Anticipation for the Bucs 2021 season will reach a new peak tonight, when the NFL releases each team’s full schedule for the upcoming season. We’ve known who the Bucs opponents will be, and now we know they’ll face the Dallas Cowboys in Week 1 at Raymond James Stadium.

Some will be disappointed in the match-up due to the fact that Dallas hasn’t been among the league’s top teams over the past two seasons, but there is no shortage of incredible storylines. Bucs-Cowboys is a match-up wrought with intrigue and talent, as two of the game’s best quarterbacks square off in Tom Brady and Dak Prescott. Here are several of the biggest storylines the game will offer when the teams battle on September 9 on Thursday Night Football.

1. The Return of Tom Brady and Dak Prescott

Yes, Brady’s injury wasn’t nearly as serious as Prescott’s gruesome broken ankle suffered in Week 5 against the Giants. But at 44 years old, Brady’s return from offseason knee surgery isn’t insignificant. How the 21-year veteran looks after an offseason of recovery is critical to Tampa Bay’s odds of repeating as Super Bowl champions. Week 1 will be an important litmus test for Brady.

Of course, the day is far more significant for Prescott, after his broken ankle left Cowboys players, coaches, personnel and fans distraught last season. Prescott entered Week 5 leading the NFL with 1,690 passing yards, the most by a Cowboys quarterback through four games in franchise history. Given the Cowboys’ overhaul on defense and the Bucs’ high-powered offense, Prescott may need to come out of the corner swinging in Week 1.

Brady has never lost to the Cowboys, going 5-0 in his career against Dallas.

2. Bucs Pass Catchers Could Eat

The Bucs boast the unquestioned top receiving room in the NFL, highlighted by Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown and tight end Rob Gronkowski. They’re extremely difficult to defend as a result, especially when Brady refuses to lock onto any one receiver. Add in the return of tight end O.J. Howard, Scotty Miller as a deep threat, and Tyler Johnson’s growth after flashing a lot in 2020, and Dallas’ new look defense will have their work cut out for it in Week 1.

Bucs WRs Chris Godwin and Mike Evans

Bucs WRs Chris Godwin and Mike Evans – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

The Cowboys revamped their secondary personnel this offseason, adding rookies Kelvin Joseph and Nahshon Wright in the second and third rounds, after picking up Damontae Kazee in free agency. Second-year corner Trevon Diggs will start at one cornerback spot, with the other spot looking like a battle between Joseph, Jourdan Lewis and Reggie Robinson. Kazee and an unknown will start at safety, with new addition Keanu Neal reportedly moving to linebacker.

Needless to say, a secondary with zero proven studs and a couple of first-time starters beginning the season against Tampa Bay’s onslaught of weapons would not be ideal for Dallas. The Cowboys may be more talented on the back end than they were a year ago, but it will take some time for the group to come together. Week 1 could be big for the Bucs pass-catching group.

3. Bucs RT Tristan Wirfs vs Cowboys DE Demarcus Lawrence

Ignore Lawrence’s 11.5 combined sacks over the past two years when looking at this match-up. Those numbers may be pedestrian, but put on Lawrence’s tape and you’ll see one of the best defensive ends in the NFL. Equally dominant against the run and the pass, Lawrence takes zero plays off and will physically and mentally try to break his opponent. In this case, his opponent might be the best right tackle in the NFL in Wirfs.

Heading into Week 1 last year, there was some trepidation for Wirfs match-up against Cam Jordan. But the rookie tackle handled the Saints’ star rusher, and he’ll look to do the same against Lawrence this year. The Cowboys’ best edge rusher wins primarily with his hands, so Wirfs will need to be on his toes and check Lawrence’s coveted counter moves. Not many individual match-ups this season will hold more potential intrigue than Wirfs vs. Lawrence.

4. Can Bucs Pass Rush Stay Dominant vs. Healthy Cowboys OL?

Dallas played most of last season without several key pieces on its offensive line, including left tackle Tyron Smith and right tackle La’El Collins. Both players should return for Week 1, and star lineman Zack Martin will move back to his best position of right guard. The question marks are Connor Williams at left guard and Tyler Biadasz as center. Those two will be charged with handling Vita Vea, which could be a tough match-up for Williams due to his lack of anchor in pass protection.

Smith against Jason Pierre-Paul will be a heavyweight match-up we’ve seen many times before, hearkening back to when JPP was a Giant. On the other side, Collins returns after not playing a single snap last year, drawing Shaq Barrett in Week 1. If Dallas can handle Tampa Bay’s edge rushers, it’ll allow the team to concentrate more help on protecting inside against Vea and defensive coordinator Todd Bowles’ A-gap blitzes.

5. Huge Test For Bucs’ Sean Murphy-Bunting

For most of last season, Bucs fans wanted nothing more than to see Murphy-Bunting benched. The sentiment was understandable, as Murphy-Bunting was consistently shelled during the regular season, reaching a low point in Week 15 against the Atlanta Falcons. Murphy-Bunting surrendered eight catches on nine targets for 131 yards and two touchdowns, suffering most of that production at the hands of Calvin Ridley.

Bucs CB Sean Murphy-Bunting

Bucs CB Sean Murphy-Bunting – Photo by: USA Today

But since that point Murphy-Bunting orchestrated a shocking turnaround, intercepting passes in three straight playoff games after barely touching the football all season. His performance in the postseason was a complete transformation from the player we saw in the regular season, which leaves us wondering what direction his career is heading in entering 2021.

We should get a strong indication right away, as Murphy-Bunting begins his third season with a healthy dose of Cowboys’ first round pick CeeDee Lamb. Lamb erupted onto the NFL scene as a rookie last year, catching 74 passes for 935 yards and five touchdowns while working mostly from the slot. He’s already a dynamic receiving threat with the look of a future No. 1 wide receiver in the NFL. Can SMB handle a premier playmaker one-on-one? We’ll find out in Week 1.

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About the Author: Jon Ledyard

Jon Ledyard is's newest Bucs beat writer and has experience covering the Pittsburgh Steelers as a beat writer and analyzing the NFL Draft for several draft websites, including The Draft Network. Follow Ledyard on Twitter at @LedyardNFLDraft
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30 days ago

No way the bucs lose this game barring freak injuries. Dallas has been consistently underwhelming for years and Dak has been known to feed off of bottom feeding defenses. I think this should be a great way to start the season and to shut up all the dallas fans who think their team is super bowl bound every year.

30 days ago

It’s true–SMB is scary and this will be a great test. I wish they’d drafted a corner. Why does SMB play in base defense instead of Dean?

30 days ago

.” two of the game’s best quarterbacks square off in Tom Brady and Dak Prescot….” So the author is saying Prescot is in the same category as Brady and is one of the games best quarterback?

Captain Sly
Reply to  Eddie
30 days ago

Somewhat hyperbolic but Dak has been amongst the top qbs in the league since he started.. Grand scheme of things I think the league got it right, The Cowboys rabid fan base vs TB and The World Champs. I would watch for no other reason than to see the 43 yr old Goat and a one legged Dak Prescott getting chased down by JPP and some guy named Shaq Barrett.

Reply to  Captain Sly
30 days ago

There was a time when the Cowboys were known as “America’s Team”. That was partly because they had won some Super Bowls and were seen as perennial contenders. They also had quality ownership, management, and a classy coach. They emphasized or at least projected high character standards as well.
They were a class organization and had fans all across the country as a result. That all changed over the years after Jones took over.
I see the Buccaneers as having the possibility of becoming the new America’s Team in the next few years.
Go Bucs!!!

Ron Potter
30 days ago

Who is Carlton Davis covering? It’s not like Dak Prescott is a slouch QB and can only throw to one person. The Cowboys offense should be a good test for our defense in general. If our defense can start the season off hot and dominate, I’ll feel better about our team’s undefeated aspirations. I’m not worried about our offense. Should I be? My fearless prediction is that Brady retires if we go undefeated and win the SB. His wife’s words about nothing left to prove and his words about trading 2 SB rings for an undefeated season ring loud to… Read more »

Buc on the Move
30 days ago

I think Zeke vs. last year’s #1 Rush Defense is a decent storyline in this one as well, and at least worth a mention in the O-lin/D-line conversations. If the Bucs D can’t stop the run well, then the SMB storylines might not really matter so much. The front 7 is the same, +1 year of age, which may not be super helpful for several of them.
Psyched for this matchup, having grown up in Texas, would love nothing more than a serious beatdown, causing the Cowgirls fans to start dumping on their team right out of the gate.

30 days ago

I’m going to have to take my binoculars to this game so I can look across the field to the visiting owner’s box to see the look on Jerry Jones’ oft lifted face as his over-hyped team takes an ass whipping on national TV. Dak might be back, but we’ve seen that Dan Quinn defense enough to know how to exploit it.

Bradenton BucFan
29 days ago

I do not like the Cowboys. I have enjoyed there fall from America’s team since the the old Hurricane coach blessed Jerry & Barry with rings. I want us to destroy them on Sept. 9 on national TV. They have not earned the right to play any reigning champ week 1. Obviously the league office has faith in there loyal fans still loving a loser like the idiot owner. Not to mention Jerry does not care about social justice, which is one in the same as hate.