Thursday Night Football Predictions Week 1: TNF Picks & Cowboys vs Buccaneers Best Bets

Last Updated: Jan 9, 2023

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The 2021 NFL regular season is right around the corner. While I know we are still in early August, it is never too early to prepare for the season opener. After all, a fast, winning start will set the tone for the rest of your NFL betting campaign.

At Raymond James Stadium on Thursday, September 9 at 8:20 p.m. ET, the Buccaneers will host the Dallas Cowboys, a team looking to return to championship prowess for the first time in nearly 25 years.

TNF Best Bet: Buccaneers (-375) at BetRivers

For in-depth analysis, read on…

Thursday Night Football Prediction Week 1

We must have heard this narrative umpteenth times this offseason. However, it is difficult to gloss over. In unprecedented fashion, the Buccaneers will return all of their starters from last year’s Super Bowl team.

Moreover, they managed to not only retain depth players as well but also bring in additional assets through free agency and the 2021 NFL Draft. To say that the Buccaneers are easily the best team in the NFL is an understatement. Sorry Chiefs fans.

Meanwhile, the Cowboys are coming off of a season to forget. The 2020 Dallas Cowboys could have been something special. However, injuries and poor coaching hires (like former Defensive Coordinator Mike Nolan) derailed them.

It wasn’t only the loss of QB Dak Prescott for 11.5 games, either. Injuries along the offensive line (Tyron Smith, La’el Collins, Zack Martin), as well as on defense (Gerald McCoy, Leighton Vander Esch) didn’t help their cause either.

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Although the Buccaneers appear to bring the superior team, I am not yet ready to count out the Cowboys on the road. The Buccaneers managed to make Patrick Mahomes’ life a living nightmare for 60 minutes in the Super Bowl because of the Chiefs’ ailing offensive front.

However, barring injury between the time of this writing and the regular-season opener, the Cowboys will be returning their studs on the line healthy, which will likely minimize the impact of a Tampa Bay defense that ended 2020 with 48 sacks, fourth-most in the NFL.

We must remember that when the Dallas offensive line is healthy and intact, they are a top-five unit, which will allow Prescott time to find open pass catchers in the field. And this is reflected in the NFL gameday odds.

Even if Prescott is pressured, he is a mobile quarterback. Despite coming off of a season-ending ankle injury, the ailment is said to be fully healed. Prescott will be at full strength and mobile.

If the Buccaneers’ defense, which yielded the eighth fewest points per game (22.2) last season has a weakness, it is defending the pass. The Buccaneers surrendered the 12th-most passing yards per game in 2020 (246.6). If the Cowboys are going to have a chance to win on the Thursday Night Football 2021 season opener, Prescott and his offense must be at the top of their game.

For Tampa Bay, they will get a Dallas defense coming off of a horrendous 2020 showing. The 2020 Cowboys defense surrendered the fifth most PPG (29.6) and the 10th-most total yards per game (386.4).

While the Dallas secondary was a serviceable top 11 unit in yards per game, they were run on at will. The Cowboys’ front seven allowed the second-most rushing yards per outing (158.8 yards per game).

The Cowboys ousted Nolan and brought in Dan Quinn as their new defensive coordinator. While Quinn failed as an NFL head coach, he is one of the best defensive coordinators in recent memory.

As a pure defensive coordinator without also handling head-coaching responsibilities, Quinn fielded back-to-back No. 1 defenses in total yards and total points back in the 2013 and 2014 campaigns with the Seahawks.

In those two seasons, Quinn’s defense helped lead Seattle to consecutive Super Bowl appearances including one championship victory.

To aid Quinn, the Cowboys also spent their first six picks in the 2021 NFL Draft on defensive assets, including stud LB Micah Parsons, who some tout as the best defensive player in the class.

Quinn won’t completely turn around the Cowboys’ defense in year one, but it should improve enough to give teams fits in 2021. It could begin with the Buccaneers in Week 1.

Quinn isn’t new to Buccaneers QB Tom Brady either. They’ve faced off against each other in two Super Bowls in which Brady’s Patriots were victorious. However, for the majority of both of those games, Quinn had the upper hand in stifling the GOAT.

In the first three-quarters of both of those Super Bowls — six total quarters — Quinn’s defense held Brady to 418 yards with three touchdowns, three interceptions, and 23 total points. In the fourth quarter and overtime of those two matchups, however, Brady did what Brady does. Brady led his offenses to 376 passing yards with three touchdowns, no picks, and 39 points scored in those three periods.

If the Cowboys can manage to put points on the board while minimizing turnovers early and Quinn and contain Brady as we have seen him do in the past, the Cowboys have a terrific chance in pulling off the Week 1 upset special. Still, I am not sure it will be enough.

Brady is 14-4 in NFL season openers with only one of those defeats coming following a Super Bowl victory in the previous year.

TNF Pick: Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31, Dallas Cowboys 27

Thursday Night Football Best Bets Week 1

TNF Best Bet: Over 51.5 (-110) at BetMGM

The Thursday Night Football 2021 NFL season opener between the Buccaneers and Cowboys will feature two teams that can score the football.

While the Cowboys had the 17th best offense at a 24.7 PPG rate on the season in 2020, they averaged 32.6 PPG in the five games in which Dak Prescott started, which would have been the best in the NFL if they kept that up for 16 games.

Tampa Bay wasn’t very far behind, averaging the third-most PPG (30.8). Although both teams pack a punch, the Cowboys’ defense will make it much easier on the Buccaneers to score the football compared to the other way around.

The Buccaneers’ defense surrendered the eighth fewest PPG (22.2) while Dallas’ unit allowed the fifth-most (29.6).

Despite the fact that the Buccaneers have the superior defense in terms of points allowed and at stuffing the run, their handicap is containing enemy passers.

Tampa Bay’s secondary allowed the 12th most passing yards per game (246.6). If the Buccaneers’ let Prescott pass all over them, he will also find a way to put points on the board, which bodes well for the over.

I anticipate both offenses to come out firing in a punch-for-punch boxing match type of game. However, if/when the Buccaneers jump off to a lead, the Cowboys and Prescott are terrific in playing from a negative game script and keeping the game within reach, which is why taking the over is my NFL bet of the day.

  • The Over was 9-7 in the Cowboys’ 16 games played in 2020.
  • The Over is 4-0 in Dallas’ past four games.
  • The Over is 4-1 in the Cowboys’ past five games facing NFC foes.
  • The Over is 4-1 in the past five games that Tampa Bay has played in Week 1.
  • The Over is 8-2 in Tampa Bay’s last 10 games as a home favorite.
  • The Cowboys and their foes combined to score a total of 51.5+ points in 8-of-16 games played in 2020
Tom Brady, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Feb 4, 2020; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) against the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

TNF Best Bet: Tampa Bay Moneyline (-375) at BetRivers

I really want to make a case for the Cowboys to come out of the season opener victorious and begin 2021 on a high note. However, I don’t see it happening facing Tom Brady’s Buccaneers.

When it is all said and done, it will come down to defense. As high-octane as both offenses in this game are, eventually, someone’s defense will have to make a stop in the fourth quarter. I trust Todd Bowles’ unit more than I trust Dan Quinn’s defense in his first game as Cowboys defensive coordinator.

Opportunity knocks right? Or at least, opportunistic people do. And speaking of the opportunistic. The Buccaneers had a (+8) turnover differential, good for sixth-best in the NFL. The Cowboys, not so much.

Dallas managed a (-3) differential including the fifth-most giveaways (26) in the NFL. Tampa Bay had the sixth most takeaways (25), which will be the difference in the game.

  • The Cowboys were 2-6 as Underdogs in 2020.
  • The Buccaneers were 10-3 as Favorites in 2020.
  • The Buccaneers are 9-0 in their past nine games.
  • The Cowboys are 7-1 in their past eight games against the Buccaneers but have not played them since 2018. This is Brady’s Bucs.

TNF Best Bet: Cowboys +8 (-110) at BetMGM

While I like the Buccaneers to win the game outright, I do see the Cowboys keeping it close. This will be a see-saw battle full of fireworks, but in the end, Tampa Bay’s defense will make the play that will seal their fate as victors.

It will be a close encounter though. The Cowboys will not win but they will cover and show vast improvement compared to 2020.

  • While the Cowboys were 5-11 against the spread last season, they were 5-3 ATS in their last eight games. Once they learned to weather the injury storm, the Cowboys kept games closer.
  • The Buccaneers are 7-3 in their past nine games ATS, failing to cover the last time they played an NFC East foe (WFT).
  • The Cowboys are 4-4 ATS in their past eight games against the Buccaneers, failing to cover in each of their past four outings.

Thanks for reading our Buccaneers vs Cowboys Thursday Night Football Week 1 Predictions & Best Bets!


Anthony Cervino

Anthony Cervino is an NFL Writer and Betting Analyst for The Game Day. He is also a lifelong NFL savant and self-proclaimed league historian. In the industry, Anthony has excelled in both the fantasy football and sports betting space with fantasy his proverbial bread and butter. Anthony has made appearances on SiriusXM, amongst other publications. He is also the co-creator of the FF Faceoff (Faceoff Sports Network) and the FF Faceoff Mental Health Podathon partnered with the Hayden Hurst Foundation. Industry Clout: 15th most accurate ranker in the FantasyPros ECR for both draft and in-season accuracy (2019) | 8th most accurate ranker in the FantasyPros ECR for sleepers (2020) | 13th most accurate ranker in the FantasyPros ECR for in-season accuracy, including 2nd at quarterback and 3rd at tight end (2021).

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