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Football Outsiders projects the Buccaneers to “stay mediocre”

After a 9-7 record last season, this would be a major setback.

NFL: Preseason-Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Minnesota Vikings Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

There’s a lot of optimism surrounding the Tampa Bay Buccaneers right now, especially among fans. They’re widely seen as an up-and-coming team that has a real shot at a division title and could finally—finally!—get back to the playoffs.

Unfortunately, Football Outsiders is here to rain on their parade. Not only do they not think they’ll make the playoffs, they’re projecting a 7-9 record as the most likely result of their 2017 season. Here’s what Outsiders’ Aaron Schatz said in an ESPN article projecting the entire NFL.

There's a lot of young, developing talent for Tampa Bay, so I think there's a better chance of the Buccaneers taking a step forward than an average projection of 7-9 indicates. But it's still more likely that the Bucs will just stay mediocre.

That would be a really disappointing result, given the team’s 9-7 record last season and the hopes of further improvement this year. Those hopes are buoyed by a really strong second half of the season on defense, and likely further improvement on Jameis Winston’s part. Unfortunately, Outsiders has never found late-season improvements to correlate better with next-season improvements than overall performance does.

Now, it’s important to keep in mind that these are not merely opinions sustained by vague feelings, but based on a complicated algorithm that has a track record of success. At the same time, these are also average projections: the 7-9 is the most likely outcome in a range of outcomes, and a 10-6 result would not be entirely out of line with this projection.

Of course, last year Football Outsiders projected the Bucs to go 7-9 as well. The Bucs went 9-7 instead, though they still didn’t make the playoffs. We can hope that they’ll outperform their projection this year, too, but these kinds of performances also serve as a useful reality check: you can hope for the best, but it’s not always realistic.