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Dallas Cowboys vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers Preview and Pick

NOTE: If you're looking for the 2012 NFL Week 3 matchup between these teams, you can find that right here: Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Dallas Cowboys Pick

Dallas Cowboys (7-6 SU, 4-8-1 ATS) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-9 SU, 4-9 ATS), Saturday December 17th, 2011. 8:20PM EST. NFL Football Week 15 Raymond James Stadium Tampa, Fla
By Jay Horne, Pro Football Handicapper, Predictem.com

Point Spread: Dal -6.5/TB +6.5
Over/Under Total: 46.5

Bet the Pokes/Bucs game at an online sportsbook where your credit card WILL work for deposits: BetOnline.

The Dallas Cowboys blew a 34-22 lead with less than 5 minutes to go last Sunday night and allowed the New York Giants to score two late touchdowns to take the lead. Still, the Cowboys had a chance to tie the game and force overtime but Dan Bailey's 47 yard field goal was blocked in the final seconds of the game. It was the 2nd straight week a missed field goal was the cause of defeat, but it was also the 2nd straight week the Cowboys blew a late 4th quarter lead.

Now the 7-6 Cowboys are tied with New York for the lead in the NFC East while the Giants hold the head to head tie breaker. However, Dallas faces an uphill challenge over the next few weeks to try an overcome the Giants and earn a spot in the postseason. That uphill challenge starts this Saturday night with a road trip to Raymond James Stadium to battle the 4-9 Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Tampa Bay on the other hand is facing more problems than the Cowboys if that is even possible. The Buccaneers have dropped 7 straight games and were completely embarrassed by Jacksonville last week 41-14. The Buccaneers coughed up 7 different turnovers in that embarrassing performance. Turnovers have been a catalyst for Tampa Bay all season as they are currently sport a -10 turnover margin on the year.

One of the major problems remains with QB Josh Freeman. Freeman closed out the 2010 season with a lot of momentum and a lot of lofty expectations were made for the Tampa Bay quarterback in 2011. However, Freeman has failed to deliver completing just 61% passing for 2,896 yards with 12 scores and an NFL leading 18 interceptions.

The Buccaneers have some solid targets in the passing game in WR Mike Williams and TE Kellen Winslow. The two receiving targets have combined for 1,300 yards this season with 5 scores. Those numbers would possibly been relatively higher if not for the passing struggles with Freeman. Those passing struggles have really been the forefront of the Buccaneers concerns in the last few weeks as Freeman has tossed 8 picks in his last 4 games alone.

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Of course over the last few weeks, Tampa Bay has had to throw the ball a lot more because they fell behind so quickly in their games against Jacksonville and Carolina. However before those games, the Buccaneers played both the Packers and Titans very close by running the football effectively. 2nd year running back LaGarrette Blount carried the ball nearly 20 times in both of those games resulting in more than 100 yards rushing in both of those games. Due to the passing struggles, Blount will likely be Tampa Bay's best weapon of choice when they attempt to take down the Cowboys this Saturday night.

For the Cowboys offense, their success will ride on the arm of QB Tony Romo now that running back DeMarco Murray is out for the season. Murray fractured his ankle in the loss to the Giants and is done for the season. Running back Felix Jones will fill in for Murray. Jones has had some bright moments this year running the football and putting together 413 yards on the season. Still, Jones has not been that every down threat that the Cowboys need in the running game. Therefore, the offense will ride on QB Tony Romo who is having a solid season completing 64.9% passing for 3,646 yards with 26 touchdowns and 9 picks. Romo has received some heat in the last few weeks for missing some big passes late in games despite an overall solid performance. As the Cowboys were trying to put away the Giants last week in the final 2 minutes, Romo overthrew a wide open Miles Austin which would have resulted in a sure touchdown. It is those type of missed opportunities to come back to haunt you and what a lot of media will remember in those close losses.

Still, the Cowboys have been very effective in the passing game with Romo at the helm. WR Dez Bryant is the most talented receiver in the receiving core, but I'm still not convinced Bryant is 100% healthy after being hampered by a hamstring injury all season. Bryant has caught just 15 passes in the last 4 games and just does not look at full speed.

The good news is WR Laurent Robinson is really making headway in recent weeks and has a chance to break the 1,000 yard receiving barrier on the season. Robinson caught 4 passes for 137 yards with 1 touchdown in the loss against the Giants and he is quickly becoming a lethal target in the opponent's secondary. This week the talented Cowboys passing attack will try to foil a Tampa Bay pass defense that has been rather bad this season giving up 249 yards per game through the air. If Dallas can keep the ball moving through the air, it will be hard for that struggling Tampa Bay offense to keep pace.

Jay's Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Teams that have suffered blowout losses have bounced back the following week fairly regularly this season in the NFL and you have to expect Tampa Bay to give a similar effort. I liked the Cowboys initially looking at this game, but history does not vindicate that lean. The Buccaneers are 7-1 ATS in games following a 20 point defeat and the Cowboys are 0-5 ATS over the last two seasons as more than 6.5 point favorites. Therefore, I am going to stay away from the side but I do also like the under 46.5 expecting the Buccaneers defense to keep this low scoring after struggling the last several weeks along with the idea that Dallas will struggle to run the football effective. Take the under 46.5.

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