Sunday marks the 15th meeting between the Cowboys and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, with the Cowboys holding an 11-3 advantage since the Bucs were brought into the NFL for the 1976 season. Dallas has won the last five meetings, with the three defeats all coming between 2000-03 when the Buccaneers were at or near the top of the NFL and the Cowboys were experimenting with the Quincy Carter era.
This trip certainly revolves around trying to secure the first Dallas victory in 56 days and to attempt to restore some hope in a 2015 season that has come off the rails.
To get that win, the Cowboys will have to deal with a Lovie Smith side that features youth throughout the roster, including the first pick in the 2015 draft, quarterback Jameis Winston, and an offense that also starts rookies at left tackle (Donovan Smith) and right guard (Ali Marpet).
Winston has a long way to go in his development but has raised his QB rating in just his second month as a starter from 71.2 in Weeks 1-4 to 99.1 in Weeks 5-8 by ceasing to throw interceptions. Besides the headline-grabbing QB from Florida State, here are three other elite talents on display for the Bucs:
DT Gerald McCoy
McCoy has been one of the best defensive tackles at his level since he was in high school in Oklahoma City. After a dominating career at Oklahoma, he was the third overall pick in the 2010 draft in Tampa. His NFL career was slow to dazzle, but once he adjusted to the professional ranks, he quickly was put in the mix among the best players at his position. His arsenal is loaded with elite attributes, and when he is in form he is unstoppable from the 3-technique spot without a double-team. This last month has seen slower production, but if there is one defender circled on the Scott Linehan game plan to account for, it is certainly McCoy.
LB Lavonte David
One of the finest linebackers in Nebraska history, David entered the NFL with major questions about his size (6-1, 233) and ability to adapt to the next level. Since that 2012 draft, in which he dropped to pick No. 58, there is only one player in the league who has more tackles (Carolina's Luke Kuechly), and David has even outperformed him in terms of sacks, stuffed runs and forced fumbles. His play in 2015 has not quite been to his lofty standards, but when it comes to the full body of work and the respect of the entire league, David is often referenced for his explosive tackles, decisive reads and anticipation and ideal prototypical skills at the Will linebacker position.
WR Mike Evans
The Texas A&M star was the seventh pick overall in 2014 and instantly proved to be the same dominating force in the NFL that he was in the SEC. He is simply too big (6-5, 233), too competitive and too athletic to slow down. At just 22, his game is a combination of jaw-dropping tough catches and frustrating drops on easier plays. He drops too many passes, and his catch percentage (the rate of catches per passes to him) is among the lowest of high-volume receivers. But when he does use his absurd catch radius to reel in another ball, he is nearly impossible to tackle in the open field and a force in the red zone. He is a real game-breaker, yet many believe he is only scratching the surface of his ability. The Cowboys' secondary will have its hands full with Winston looking to connect with Evans more than 10 times a game.