The Carolina Panthers aren’t necessarily a team you would expect to decline, except for the whole Super Bowl loser hangover thing, which tends to happen every once in a while. But according to ESPN’s Bill Barnwell, they’re one of the most-likely teams to lose a lot more games than they did last year. And that’s good news for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Panthers had a lot of things go their way last year: they massively outperformed their Pythagorean Wins (a projection based on point differential), they went an unsustainable 6-1 in close games, had the best turnover margin in the NFL, and allowed the fewest defensive touchdowns. Those were all good things for them last year, but these are not accomplishments that carry over from one year to the next. Generally speaking, teams tend to regress toward the mean in every one of those categories — meaning bad teams get better and good teams get worse — and the Panthers were at the extreme end of all of them.
Meanwhile, the Bucs are not projected to improve by much, for once. Usually they’re one of the top candidates to get better: they’ve tended to lose a lot of close games and have a terrible turnover ratio in recent years. Last year, it did lead to an improvement — but a four-game bump after a 2-14 season isn’t exactly inspiring. This year, the Bucs are looking for another four-game bump, but Barnwell’s collection of statistics don’t suggest that will happen. One point that will hurt them significantly: they had one of the easiest schedules in the NFL last year, and will have one of the tougher ones this season. That alone could delay
Still, a Carolina decline would put the division into play, and the Bucs could do with winning the NFC South for the first time in nearly a decade. With the Saints and Falcons both coming off consecutive poor seasons, the Bucs could end up being the best team after all.