The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have set their sights on the playoffs. That feels a little unrealistic after a 40-7 loss, but it isn’t necessarily. The Arizona Cardinals are likely a very good team, and the Bucs put up a particularly poor but also unlucky performance — the kind of performance you tend to look back on as the worst single performance in an entire season.
In other words: it’s highly unlikely the Bucs are actually as bad as they seemed in Arizona, and they’re probably not going to play that poorly again. But we don’t quite how good they are, either.
That leaves the future in doubt. Over the next few weeks it’ll be a lot clearer — and if the Bucs don’t start winning really quickly, they’re likely to end the season losers again. That’s the conclusion we can draw from this FiveThirtyEight article by Benjamin Morris on wins and leverage.
Essentially, Morris makes the point that early season wins are the most predictive of final season rankings. After a few weeks, we already have a very good view of who the best and worst teams in the season are. And right now, that means if the Bucs don’t win soon, they’re almost certainly a bad team.
In other words, if the Bucs drop to 1-2, odds are that they will once again have a losing season. Drop to 1-3 or 1-4, which is hardly unlikely given the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers are up in week four and five, and the team will statistically average around four more wins the entire season.
Of course, these are just general indicators, and not actually predictive of anything. If the Bucs win on Sunday, they’ll have a win and we’ll have an indication that they’re a better team than the Rams. Those are valuable things — but a loss won’t suddenly make them a worse team, nor a win make them a better one.