The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are optimistic and expecting to take the next step and get into the playoffs this year. NFL analysts are split on whether this will happen, but one group has been consistently down on the Bucs’ chances: those who build statistical models to predict teams’ performances.
Football Outsiders’ models don’t think the Bucs will take that next step. Betting odds are consistently down on the Bucs, though calling those a statistical model might be pushing it. And now there’s ESPN’s FPI model, which suggests the Bucs will come in last in the NFC South with just 7.7 average wins.
Here’s how the model works:
In short, a team's FPI rating combines its efficiency ratings on offense, defense and special teams -- based on each unit's expected points added per play -- with the sum of all three squad ratings yielding the overall FPI rating.
No subjective personal evaluations, just a system—doesn’t mean the system’s right, just that it’s not influenced by team-specific biases. That’s true for betting odds and Football Outsiders, too, which means that we can’t just write this off as some dude’s random and possibly biased opinion.
Instead, we should be worried about these predictions. The Bucs could outperform them, as the NFL is notoriously difficult to accurately predict. There’s a lot of room for random chance and unexpected developments in sixteen games. Injuries alone are a massive source of unpredictable risk or reward.
But when more-or-less objective models consistently predict that your team will not get to the playoffs, that’s a pretty strong indicator that they won’t. Here’s to hoping the models are wrong.