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Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Dallas Cowboys Point Spread - Pick

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-5 SU, 8-5 ATS) vs. Dallas Cowboys (11-2 SU, 9-4 ATS)
Week 15 NFL
Date/Time: Sunday Night Football, December 18, 2016 at 8:30PM EST
Where: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas
TV: NBC

By Loot, NFL Football Handicapper, Lootmeister.com

Betting Odds: TB +7/DAL -7
Over/Under Total: 46.5

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers come to AT&T Stadium to face the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday Night Football in key week 15 NFC action. The Bucs have won 5 straight games, enabling them to forge their way to a first-place tie in the NFC South with the Atlanta Falcons. This would truly be a huge win and allow them to approach the final stretch run with some confidence. Dallas has only lost to one team this whole season and on Sunday, they fell to the Giants again, also losing to them in week one. In the middle were 11 straight wins, as the Cowboys look to get back on the winning track this week at home against a surging Bucs team.

On Sunday, the Buccaneers scored a 16-11 win over the Saints. They're in pretty good shape at 8-5, but need to keep pace with the Falcons. In this five-game stretch, they've beaten good teams like the Chiefs on the road and the Seahawks. But a win over Dallas would really put some wind into their sails. The win over the Saints was a grind, with Tampa building a lead and hanging on, as New Orleans tried to chip away at it. And a defense that seemed off-key to begin the season has been far-more robust lately. Both sides of the ball have come along over the course of the season.

The Tampa Bay offense wasn't at its crispest on Sunday, despite earning the tough win. Jameis Winston didn't have his most-prolific game, but his performance has been key in getting this season turned around for Tampa. He has 12 picks on the season, but only three in his last nine games. He works well with targets Mike Evans, Cameron Brate, Adam Humphries (questionable), and Russell Shepard. Charles Sims, a versatile back, has worked his way back from injury and is ready to contribute. Doug Martin is slowly trying to come back after missing a lot of time and ran for Tampa's only score on Sunday. This offense isn't high-flying perhaps, but it does have balance and they deliver consistently, especially of late.

The Tampa defense and their improvement has been instrumental in Tampa going from 3-5 to 8-5. During this five-game winning streak, they have allowed a combined 64 points. That's usually going to be good enough. Guys like Robert Ayers, Noah Spence, and Gerald McCoy are applying a good pass rush. They picked off Drew Brees three times on Sunday and this defense has been making a lot of plays in the secondary. All told, they've secured 25 turnovers and they can make things happen, despite not always being that stout. But lately, they've been both stout and impactful, making a lot of positive contributions to the team cause.

We've seen this with a few different teams this season where they get off to a terrible start, only to revive their season against all odds. Tampa was looking pretty ragged after a 1-3 start, with two of those losses being blowouts and the other a close home loss to the Rams. Two straight wins righted the ship at 3-3, before back-to-back losses to Oakland and Atlanta where they allowed gobs of offense sent them to 3-5. Not a lot of people were terribly optimistic at that point, so to reel off five straight wins has taken a certain amount of inner-resolve.

Dallas lost to the Giants on Sunday Night Football, but still hold a 2-game divisional lead with just three games left. Even so, one would expect the Cowboys to be looking to get back on the winning track. After thriving so well in the first 12 games of the season, the last thing they need is a dip in their trajectory heading into the stretch run and then the playoffs. On one hand, it's hard to say much bad about a team coming off a 4-win season that just saw their 11-game winning streak end. By the same token, they've perhaps cooled down over the past month or so with some close games. After covering 9 of their first ten spreads, they haven't covered the spread in the last three games.

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The Dallas offense is still getting big performances from rookie back Ezekiel Elliott, the league's leading rusher at 1392 yards, with a better-than 250 yard lead on second place. Elliott has scored 15 touchdowns and has added a nice passing option for Dak Prescott. On Sunday, Prescott had his worst game of the season with two picks and just 165 yards passing. In the last three games, he hasn't surpassed 200 yards and looks to get the Dallas aerial game back on track. Cole Beasley and Dez Bryant have both made big contributions this season, along with Jason Witten and Terrance Williams. But with 22 combined points in their last two games, the offense looks to get things clicking a little better this week at home against Tampa.

The Dallas defense has been a big part of the winning equation this season, despite most of the attention going to Elliott and Prescott. Against the run, they've been very adept this season, ranked second in the league on just 83 yards allowed per game. On the season, they've given up just 18.3 points per game. They're getting good play up front, both with the pass-rush and the run-stop. The secondary has been exploitable at times this season, though they never really let Eli Manning get loose on Sunday. For however porous they may have been this season at times, they haven't allowed more than 30 points all season.

The Cowboys will likely be feeling a little urgency, now that's it clear they've hit an impasse that they don't want to spin out of control. But it's not going to be easy to separate the Bucs from this newfound inertia they worked so hard to get. I think the Bucs have enough going for them at this point to keep things within reach against the Cowboys. I'll take the Buccaneers.

Loot's Prediction to Cover the Point Spread: I'm betting on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers plus 7 points. Tired of your credit card not working for sportsbook deposit? End that problem today and bet the Tampa Bay vs. Dallas game from home by signing up at Bovada Sportsbook where your credit card WILL work and where you'll receive a generous 100% sign-up bonus!

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