2021 NFL Kickoff: What to watch for in Cowboys-Buccaneers

2021 NFL Kickoff: What to watch for in Cowboys-Buccaneers

8:20 p.m. ET (NBC) | Raymond James Stadium

It should come as no surprise that the NFL schedule makers pitted the defending Super Bowl champions against the traditional draw of the franchise known as “America’s Team” for its 2021 regular-season lid-lifter. After a preseason in which the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Dallas Cowboys combined for a dismal 1-6 record, and held back their star players with limited — if any — action, Thursday night will finally unveil what kind of engine both truly have under the hood to begin the 2021 campaign.

The matchup offers intrigue in droves, from the return of Keanu Neal‘>Keanu Neal into their starting linebacking corps to rave preseason reviews. Even veteran Jaylon Smith‘>Jaylon Smith, who hasn’t missed a regular season game for the Cowboys in the last four years. His play slipped significantly in 2020, however, which led to preseason trade speculation and questions about the value he can provide against a $63.75 million contract signed in 2019. The Cowboys, for now, are moving on with Smith in a backup role.

4) How will the Bucs deploy rookie Joe Tryon-Shoyinka? With two proven edge rushers in Jason Pierre-Paul‘>Jason Pierre-Paul already rostered, the Bucs used a first-round pick on another one in Joe Tryon-Shoyinka. He was everything the club could’ve hoped for in the preseason, and now the Bucs have the luxury of juggling the trio. Or will they? “There’s situations where I could see in the future, down the road, where we have all three of them out there,” coach Bruce Arians said in training camp. Down the road can mean a lot of things, and perhaps it won’t mean Week 1. But with Barrett and Pierre-Paul combining for 31 starts and 17.5 sacks in 2020, it will be intriguing to see who is sidelined when Tryon-Shoyinka gets his snaps against the Cowboys.

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