Tom Brady's dramatic offseason is finally over and now we can begin a dramatic regular season. After briefly declaring his career over in the spring, Brady goes into this year all but formally naming it his last one. If so, and if his heart is still in it, we can expect an extreme level of focus from Brady on a week to week basis – not that we wouldn't otherwise. If they're to make his final season worth the trouble the Buccaneers would like to take care of business here against the Cowboys, a team with desperate playoff ambitions but probably fewer means to realize them.
With that said, the game is in Dallas and the Buccaneers are only favored by 2.5 points (2.0 to open). The over/under has fallen from 52.0 to 50.5, which in combination with the increasing spread implies the betting money has soured on Dallas over the course of the week. Dallas' offensive line was a known issue, especially in light of Tyron Smith's injury, but there has also been concerning recent chatter about the Dallas receivers. More specifically, Cowboys reporter Bryan Broaddus said that the team has not been pleased with the progress of rookie third-round pick Jalen Tolbert, who almost all offseason was assumed to be a starter for Dallas while Michael Gallup(ACL) recovers from last year's injury. If Tolbert can't step up then it's another big strike against a receiver group that already lost bandaid signing James Washington to a broken foot in training camp. If Dak Prescott has poor blocking and a shortage of good targets then this might be a difficult game for him, good as Prescott might be.
Dak Prescott ($10200 DK, $15500 FD) is an excellent quarterback and the Buccaneers corners are merely good, but there's a lot working against him here with likely subpar supporting casts at receiver and on the offensive line. Prescott raked against this same defense last year – in Tampa, no less – but his 403 yards and three touchdowns passing were propelled by an improbably high pass attempt count (58), a workload on which he was sacked only once. If Dallas throws that many times here you would sooner expect something like six sacks. Prescott will almost certainly do his part in the 2022 rematch, it's just difficult to tell if the same is true about his teammates.
Tom Brady ($10000 DK, $16000 FD) has things a bit easier on the other side, though with concerns of his own similar to what Prescott is facing. While it's not as big of a loss as Tyron Smith, the Buccaneers lost standout starting center Ryan Jensen to injury early in training camp, and penciled-in starting left guard Aaron Stinnie is also out. With that said, Tampa has rookie second-round pick Luke Goedeke around to replace Stinnie, and the expectation all along was that Goedeke would eventually start at guard once up to speed in his transition from right tackle. Similarly, Tampa Bay has the wide receiver depth to easily withstand the fact that Chris Godwin(knee) and maybe even Russell Gage (groin) are limited or out. Mike Evans and Julio Jones as a worst-case scenario is not so bad, or at least it's a lot better than CeeDee Lamb and Noah Brown. The one thing Brady needs to do is show up and be his usual self – the Dallas defense has a properly dangerous pass rush, and their secondary is trained to jump on any off-target passes the rush might instigate. If Brady is sloppy Dallas has the teeth to hurt him for it.
RUNNING BACKS Leonard Fournette ($8600 DK, $13500 FD) has a conventionally strong fantasy setup in this matchup as a high-usage back on the favored team, and there's been no indication that rookie third-round pick Rachaad White ($2400 DK, $7500 FD) will take high-leverage touches quite yet. Against an in-conference potential playoff opponent, it would be reasonable to give Fournette as much of the work as possible up until the point Tampa ties up the win. White has talent as a runner and pass catcher, though, so if he gets a shot he just might do well with it. Ke'Shawn Vaughn ($600 DK, $6000 FD) was listed as third on the Buccaneers depth chart while Gio Bernard ($2800 DK, $5500 FD) ranked fourth. Dallas' wide receiver injuries might force them to give more wide receiver snaps to Tony Pollard($6400 DK, $9500 FD) than in the past, which might or might not tap into a new level of fantasy production for Pollard. Will he draw targets with wideout reps at the rate or with the same returns as the targets he drew from the running back position? More playing time is always welcome, it just might not scale with the same dimensions as the running back-specific production sample. If Pollard cedes running back reps in order to play more at receiver, Ezekiel Elliott ($7800 DK, $13000 FD) could see more targets than he has in a while. Then again, Elliott might need a healthy catch count to pile up fantasy points in this one, because his battered offensive line goes against what might be the toughest run-defending front seven in the NFL. Vita Vea and Akiem Hicks can collapse strong offensive lines, and Dallas doesn't have that these days. WIDE RECEIVERS + TIGHT ENDS The status of Chris Godwin ($7400 DK, $12000 FD) will dictate much about the course of the Tampa Bay offense and the outcome of the game. Even if Godwin is active – not even nine full months since tearing his ACL and MCL – it's doubtful the Buccaneers would use him in his usual role. Mike Evans ($10600 DK, $$14500 FD) and Julio Jones ($5000 DK, $10500 FD) are ready to go, and though questionable Russell Gage ($6200 DK, $11000 FD) might be reasonably close to his usual self after logging limited practice session each day this week. Scotty Miller ($1400 DK, $6000 FD) has been reliably productive as a downfield-oriented outside receiver when fully healthy, and Breshad Perriman ($1000 DK, $6000 FD) can give Tampa some quality clearing routes at the very least. Jaelon Darden ($200 DK, $6500 FD) is a candidate to take a step forward as a slot receiver in his second season, and if Gage is out or limited then Darden might be the next man up in the slot. Darden reportedly was lagging on the Buccaneers playbook last year (a problem that has also reportedly resolved itself), but his talent and athleticism check out as a slot specialist. Cade Otton ($200 DK, $5000 FD) is the most talented Buccaneers tight end but it's not clear whether they consider the fourth-round pick rookie fully prepared to play. Cameron Brate($5200 DK, $8000 FD) was listed first on the depth chart with free agent pickup Kyle Rudolph($2600 DK, $7000 FD) listed second. Whoever is running the routes for Tampa Bay should be in a good position here. Dallas' defense gives up big pass plays almost by design in theoretical exchange for heightened turnover production. It certainly worked in 2021, but it's hard to see how they could stop Evans especially. Jones was injured often in Tennessee but was still effective when healthy, so he's still a candidate to do damage, especially if Godwin is out our returns slowly. Whereas the Buccaneers have a long list of potential contributors in the receiving game, the Cowboys are scrambling to trot out an NFL-caliber lineup. CeeDee Lamb ($10400 DK, $14000 FD) could see enormous target volume this year, including in this game, if only because the target competition is so weak. Dalton Schultz ($6800 DK, $9000 FD) is almost certainly the second-leading Dallas target after Lamb, at least as long as Michael Gallup is out, but Schultz can only threaten a limited range of the field. In the areas Schultz can't reach the options are Lamb and a bunch of guys who can't compete with him. Dallas reportedly might start Noah Brown ($3000 DK, $7500 FD) opposite Lamb, and you can't do much worse than Brown's career box score of 39 catches for 425 yards and zero touchdowns on 66 targets and 793 snaps. Jalen Tolbert ($5800 DK, $8500 FD) was supposed to be the one starting in Gallup's place, so it would be a dreary indicator for the rookie if he can't beat a practice squad type like Brown. Rather than Brown, the second-most interesting Dallas wideout might be KaVontae Turpin ($1800 DK, $5500 FD). Turpin is too tiny to play more than something like 35 snaps on offense, but he could draw targets at a high per-snap rate and he might be the best returner in the league even before his NFL debut. Simi Fehoko ($200 DK, $6500 FD) is also around for Dallas, and he too would likely be a better use of Dallas' wideout reps than Brown. Fehoko is probably rough as a receiver, but he's big and fast, which is more than what you can say about Brown. With that said, there's no indication Fehoko is all that close to Brown on the depth chart. Dallas also has rookie fourth-round tight end Jake Ferguson ($200 DK, $5500 FD) hanging around, but if he plays snaps it might be to help as a pass blocker more than to run routes. One reason for concern with these Dallas fringe receivers – perhaps Turpin aside – is that the Buccaneers have a good secondary and generally hold their own unless they go against receivers better than the ones Dallas has. Lamb has the talent to land punches on these guys, but the Buccaneers secondary would have to play uncharacteristically poorly to get beat by these Dallas backup receivers, and it's also important to remember that the Dallas offensive line might make things harder yet on Dak Prescott and the Dallas route runners. KICKERS Neither Ryan Succop ($4000 DK, $9500 FD) nor Brett Maher ($3800 DK, $9000 FD) are especially eye-catching as fantasy kickers – Succop lacks range and Maher's accuracy sometimes fails him – but offenses unexpectedly stall in enemy territory sometimes and worse kickers than these have capitalized in such cases. Similarly, worse kickers than them have paid off in unexpectedly low-scoring showdown slates. DEFENSE/SPECIAL TEAMS There's a case to make for either defense, but as the favored team the Buccaneers DST ($4200 DK, $8500 FD) are a little more expensive and might be somewhat more popular than the Cowboys DST ($3400 DK, $8000 FD). While they might go lowly owned, the case for the Cowboys would point out the standout pass rush and turnover potential of the Dallas defense, something that could matter more than usual given Tampa's injury troubles at center and wide receiver. Maybe just as important as the Cowboys defensive personnel is the presence of KaVontae Turpin, who might be one of the league's best kick and punt returners both. Rosters with the Dallas DST should seriously consider pairing it with Turpin. The Buccaneers might hold the advantage anyway on the basis of being the better team, especially with Dallas dealing with substantial and arguably greater injury issues of their own at receiver and on the offensive line. Like Dallas, the Buccaneers have a defensive line capable of exploiting a struggling offensive line, and Tampa Bay's secondary is better than Dallas' overall. And again, the Cowboys are projected to give up more points.