However, the Bucs are better than a whole lot of playoff teams that have since been eliminated. We can make that case intuitively, in terms of quality of play and late-season wins. Or we can just look at Football Outsiders’ rankings of weighted DVOA, updated for the conference championship games.
The Bucs are ranked 12th there, as opposed to 22nd on the year-long DVOA rankings. The defense is ranked eighth, while the year-long defense is ranked 12th. The offense is ranked 16th, versus 18th over the season as a whole.
Those are really significant jumps in quality. And while there’s little evidence that late-season performance carries over to next year, there is a strong reason to believe that the defensive performance in particular will: Mike Smith is staying as the team’s defensive coordinator. And that defensive performance is the biggest reason for the team’s overall improvement late in this season.
More notably, though, the Bucs ranked higher than six playoff teams. The Houston Texans, the Miami Dolphins, the Oakland Raiders, the Detroit Lions, and the Indianapolis Colts and the Seattle Seahawks. All of those teams have been eliminated, but they were certainly good enough to get into the playoffs.
Which also signals one other problem for the Bucs: luck plays a pretty big role. A little more luck (against the L.A. Rams, for instance), and the Bucs could easily have been in the playoffs. A little less luck, and they could have had a 6-10 record, which would be superficially similar to the team’s 2015 performance that led to Lovie Smith’s firing.
So yeah. Here’s to hoping the Bucs keep up their recent performance next season. Here’s to hoping they get better, in fact. And here’s to hoping they catch the lucky breaks they need to get into the playoffs. Finally.