Thursday Night NFL Best Bets

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Thursday night NFL best bets: Dallas Cowboys at Tampa Bay Buccaneers​

NFL Betting Insiders

The defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers host the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday night to kick off the NFL season.

Tom Brady is back for his second season in Tampa, Florida, and the Cowboys get quarterback Dak Prescott back after he missed most of last season.

ESPN betting analysts Joe Fortenbaugh, Doug Kezirian, Tyler Fulghum and Anita Marks and Aaron Schatz of Football Outsiders have teamed up to offer their best bets.

Odds courtesy of Caesars Sportsbook (as of Wednesday).

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Dallas Cowboys at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-8, 51.5)​

Schatz: Dallas looks very good this year. The Cowboys are a top-10 team by projected DVOA, with a top-10 offense and an improved defense. But Tampa Bay is our No. 1 projected team right now, forecast to rank in the top four on both offense and defense. The Bucs also have an advantage as a Super Bowl champion hosting their home opener. Since 2004, when the NFL began starting the season with a Thursday home game for the reigning Super Bowl champion, the reigning champs are 13-2 on opening night and 9-3-3 against the spread (not including 2013, when the Ravens began the season on the road, or 2019, when the NFL opened with Bears-Packers instead of the champion Patriots).

Fortenbaugh: Tampa Bay came off last year's bye week and promptly ripped off eight straight wins while going 6-2 against the spread and decimating the opposition by an average of 14.7 points per game en route to a Super Bowl victory. I'm not saying the Buccaneers will pick up right where they left off, but I am saying this franchise won't break slowly from the gates like it did last season in an 11-point loss at New Orleans to open the Tom Brady era in central Florida.

Dallas, meanwhile, will break late in my opinion. Quarterback Prescott hasn't played a meaningful snap of football since Week 5 of the 2020 season, and the offensive line could be without four-time All-Pro Zack Martin, who is currently in the COVID-19 protocol. At a current price of -8, a 6-point teaser to open the season is where you'll find my betting interests come Thursday night.

Pick: 6-point teaser with Bucs -2 and 49ers -1.5; 6-point teaser with Bucs -2 and Rams -1.5


Walder: Over the past two years, Brady and Prescott have each averaged a sack rate of 3.8%. Even if we bump that up to an even 4% because sack rates are a shade higher early in the season, that would still require 112.5 combined pass plays to reach an expectation of 4.5 sacks. Am I slightly wary of the Bucs' blitz-heavy defense under Todd Bowles? Sure. But quarterbacks have a lot of control over their sack rates, and given that, this line feels high.

Pick: Total sacks under 4.5 (-115 at DraftKings)


Marks: The Bucs are looking to run it back and will hit the ground running with more consistency and a healthier roster than the Cowboys. Martin's injury is significant (running back Ezekiel Elliott told the media this week that Martin is the offense's "best player"). I'm still not sold that Prescott is 100% healthy, and he still needs to brush off some cobwebs. And let's face it, the Bucs' defense is not the most ideal opponent to get his feet wet in week 1.

Mike Evans should have an easy night against the Cowboys' corners. Evans logged 20 explosive plays of 20 yards or more last season, and in three career games against Dallas he has averaged 15 yards per catch.

Tony Pollard comes into the season under the radar with Elliot getting all the attention. Pollard could be a featured back in another team's backfield. Opponents pass the ball almost 70% of the time against the Bucs because it is so difficult to run against them, and Pollard is a better receiver than Elliot, so I expect Pollard to get a significant amount of snaps.

Blake Jarwin is another Dallas player who is not getting enough attention. He is 6-foot-5, 260 pounds and runs a 4.34-second 40-yard dash as a tight end with great athleticism and good hands. He is coming off of an ACL injury, which sidelined him for the majority of the 2021 season. Prescott will be looking for Jarwin as well as Pollard when running for his life Thursday night.

Pick: 6-point teaser with Bucs -2 and 49ers -1.5 or Rams -1.5, Evans over 60.5 receiving yards (-115), Evans TD (+150), Pollard over 31.5 rush/receiving yards (-115 at DK), Jarwin over 19.5 receiving yards (-115)


Kezirian: There are just so many reasons to back the Bucs in this situation. For the first time in NFL history, the defending champions are returning all 11 starters on both offense and defense. Tom Brady struggled with grasping Bruce Arians' offense in 2020 but now he is fully acclimated and should start this season much more smoothly and effectively. Plus, for all the praise of the Dallas skill players, Brady actually has more talent around him. Match that with a stout Tampa Bay defense and we should have a convincing Bucs win. Let's not forget Dallas is missing its best offensive lineman (Martin) and Prescott should have some rust as he returns from injury.

Pick: Bucs -8, 6-point teaser: Bucs -2 with Rams -1.5, 6-point teaser: Bucs -2 with 49ers -1.5



Fulghum: Most people -- me included -- are expecting Tampa to look like the Super Bowl champs in their Week 1 matchup with the Cowboys. So what's the most likely path to a dominant victory for the Bucs? Tom Brady, and the offense, shredding a Dallas defense that invested heavily in resources to improve this offseason, but still needs to show it on the field. As long as Dak and Co. can provide 20 points, I think the Bucs will do the rest as far as the total is concerned. At the price of +165, the value screams OVER on Brady TD passes if the offense scores 30+ points as the total suggests. Brady had 3+ TD passes in 9 of the 20 games he played last season (playoffs included).

Pick: Over 51.5, Brady over 2.5 TD passes (+165)
 
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