The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were the worst team in the league last year. That's why they got the opportunity to draft Jameis Winston -- and it's why they now think they're poised for a massive turnaround. That's something we hear every year, but this time they're not alone: Grantland's Bill Barnwell penned a massive column going over a slew of quantitative and qualitative reasons as to why the Bucs should be much better this year. I've summarized most of these points below, but make sure to read his column -- there's a lot of good stuff in there.
The Bucs were better than their record last year
Barnwell uses the concept of Pythagorean Wins, a measure derived from point differential, to approximate a team's true quality. By that measure, the Bucs should have had 2.5 more wins last year than they did. That alone is not a massive improvement -- 4.5 wins still isn't very much -- but it's a very strong indicator that the Bucs will be better. According to Barnwell, the last 18 teams to score two to three fewer wins than their Pythagorean Wins all improved, and the same is true for 50 of 62 such teams since the NFL instituted a 16-game schedule.
The Bucs lost a lot of close games
Losing close games is frustrating, and no team was as frustrated as the Buccaneers last year. They found new ways to lose games seemingly every week, and the losses came in increasingly absurd fashion -- a ten-second runoff due to a Mike Evans injury, a game-winning field goal attempt taken off the board because they had too many men on the field and a fumble-six in overtime off Austin Seferian-Jenkins' hands take the cake.
But those kinds of things are flukes, and they don't carry over from one season to the next unless you're the Cleveland Browns. Barnwell notes that the Bucs were the 20th team since 1990 to lose eight or more one-score games. The 19 previous teams collectively improved from 38-155 in one-score games, to 70-72 in their follow-up seasons. They improved by 3.5 wins on average.
An easy schedule
According to Barnwell and every projection I've seen, the Bucs are set to have one of the easiest schedules in the NFL. Of course, they had one of the easiest schedules in the NFL last year too, so that doesn't necessarily say all that much.
New quarterbacks help
Changing quarterbacks often drives a change in team's fortunes, but Barnwell points out something we usually miss there: you don't need a great quarterback to see an improvement. In fact, a Derek Anderson, Matt Cassel or Ryan Fitzpatrick can be just as helpful. Jameis Winston doesn't need to have Matt Ryan's rookie season to still drive a significant improvement.
Of course, the fact that a solid quarterback can be good enough to buoy a team's hopes is why I thought Josh McCown could probably pilot the Bucs to a winning season last year with enough help. Whoops.
Koetter has a history of NFL success with a variety of quarterbacks (except for guys named Blaine Gabbert), and there's no reason to believe he'll have to miss the entire system due to heart surgery. Pretty massive improvement, that.
We've gone over this quite a bit, but the Bucs were much better on defense over the second half of last season, when the players were acclimated to the system. That improvement should continue this year -- just as it did from year one to year two in Chicago.
Be skeptical, because this is something we say every year. Barnwell makes the case that this year is different -- mostly, it's the strongest statistical case for the Bucs' improvement. But we've seen this song-and-dance before, and even when the Bucs have improved over the past decade, they were never a truly good team. They always fell short of their goals. The Bucs should be a better team than they were last year -- they'd have to be, really -- but that doesn't mean they'll actually be any good.