Kickoff: Thursday, September 9th at 8:20 PM ET
Location: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa Bay, FL
Betting Odds: TB -8, 52 total via Oddsshark
Dak Prescott (Start, Low-end QB1)
After Dak Prescott missed a large portion of the 2020 season with an ankle fracture, fantasy managers have been fearful and pessimistic after Dak suffered a “shoulder” injury in the pre-season. Speculative reporting and the never-ending media cycle have done little to quell the worry. However, once we understand the injury, managers can rest easy and believe Prescott is a full go for Thursday’s season opener. Prescott suffered a latissimus strain, a common baseball injury that generally requires plenty of rest and therapy but often nothing more. While we don’t know the grade, a Grade 1 lat strain can take 2-3 weeks to heal while a Grade 2 could take a month or more. Prescott pulled the large muscle on July 28th, which put the original injury six weeks past. Prescott has been practicing in full for nearly two weeks now and will be ready to roll come kick-off.
Prescott’s opened the 2020 season against a difficult Rams defense and scored 17 points, despite getting off to a slow start. He scored 35 points per in his next three games. While Dallas will be down their All-Pro tackle Zack Martin, his backup, Conner McGovern, did log over 600 snaps last season for the team. The loss definitely hurts against the vaunted Tampa Bay defense but the team has enough weapons to overcome. Prescott has a high QB1 floor and managers should have no reservations about starting him as the star that he is.
Ezekiel Elliott (Start, mid-RB2), Tony Pollard (Sit, possible Flex)
Last season Ezekiel Elliott closed out the year on the lowest note of his career. From Week 7 on Zeke finished with less than 10 fantasy points in five games, missed a game and was and scored less than 20+ points in ten straight weeks. It was the worst stretch of games for the Cowboys star that has finished as an RB1 in 66% of his career games up until this point. The narrative is Zeke has lost a step, the carries have worn him down and of course, the common observation that Tony Pollard is actually better. But for me, it seemed Zeke gave up after his best friend went down in Week 5. He seemed to quit on the season, and while that isn’t the best look it does tell me that Zeke is in for a bounce-back year.
Zeke, however, heads into a matchup against the league’s best rush defense in Tamp Bay, a team that has averaged less than 90 yards rushing in each of the last two seasons. Zeke will still get 15+ carries and plenty of work out of the backfield, and that can salvage his day but managers will need to hope for a touchdown if they want to see him in the week’s RB1 finishers. 60 yards rushing would be generous but he will still get the goal-line work so no need to sit him.
Pollard will also be on the field for extended parts of this game. With such a stout rush defense, Dallas will look to get Pollard involved on stretch runs and passing down work. Pollard is an explosive runner and the team will need his play-making if they hope to stay in this game. Pollard is a nice flex play for managers looking for a speculative option.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Ceedee Lamb (Start, WR1), Amari Cooper (Start, WR2), Michael Gallup (Sit, possible Flex), Dalton Schultz (Sit, TE2), Blake Jarwin (Sit, TE2)
There might not be a better trio of receivers than the Cowboys Ceedee Lamb, Amari Cooper, and Michael Gallup. Lamb has shot up draft boards with the optimism for year two and it could certainly be warranted. Lamb has lit up training camp, making acrobatic plays at the goal line and highlights all over the field. We fully expect Lamb to take a second-year jump into elite status. Tampa was below league average in pass defense last season, allowing 67% completion percentage, 250 yards, and nearly two passing TDs per game. Lamb will see a full-time role after playing in just 70% of offensive snaps last year. Lamb should feast on this defense and there it could be his coming out game. But let’s not forget about Cooper and Gallup. Cooper has developed a solid connection with Dak and could easily lead this team in receiving. Tampa will have its hands full with these two. Because of the expected increase in a role from Lamb, Cooper could suffer a bit but he still will return solid WR2 value, with upside. Gallup is a possible flex play, where he could get free for a long touchdown or unexpected volume out of the slot. However, if you have better options look there first.
The Law offices of Jarwin & Schultz could be a headache for fantasy managers all year. Dalton Schultz retains his starting role but it would be hard to imagine that he plays more than 60% of the snaps with a talent like Blake Jarwin on the roster. For now, managers should take a wait-and-see approach and look for an option at tight end that expects to see more volume.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tom Brady (Start, QB1)
Tom Brady, he of seven rings, is undeniably the greatest of all time but he’s also playing at a high level. It’s clear that Tampa Bay has organized the offense around what Brady is comfortable with, quick passes, primarily over the middle of the field with a strong run game. That will set up the play-action and seven-step drops where he is still deadly accurate with the deep ball. Brady should have little issue craving up this revamped Dallas defense, and while the Cowboys have improved on that side of the ball, Brady is still in a plus matchup. Fire up Brady as a low-end QB1 with potential for multiple touchdowns.
Ronald Jones (Start, RB2), Leonard Fournette (Start, Flex), Giovani Bernard (Start, Flex)
Managers will want to pay close attention to the snap share of this Tampa backfield. Ronald Jones finished as an RB1 in just two appearances last season, and Leonard Fourenette wasn’t much better with just two games of 20+ points. With both splitting carries, it is hard to trust either but camp reports have been glowing for Jones. Jones was fourth in the league with 3.3 yards after contact and a solid evasion rating. With the pair sharing the backfield, Playoff Lenny should find enough volume to slot in as a low-end flex value.
Tampa signed Gio Bernard in the off-season and is one of the only key additions the team made this off-season. Gio was pegged for the pass-catching role that Brady covets. If healthy, expect Gio to have every week value and a potential to catch 10+ balls against a Dallas defense that is working in a new scheme. Managers could do worse than to take a shot on Gio, who will see plenty of snaps.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Mike Evans (Start, High-end WR2), Chris Godwin (Start, Low-end WR2), Antonio Brown (Start, Flex+), Rob Gronkowski (Sit, TE2)
While Dallas has a potent receiving corps, Tampa Bay’s could be considered as good, if not better. While the Bucs trio is a bit older, they are just as talented. One issue, however, is figuring out the expected volume. Mike Evans is the first receiver in history to start his career with seven straight thousand-yard seasons. Fantasy managers who have rostered Evans however know he is a boom or bust player, finishing as a WR1 40% of the time and flex play or worse another 40%. Evans is a player that managers should auto-start and this Dallas defense doesn’t strike fear in managers. Evans should catch enough passes to finish as an WR2, with touchdown potential. Chris Godwin struggled last season, through injury, and in finding his place in the lineup. The talent is immense but Godwin had just two games with 20+ points and finished as a flex in 40% of his games. Reports out of camp say that Godwin is fully healthy and developing a connection with Brady, but managers will need to see if before we can trust those reports. Dallas’s pass defense is below average and Godwin should have no problem finding production but Antonio Brown is lingering and has a connection with Brady. Godwin is an easy start but it will be hard to project a huge game until we see him dominating out on the field. Brown however is a sleeper in Week 1. Coach Bruce Arians have been raving about Brown and we know that he is one of Brady’s favorite players. Brown could feast on any slot receiver Dallas throws at him and score multiple touchdowns. All three receivers are solid plays, but who will emerge is anyone’s guess.
At tight end, Rob Gronkowski finished as the overall TE8 but that was good for just 6.5 points per game. If we factor in PPR/GM he was just the tight end 15. Gronk is a good option but every week he will be a touchdown dependant back-end TE1. If Dallas has a strength on the defensive side, it is at linebacker. Expect Dallas to rotate multiple linebackers to eliminate Gronk from the game. Outside of a red-zone touchdown, Gronk may struggle to have a solid game.
-Marc Salazar (@oldsnake77 on Twitter)