Tampa Bay (8-5) at Dallas (11-2)
When: Sunday, December 18th 2016
Where: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, TX
Time: 8:30 ET | TV: NBC
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will try to improve their playoff positioning when the visit the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday Night Football. The Bucs, who are tied with Atlanta in the NFC South, are the sixth and final seed right now in the NFC, a half-game ahead of the Washington Redskins and one game clear of the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers. Winners of five straight, the Bucs will close with a game at New Orleans and home against Carolina after Sunday’s tilt at AT&T Stadium. Quarterback Jameis Winston continues to grow and has completed 61.7% of his passes this season with 23 touchdown strikes and 12 interceptions. He’s having trouble hooking up with his top target lately as Mike Evans has only 80 yards receiving and no touchdowns in the last two games. Fellow wideout Adam Humphries (concussion) cleared the league’s protocol and returned to practice after sitting out last week’s game – a 16-11 win over the Saints. The Bucs have held their last five opponents to 21 points or less and should get defensive back Chris Conte back after missing the last two games with a chest injury. The Bucs are a little vulnerable against the run, ranking 21st (110.7).
Dallas is inching closer to the top seed in the NFC and failed to clinch that last week when they lost to the New York Giants for the second time this season. Quarterback Dak Prescott’s play of late has opened the door for Tony Romo talk to invade the sports radio and TV airwaves this week. Prescott passed for at least 227 yards in the first 10 games this season, but has failed to reach 200 in the last three. He threw two of his season’s four total interceptions last week in the loss to the Giants and Dallas has scored only 24 points in the last two weeks. Those were both road games and now Dallas is back at home where it has scored 27 or more points in every game since the Week 1 loss to New York. Ezekiel Elliott continues to put up solid numbers for the 2nd-ranked rushing attack in the league despite the Cowboys’ recent offensive struggles. Elliott rumbled for his sixth 100-yard performance last week against a good Giants run defense. His 322 yards receiving gives him 1,714 all-purpose yards on the season. Linebacker Sean Lee recorded a season-high 18 tackles in Sunday’s loss but is limited in practice this week due to a knee injury and is questionable for Sunday.
The Bucs are red-hot right now and are playing well on both sides of the ball. Winston is coming into his own and is ready to lead this team to the playoffs for years to come. I expect Dallas to bounce back strong from last week’s loss, but the Bucs defense will make it difficult and keep it close.
Pick: Bucs +7