As much focus on Dallas QB as on Tampa Bay’s 44-year-old

Sep 7, 2021, 11:15 PM | Updated: Sep 8, 2021, 11:54 am

Hey, he’s back!

No, not Tom Brady, who’s only 44 and as healthy as any NFL quarterback. Dak Prescott will be behind center for Dallas, returning from a gruesome ankle injury that derailed the 2020 season for the Cowboys.

There will be as much focus on Prescott on Thursday night when the schedule kicks off at Tampa as there will be on Brady.

“I’m definitely ready,” said Prescott, who sat out the preseason games with a shoulder issue. “I put in a lot of work to get to this point. Whether it was months ago, rehabbing the ankle, to the last few (weeks) keeping the feet working while I was letting my arm rest.”

At his age, many would be advising nothing but rest for Brady — as a retiree. That’s simply not him.

“I feel pretty good,” Brady said. “I feel like we have a great opportunity ahead of us and anytime you start the season and it’s the first game of the year, it’s pretty exciting.”

Important to bear in mind here is where this game very well could be decided: on defense. And that is a huge edge for the Bucs, who return all 22 starters from their Super Bowl team. Dallas had a historically inept unit last year and spent much of the draft in April trying to upgrade it.

FanDuel Sportsbook has the defending champions as a 7 1-2-point favorite. Pro Picks finds that low.

BUCCANEERS, 31-21

KNOCKOUT POOL: Upsets are common in Week 1, but we can’t see the RAMS, a contender in the NFC West, losing to Chicago, a likely pretender in the NFC North.

Chicago (plus 7) at Los Angeles Rams

Further proof we can’t see the Bears winning this prime-time match.

BEST BET: RAMS, 25-13

Minnesota (minus 3 1-2) at Cincinnati

Just don’t like what’s been coming out of the Vikings recently.

UPSET SPECIAL: BENGALS, 24-23

Green Bay (minus 4 1-2) vs. New Orleans at Jacksonville, Florida

Pro Picks liked Packers even before Hurricane Ida forced relocation of this one.

PACKERS, 27-20

Cleveland (plus 6 1-2) at Kansas City

Lots of folks forecast this as the AFC title preview. We’ll see. For now …

CHIEFS, 30-21

Pittsburgh (plus 6 1-2) at Buffalo

Big Ben’s last season — and last gasp for another title — might begin ignominiously.

BILLS, 33-23

Miami (plus 2 1-2) at New England

The (fruitless?) chase of the Bills begins now for the Dolphins and Patriots.

PATRIOTS 20-14

Jacksonville (minus 2 1-2) at Houston

Worst team of 2020 visiting likely worst team of 2021. Welcome to NFL, Trevor Lawrence.

JAGUARS, 17-13

Seattle (minus 2 1-2) at Indianapolis

Probably toughest game to handicap in Week 1. That Indy defense could be special.

COLTS, 18-16

Baltimore (minus 4 1-2) at Las Vegas, Monday night

At last, fans in the Raiders’ stadium for a real NFL game. Too bad it will be …

RAVENS, 26-20

New York Jets (plus 5) at Carolina

Gang Green’s D looks at opposing QB and says: “Hey, we know that guy.”

PANTHERS, 31-16

Arizona (plus 3) at Tennessee

Derrick Henry will be difference in lots of games this season, starting here.

TITANS, 27-21

Philadelphia (plus 3 1-2) at Atlanta

Not enamored of either team, so go with hosts and veteran QB,

FALCONS, 19-17

Los Angeles Chargers (minus 1) at Washington

Tough opener for Chargers, who could be a rising team.

WASHINGTON, 19-16

San Francisco (minus 7 1-2) at Detroit

Not such a tough opener for Niners.

49ERS, 33-17

Denver (minus 2 1-2) at New York Giants

Broncos look vastly improved, Giants only moderately so.

BRONCOS, 23-15

___

2020 RECORD

Season: Straight up: 176-91-1. Against spread: 133-117-8

Best Bet: Straight up: 14-5. Against spread: 10-9

Upset Special: Straight up: 8-10. Against spread: 8-8-2

___

More AP NFL coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

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As much focus on Dallas QB as on Tampa Bay’s 44-year-old