The Dallas Cowboys and Tampa Bay Buccaneers will open the 2021 season in 56 days, and according to Mike Tannenbaum this could be a preview of the NFC Championship Game. The former GM for the Jets and VP of Football Operations for the Dolphins said as much in this segment for ESPN’s Get Up.
With one of ESPN’s known Cowboys foil personalities on screen with him in Dan Orlovsky, it’s easy to pass this clip by as nothing more than another hit piece aiming to spark debate on both sides. Luckily, we won’t have to wait long to get a feel for how the Cowboys stack up against the defending Super Bowl champions returning every one of their starters.
Tannenbaum gives an in-depth answer, starting with the most agreeable point surrounding the 2021 Cowboys – that a team returning Dak Prescott at QB should automatically be division favorites amongst Ryan Fitzpatrick in Washington, Jalen Hurts in Philadelphia, and Daniel Jones in New York.
Taking control of a division the Cowboys had a shot at into week 17 a year ago earns them only an outside shot at dethroning Brady and the Bucs, though Tannenbaum is persistent in saying this team’s potential goes beyond the Divisional Round.
A top five offense is well within reach for the Cowboys when healthy, but through four full weeks with Prescott on the field in 2020 they allowed a franchise record 146 points. Dan Quinn making a “massive impact” as Tannenbaum predicts is something we’ll simply have to see to believe. At the moment, the Cowboys best defense on paper appears to be outscoring teams, getting out to early leads and forcing opposing offenses to become one dimensional.
With a historically bad run defense in 2020, it will take a lot to discourage opponents from at least trying to run the ball at Dallas. Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones will be the first test for Dan Quinn’s run defense in week one. The Cowboys consolation prize if they contain this duo? A vastly unproven secondary lining up against Mike Evans, Antonio Brown, Chris Godwin, and Scotty Miller.
Of course, how these teams fare in the season opener on Sunday Night Football and how they’re playing late in the season could be starkly different. Tom Brady’s teams have always found an extra gear as the playoffs near, while the Cowboys are hoping the same can be said under Prescott as he comes into a season with a WR corps that can match Brady’s.
Tannenbaum makes no mention of Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, or CeeDee Lamb in his prediction, but does point out the three offensive linemen the Cowboys return. LT Tyron Smith, RT La’el Collins, and LG Connor Williams will all be on the field in Oxnard. Not enough was made of the fact that Offensive Coordinator Kellen Moore maintained any resemblance of an offense for the Cowboys without either starting tackle or his QB1 in 2020, making the return of these three starters as good as any free agent signing or draft pick across the NFC.
In a way, both the Cowboys and Buccaneers are “running it back” in 2021. Tampa Bay holds all the credibility at the moment that this is the right move, tossing the Lombardi Trophy around the ocean a year ago. The Cowboys believe in their star power returning from injury as well as more major changes on defense, gaining national supporters in the media along the way.