Brace yourselves, ladies and gentlemen. There’s a real NFL game on the tube for your viewing pleasure on Thursday evening. I know, I know! Calm down! *Hyperventilates*
We finally made it!
The Dallas Cowboys and Tampa Bay Buccaneers will kick off the 2021 season in primetime fashion on Thursday night. America’s Team versus the defending Super Bowl Champions. Tom Brady versus Dak Prescott. Mike Evans and Chris Godwin versus Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb. Ohhhhhh baby.
Of course, those players won’t line up directly across from one another, but there are several intriguing one-vs-one matchups that will take place when these two teams take the field. Here are three heavyweight battles we’re particularly excited to monitor.
DEMARCUS LAWRENCE VS. TRISTAN WIRFS
Could I start with anything else? This is the premier matchup of the night. Football nerds (raise your hand if you’re with me) all over the nation will be paying close attention to this one.
Wirfs’ rookie campaign was truly a sight to behold. He played 100% of the team’s offensive snaps at right tackle and allowed just one sack all season (Khalil Mack got him). Lawrence didn’t step on the field during the preseason as he continued to recover from offseason back surgery, but Lawrence has been a full-go at practice in recent weeks and should give Wirfs all he can handle on Thursday night.
Wirfs has the athletic talent and traits to stifle any rusher he lines up across from. He proved that a year ago. Lawrence has the pedigree and toolbox to challenge any and every tackle in the NFL. Lawrence’s sack numbers have been down in recent years, but once you stop box score scouting and turn the tape on, you’ll quickly realize he’s still one of the best pass rushers in the league.
We. Can’t. Wait.
NDAMUKONG SUH VS. CONNOR MCGOVERN
Yikes. This one does not favor the Cowboys on paper. Unfortunately for Dallas, six-time Pro Bowl right guard Zack Martin will miss this contest after being placed on the Reserve-Covid list earlier this week.
Truthfully, all three of Dallas’ interior offensive linemen (McGovern, Connor Williams, and Tyler Biadasz) will have their hands full with the likes of Suh and Vita Vea, but McGovern is the one that’s expected to step into Martin’s shoes on Thursday night. Suh is the Buccaneers’ defender that spent the most time lined up over the right guard last season. McGovern has proven to be a capable backup, but he’s no Martin. You just can’t replace a talent like that. Suh is licking his chops right now.
MIKE EVANS VS. TREVON DIGGS
I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say second-year cornerback Trevon Diggs will face a stiff test on Thursday night. Diggs is expected to line up across the opponent's No. 1 receiver in 2021, just as he did a year ago. In this contest, that means Diggs will square off with the elite talent that is Evans.
Diggs had his ups and downs in 2020, as most rookie cornerbacks do. He surrendered 45 receptions on 76 targets while earning a respectable coverage grade of 63.9, per PFF. Considering what Dallas put on his plate as a rookie, they should be thrilled with the early return.
Evans is coming off of his seventh-straight 1,000-yard season. The 6-foot-5 Evans appears poised to make it eight in a row in what is sure to be another dominant season for the Buccaneers offense.
Covering Evans on Thursday evening will serve as an excellent measuring stick for Diggs.