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Why the NFL Kickoff Game against Tampa Bay is unlikely for the Cowboys

The NFL will release the 2021 schedule on Wednesday and the Dallas Cowboys could be in line to play in the Kickoff Game against reigning champion Tampa Bay.

DALLAS — The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are almost certainly going to open the NFL regular season on Thursday, Sept. 9 at Raymond James Stadium, the site of Super Bowl LV where the NFC South club won its second world championship in NFL history.

What does that have to do with the Dallas Cowboys? Everything and nothing.

The everything is that longtime NFL writer Peter King speculated that it could be the Buffalo Bills or the Dallas Cowboys who face the champions in the NFL opener. 

The prima facie arguments are sensible. The Bills were one game away from qualifying for the Super Bowl themselves, but could not get past the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game. The NFL tends to book "could have been" games in their Week 1 primetime slots to commence the regular season. Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady going against a former division rival in the Bills would be a fascinating matchup.

Of course, the Cowboys are included in the conversation for obvious reasons — some more obvious than others. According to King, presuming quarterback Dak Prescott is fully recovered from his season-ending leg injury sustained on Oct. 11, 2020, the Cowboys would have enough offensive firepower to match Brady and the Bucs. Although it would not have the element of a possible 2020 playoff matchup or rematch, it could be a September preview of January delights should both teams meet in the postseason.

The nothing, however, is the fact that the NFL doesn’t usually opt to put the Cowboys in when it comes to the Thursday night NFL kickoff. Since its 2002 institution, there was only one instance where the Cowboys appeared, and it wasn't even a Thursday.

In 2012, the NFL kicked its Thursday night opener to a Wednesday night as the first week of the NFL season was amid the Democratic National Convention and President Barack Obama was going to accept the party's nomination for reelection. Even if the party convention weren't a factor, Peyton Manning playing for the Denver Broncos was. Because the New York Giants had won the Super Bowl the previous season, they were the hosts to kickoff the 2012 NFL season. However, the Broncos weren't scheduled to play the Giants until 2013. 

The NFL wasn't going to move their Super Bowl champs home opener out of the Thursday night time slot and cost a chance to allow Manning to make his Denver debut against the Pittsburgh Steelers in primetime. Therefore, it was easier to put the Cowboys, who the NFL normally saves for the Sunday night time slot in Week 1, in the "Thursday" opener and move Manning to Sunday night.

In general, the NFL likes to leave the Cowboys alone the first week of the season anyway. Since 1996, Dallas has played in 10 primetime games in Week 1. Eight of them have been on Sunday night with the lone outliers in 1996 on Monday night and in 2012 on the aforementioned odd Wednesday night opener. 

In 2006, the NFL's television packages switched around, sending the primetime game of the week to NBC Sunday Night Football. This created a new order. From 1996-2006, the Cowboys played in two primetime games in Week 1. Since 2007, Dallas has appeared in eight Week 1 primetime matchups and the most common opponent is the Giants with five. 

King is correct that the NFL will be looking for a big showdown to kickoff the regular season. However, it would behoove the league to stick to an old formula that works and allow the Cowboys to anchor the Sunday night action and let the defending Super Bowl champs duke it out with a contender from last season.

Would you like to see the Cowboys open the season against Tom Brady and the champion Buccaneers? Share your thoughts with Mark on Twitter @therealmarklane.