has lost three straight games going back to last season.
Prediction: Miami 34, Appalachian State 26
Texas State (0-1) at Florida International (1-0)
Saturday, Sept. 11 at 7 p.m. ET (ESPN+)
After going winless last season, Florida International began the 2021 season with a blowout of Long Island. FIU finished with nearly 600 yards of offense in the victory. Texas State hasn’t won a non-conference game over an FBS school since 2018.
Prediction: Florida International 24, Texas State 23
Jacksonville State (0-1) at Florida State (0-1)
Saturday, Sept. 11 at 8 p.m. ET (ACC Network)
Florida State fought valiantly in a season-opening overtime loss to Notre Dame while Jacksonville State was blanked by UAB. It was against the Gamecocks that FSU earned its win last season. Jordan Travis rallied FSU from 14 points down for a 41-24 victory. It is unclear whether Travis or McKenzie Milton will start on Saturday.
Prediction: Florida State 38, Jacksonville State 10
Jacksonville Jaguars (0-0) at Houston Texans (0-0)
Sunday, Sept. 12 at 1 p.m. ET (CBS)
The Urban Meyer era in Jacksonville gets underway on Sunday as the Jaguars visit the Houston Texans. No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence will make his first start for Jacksonville at quarterback. The Texans have won the last six in the series.
Prediction: Jacksonville 22, Houston 19
Miami Dolphins (0-0) at New England Patriots (0-0)
Sunday, Sept. 12 at 4:25 p.m. ET (CBS)
Former Alabama teammates will get the starts at quarterback on Sunday in Foxborough as Tua Tagovailoa and the Miami Dolphins visit Mac Jones and the New England Patriots. The teams split the two regular season meetings last year with each winning at home. Last season marked the first time since 2000 that the Dolphins finished with a winning record and the Patriots did not.
Prediction: New England 23, Miami 20