Nick Saylor, Staff Writer
Wide Receiver Mike Evans snags a one-handed touchdown against the Cowboys in Week 1. Photo//Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY Sports
The Wild Card Round of the 2023 NFL Playoffs concludes with the final matchup coming on Monday night between the Dallas Cowboys and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Dallas finished second in their division with a 12-5 record, good enough to grab the 5th seed in the NFC. This earned themselves the right to face the division champion with the worst record, Tampa Bay, who barely squeaked out a division title with a record of 8-9. Many of those wins came inside their own lackluster division as well.
While Dallas is arguably the better team, they will still have to get past the greatest quarterback of all time, Tom Brady. Brady, through all of his off-the-field drama, still managed to have one of the best statistical years of his career. Brady was 490/733 passing for a 66.8% completion rate, while throwing for 4,964 yards and 25 passing touchdowns.
With elite targets like Chris Godwin and Mike Evans to throw to, look out for Brady to continue to prove why he belongs in the playoffs.
Godwin and Evans have always been known as one of the more electric wide receiver duos in the NFL. While Evans was spotty throughout the season, Godwin was Brady's go-to weapon. Godwin’s efficient route running and speed helped him reel in 104 passes for 1023 yards and three touchdowns.
Evans, who is more of a big-play receiver, was inconsistent throughout the season at times. Evans did catch fire late in the season, as he racked up a whopping 207 yards and three touchdowns in Week 17. With Brady's playoff experience, Godwin’s consistency, and Evans’ big time play ability, this passing offense should be primed and ready to go.
Tampa’s running back, Leonard Fournette, will also play a huge role. The Bucs are the 32nd ranked team in rushing offense this year, but Fournette has been more geared towards pass catching. Look for him to be a factor in the passing game more than he will be on the ground.
Cowboys running back Tony Pollard delivers a solid run against the Commanders. Photo//Brad Mills/USA TODAY Sports
As for the Cowboys, QB Dak Prescott is looking to get over the hump and advance deep into the playoffs. Prescott had an injury-plagued year as a hand injury sidelined him for six games.
Quarterback Cooper Rush filled in with five wins to help the Cowboys, but Prescott had a great year in the 11 games played. Prescott completed 261/394 passes, which was good for 66.2%, while throwing for 2860 yards and 23 passing touchdowns.
Prescott has no lack of highly-skilled position players, as Dallas has one of the best running back tandems in the league in the veteran Ezekiel Elliot and young gun Tony Pollard. Both of these backs compliment each other very well and fit into Dallas’s offense perfectly.
Pollard, who has been the featured back in the second half of the season, has had a breakout year. Pollard received more snaps in the latter half where he produced 1,007 rushing yards and nine rushing touchdowns.
Along with running, Pollard also is featured as the pass catching back. Pollard grabbed 39 receptions for 371 yards and three touchdowns. Meanwhile, his teammate Elliot has been putting up decent numbers as well. Elliot has complimented Pollard well with 876 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns. Elliot is featured in the red zone often, as he is more physical than Pollard.
Along with great running, Dallas has a great core of receivers, led by the former Oklahoma standout CeeDee Lamb. Lamb has been Prescott's number one target and a go-to receiver all year. Lamb caught 107 passes for 1,359 yards and nine touchdowns this season. He has boggled the minds of defensive coordinators looking to stop his production.
Meanwhile, tight end Dalton Schultz has flown under the radar, as all of the attention has been put on Lamb. Schultz quietly caught 57 passes for 577 yards and five touchdowns. As the season progressed, Schultz was used more in the red zone. Look out for Schultz to find the end zone again tonight as he looks to stay hot.
The tale of the tape shows that tonight will be a very high scoring back-and-forth affair. As the NFL playoffs have shown us already, anything can happen. As for predictions for this game, I predict that it will be a close one, as both teams are experienced and well conditioned. They will certainly be ready.
When the dust settles, I believe that Tom Brady will end up leading the Bucs to a 28-24 victory. Dallas will undoubtedly put up a great fight, but at the end of the day, Brady will prevail, and the Buccaneers will advance to the next round.
The winner will advance to the Divisional Round and play away against the (2) San Francisco 49ers, who took care of the Seattle Seahawks on Saturday night.