There is one inevitable truth that will take place on Sunday. Either Dallas or Tampa Bay will take a serious hit to their respective playoff chances.
The Dallas Cowboys enter Sunday's game riding a six-game, Tony Romo-less losing streak. Although Romo has one more game to sit due to injured reserve protocol, there may not be much for him to hurry back to. The Cowboys have essentially lost six games in a row the exact same way. They have struggled to find the end zone ( although last Sunday's loss to the Eagles featured a much better performance by QB Matt Cassel), they have struggled to run the ball (although again, this part of the offense looked better last week as Darren McFadden continues his renaissance in Big D) and the defense is struggling to get KEY stops at the right moments. Although the game Sunday was a much better performance, the Cowboys are still prone to the big play and will succumb to it at the wrong times. And when you can't score when you want...
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been bad, are getting better, and seem like a team on the verge of something. Marcus Mariota may have gotten off to the faster start with Tennessee, but Jameis Winston is the guy who seems to be growing faster. After going 1-3 in the first four games, the Buccaneers are 2-2 over their last four, and the margin of defeat is shrinking each week. In other words, the Buccaneers are starting to figure it out. Winston is starting to figure it out. Each week is becoming his tutorial for success. And when you can learn and grow...
Dallas at Tampa Bay
Kickoff: 1 p.m. ET (Sunday)
Spread: Dallas -1
Three Things to Watch
No that's not the number of games won by the Cowboys without Tony Romo. That number is actually 0-6. No, 0-4 is an abbreviation for zero in the last four games, or the number of interceptions thrown by the rookie QB Jameis Winston. That is incredibly important because Winston, who was a stumbling, interception-throwing, mistake-prone signal-caller early on is developing into the efficient rookie quarterback of the last 15 years (which incidentally is the last time a rookie QB went four games without an interception). Winston is as good as his potential said he would be. He can beat you with his monstrous arm, incredible size, and he is starting to extend plays intelligently with his legs. For the Cowboys, this rapid development could be a real problem. For the Bucs, Winston could be the solution they have been waiting on and the thing that pushes them back into relevance.
2. Cassel to Beasley II
The loss to the Eagles was not all bad for Dallas. The Cowboys discovered that Matt Cassel seems to have established good chemistry with WR Cole Beasley. Beasley seems to enjoy playing with Cassel as well, as he produced nine catches for 112 yards and two TDs in the loss. Cassel and Beasley enjoyed a wonderful first outing together. Whether or not it was a fling or the real thing will show up on Sunday. And what effect that has on the rest of the offense will also be seen, as against the Eagles, it seemed to be the missing ingredient that settled Cassel down and helped him find his groove. It also got Dez Bryant and Jason Witten involved in the passing game as well. Amazing what can happen when a guy gets comfortable and into the flow.
3. The More Desperate Team Will Win
The Cowboys don't want to win Sunday. They MUST win on Sunday. The team that everyone was predicting would bounce back from a crushing divisional loss to become a Super Bowl powerhouse is now stuck in the NFL outhouse, with no way out. Romo's absence was supposed to result in a FEW unwinnable games, not six losses in a row. And certainly not a position where the Cowboys won't make the playoffs at all. The Buccaneers started the season just wanting to improve. And their early 1-4, interception-riddled start reflected life in the rebuild zone. But something has happened over the last four games as Tampa Bay be on the verge of starting... something. The offense is playing better, averaging 24 points a game. The margin of defeat is shrinking. The game Sunday will come down to one thing and one thing only... hunger.
A Tony Romo-less Cowboy team is like a developmental Buccaneer team at midseason. They can beat you, but everything must be perfect. The challenge for both teams is to get as close to that perfection as they can. Both quarterbacks can make mistakes. Both defenses will give up the big play. Both quarterbacks can scramble when necessary. But who can keep from throwing the crucial interception? Who can involve others into the offense and play with passion and pride? The Buccaneers are poised to pounce on the Cowboys, and its hard to see the argument against that. The good news is that the Cowboys may get their No. 1 QB back next week. The bad news is Romo will be looking to pick up the pieces from what will become an 0-7 run.
Prediction: Buccaneers 27, Cowboys 14
— Written by Lloyd H. Spence, Jr., who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Spence also has written for the Dallas Morning News, Yahoo!'s Rivals.com, and ESPN Louisville. Follow him on Twitter @TalkinNOIZ.