Last year’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers started the season 3-2, even though they lost both by 25 points each, and were outscored by 31 points. That point difference was the 5th worst for a team with a winning record after 5 games in the 16-game era. The young Buccaneers improved as the season went on, and also used a pretty favorable schedule, to go on to win 10 games and narrowly miss the playoffs.
This year’s team won three straight close games, then went to San Francisco last week and got destroyed 48-3. With a -38 point difference and another 3-2 record after five games, this year’s Bucs have outdone last year’s version, and are tied with the 2007 Lions for 2nd worst point difference for a winning team at this point in a season (that was the infamous team where Jon Kitna guaranteed the playoffs and they started 6-2, only to finish 7-9). The worst team also played last year, the Arizona Cardinals, and they went on to finish 2-9 after a 3-2 start despite a -50 point difference.
Of the ten worst previous point differentials for teams with winning records at the five game mark, only last year’s Bucs went on to win 10 games. The average remaining win total was 4.5 wins for the group, suggesting that point differential did matter (we would expect the typical 3-2 team to win a little more than half its remaining games). Further, I compared those ten teams to three control teams for each, who had the exact same point differential at the same point in the season, but fewer wins. The control teams were selected by taking the team(s) with the worst record at the identical point difference (0-5 teams selected over 1-4, etc), and if their were multiple teams with same record, in chronological reverse order, most recent first.
The results: the control teams averaged a nearly identical 4.55 wins for the remaining 11 games. Knowing the point difference matters, and the teams that won close and lost big did no better in the future than teams that lost more games.
The question is whether the Buccaneers will again be the exception. I’m skeptical that they’ve found some secret formula that allows them to lose big but continue to win close games, and am worried that the San Francisco loss was a bad sign. If they are going to finish with a winning record in 2011, they will have to play much better than they have shown, even in their wins, so far. The schedule will not be as easy–the NFC West is not on the schedule, and the Panthers are not the gimme they were last season.
[photo via Getty]