The Washington Football Team is still a few days away from beginning its season, but the NFL kicks off its 102nd season on Thursday night with the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers hosting the Dallas Cowboys.
While Washington won't be playing on Thursday night on NBC, there are several things fans of the Burgundy and Gold should keep an eye on during Cowboys-Buccaneers.
Washington plays both teams at a later point this season (Dallas twice), so there will certainly be cadences and other things to pick up from Thursday's night's Week 1 matchup.
Here are three things for Washington fans to look for in Cowboys-Buccaneers...
How does Dak Prescott look?
This one seems obvious, but it's undoubtedly the biggest thing Washington fans will be looking for during Thursday night's game.
The Cowboys star quarterback played in just five games in 2020 after a gruesome ankle injury prematurely ended his season. Prescott missed both games against Washington -- both Cowboys losses -- as Ron Rivera's club went on to win its first NFC East title in five seasons.
How Prescott looks coming off the ankle injury isn't the only thing to look out for with the QB, either. The Cowboys star missed the bulk of training camp with a shoulder injury and has had just over a week of practice since returning. He didn't play in any preseason games and has not faced live-action in 23 months. How he holds up in his first game back is certainly worth keeping an eye on.
For his career, Prescott has a 7-1 record against Washington with 13 passing touchdowns to just one interception. It's no coincidence that Washington swept Dallas for the first time in eight years last season, a campaign that Prescott missed both contests in.
Washington and Dallas figure to be the two teams contending for the NFC East title in 2021. How Prescott looks will go a long way in determining the winner of that race.
Did the Cowboys' defense improve at all?
Last year, even before Prescott got injured, Dallas was significantly handicapped by its record-breaking horrific defense. They finished the season giving up nearly 30 points per game, the fifth-worst mark in the NFL. No team will ever contend with that poor of a defensive unit.
This offseason, head coach Mike McCarthy hired Dan Quinn as his defensive coordinator. Dallas also used its first-round pick on Penn State's Micah Parsons, the consensus top linebacker in the 2021 NFL Draft. Parsons is also the betting favorite to win Defensive Rookie of the Year.
With the additions Dallas has made to its defense this offseason, the unit should be better than it was last year. Of course, the bar is low, but if Dallas' defense is even remotely average, they'll be a tough squad to beat in 2021.
Quinn's unit gets a difficult test right off the bat in Week 1. The Buccaneers offense is one of the deepest and most talented units in all of football. Headlined by Tom Brady, Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown, Tampa returned all 11 starters from one year ago and figures to have one of the best groups once again.
Thursday night's game will be a great measuring point for Dallas as to how much better its defense got this offseason.
Devin White's impact
Last year, Taylor Heinicke turned into a playoff hero for Washington as he narrowly led WFT to an upset victory over Tampa Bay in the Wild Card round. While Heinicke's performance was exceptional, there was one key thing missing from Tampa's defense: star Devin White.
White missed last year's playoff game with COVID-19, but returned the following week and was Tampa Bay's best defensive player the rest of the playoffs. Without him, one could easily argue the Buccaneers wouldn't have beaten New Orleans or Green Bay the two following weeks.
The hype around White is exceptionally high right now, considering he's entering his pivotal third year after an all-around spectacular playoff run. The Bucs defense is projected to be one of the league's best, and White is a big reason why.
The Buccaneers defense returned all 11 defensive starters from 2020 and retained defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, meaning there shouldn't be much of a learning curve to begin this season. Expect Bowles' unit to come out firing on Thursday with White playing a major role.