2014 was a very different year for the Dallas Cowboys and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
In Dallas, hope and excitement hadn’t been this high since the 1990’s, with the Cowboys finishing at 12-4 and winning a home playoff game. In Tampa, the Bucs opened their first season under newly hired head coach Lovie Smith, finishing with just a 2-14 record which would yield them a franchise quarterback just months later.
2014 wasn’t all that different for the current starting quarterbacks of these two teams, however.
Dak Prescott had taken the world by storm at Mississippi State. After a 7-6 season in 2013, Dak brought the Bulldogs to a 10-3 record, an Orange Bowl, and a top 15 finish. Dak was so good that year he had Mississippi State ranked number one in the country for four whole weeks before losing a tight one to Alabama.
Down a little further south, Jameis Winston was enjoying his final college season at Florida State. Coming off a National title win over Auburn, Winston led the Seminoles to a 13-0 regular season record, before falling at the hands of Oregon in the Rose Bowl. Winston, who had won the Heisman trophy in 2013, finished 6th in the voting, while Prescott finished just behind him at 8th.
Despite similar college success, these two quarterbacks have taken very different routes to becoming a starting NFL quarterback.
Jameis Winston was the consensus number one overall pick. Heralded as a franchise quarterback, Winston was going to stay in Florida to quarterback the Bucs back into relevancy.
He had won the National Championship, he had won the Heisman, and he was now the first pick in the NFL Draft. Winston drew comparisons to the likes of Peyton Manning and Ben Roethlisberger, and to be quite honest, he deserved it.
Dak Prescott, well, not so much. Many thought of him as a glorified Tim Tebow in the pros, who wouldn’t have much of a career at all. When the Cowboys selected him in the fourth round of the 2016 NFL Draft, they anticipated he would be the third quarterback on the depth chart.
Sunday night, these two quarterbacks find themselves on equal ground once again, but not a single person expected it to happen this quickly.
When the schedules came out last Spring, most circled the Tony Romo-led Cowboys’ week 15 match up with Tampa as an easy home win which could go a long way to securing a playoff birth.
Those in Tampa may had hoped they’d be fighting for the sixth seed, but most probably expected a game this late in the season to lack much meaning at all for these young Bucs.
Surprisingly, the Cowboys are 11-2 looking to win the NFC East and the Buccaneers are locked in a tie with the Atlanta Falcons for first place in the NFC South at 8-5.
And even more surprisingly, the quarterbacks for these teams are the fourth round rookie Dak Prescott, and the second-year superstar Jameis Winston. The two top young quarterbacks in the NFC who are now locked in the conversation of “who would you rather start a franchise with” have the chance to make their case this week.
Dak has been unbelievable this year. Throwing for 3,139 yards, 20 touchdowns and just 4 interceptions en route to the NFL’s best record, Prescott has staked his claim for Offensive Rookie of the Year.
A finalist for that award last season, Jameis Winston has also been fantastic in his Sophomore season, throwing for 3,364 yards, 23 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions.
This week, these two young quarterbacks get to face off for the first time in their careers. It will come on the Sunday Night Football stage, with all eyes around the league watching, as they each fight for playoff positioning come January.
Regardless of the outcome of Sunday night’s game, something tells me this won’t be the last time we see Dak and Jameis face off on the NFC’s biggest stage.