The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have done an outstanding job of getting their fans to believe in the team this offseason. From PR efforts to genuine good deeds to signing big-name free agents and at least giving the appearance of having a disciplined team, the Bucs appear well on the way to turning around their team. But it's not just the Tampa fans who believe that - some in the national media think the Bucs can go a long way this season. One of those people is Bill Barnwell over at Grantland. In his most recent article he points to a few statistical trends that suggest the Bucs could take a few big steps this season.
First, there's a simple fact that a team that changes its win total from one year to the next dramatically is likely to experience some regression to the mean, and re-join the mass of football mediocrity the following year.
Of course, the Buccaneers were producing shifts that were twice as dramatic; instead of returning to the middle of the pack, they were pinballing to and from the top and bottom as fast as any team in NFL history. Some of that is simple randomness, but there are a couple of notable factors that come into play. One obvious factor is strength of schedule. In 2010, the Buccaneers played a bunch of cream puffs, winning 10 games without beating a competent team with anything to play for by more than a touchdown. Last year, the Buccaneers got stuck with a brutal slate that included an improved NFC South and North and placement games versus the 49ers and Cowboys.1 Football Outsiders estimates that the Bucs had the second-toughest schedule in the NFL last season.
So, mediocrity isn't too appealing. But a lot of things that happened last year were rather unique and unlikely to repeat. One of them: the ridiculous amount of turnovers the Bucs had last season:
And hey, maybe they could force some more takeaways in the process, too! Despite ranking fifth in the league with a plus-9 turnover margin in 2010, the Buccaneers had a league-worst figure of minus-16 last year. They're the anti-Niners!3 Teams that have had a turnover margin between minus-15 and minus-20 have usually corrected that problem very quickly; since 1983, those teams have improved their turnover margins by an average of just under 17 turnovers in the subsequent season. They've also won an average of two games more than they had during the turnover-addled season.
Josh Freeman's interceptions were a big part of that, and those are expected to decline - at least, Barnwell expects that to happen.
I'd advise you to read the entire article, because there's a lot of interesting information and insight in there.