The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are getting a lot of positive press the past month, but not everyone likes what’s going on with them. Most notably, Football Outsiders’ models have been down on the Bucs all year.
They just released an updated win projection, and the models haven’t gotten any better. They now project a 7-9 record, with 6.8 mean wins. That’s a really disappointing result, obviously.
Keep in mind that this 7-9 projection is not the subjective opinion of a single writer, but the result of an algorithm using various different statistical inputs with a history of success.
That algorithm isn’t perfect and it’s not neutral, as many human choices are made in the design of the algorithm, but it is not adjusted for a single team, it’s not down on the Bucs because of their media market or profile or hating or whatever you want to think.
Similarly, the 7-9 prediction is just the average of a statistical distribution. It’s the most likely outcome, according to Football Outsiders, but certainly not the only possible one.
Okay, now that those obligatory explanations that will be ignored are out of the way, let’s get to why that algorithm thinks the Bucs will regress.
Tampa Bay has a lot of young, developing offensive talent, plus the addition of DeSean Jackson, so I think there's a better chance of the Buccaneers taking a step forward than an average projection of 7-9 indicates. However, there's a strong sign for regression on defense: the Bucs were second in the league in defensive turnovers per drive last year, ending 15.6 percent of possessions with a takeaway. That number is likely to be lower in 2017.
Right, so: the defense is likely to get worse. I can see why. Turnovers are not stable from season to season, and Brent Grimes almost had a career year last season. Vernon Hargreaves may take a step forward, but the team still lacks talent at safety unless Justin Evans is ready to step in and play at a high level much sooner than his college film would indicate.
The one thing that could turn this around is the Bucs’ pass rush. Noah Spence showed a lot of promise last year, and if he has a breakout season the defense should profit immensely. Similarly, Robert Ayers could have a better year than his injury-riddled 2016, and Gerald McCoy is always a steady, positive presence.
I could see this outcome, though, particularly if Jameis Winston doesn’t take the steps everyone’s expecting him to take. He still threw too many errant passes and interceptions last season, and the possible lack of a running game won’t help him either.
Still, I’m optimistic. I think the step forward scenario is a lot more likely, even if Outsiders has proven my optimistic projections to be nonsense with awful regularity over the past decade.