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Bucs in line for resurgence even before Brady

By Steve Makinen  (Point Spread Weekly editor) 

March 25, 2020 12:56 AM
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Tom Brady’s decision to spend the next years of his football life in Tampa Bay sent shock waves through the NFL last week. When a sport’s biggest star, and perhaps its all-time best player, changes teams, it’s always big news, even if that player will be 43 when the season begins. A ton of speculation arose not only as to why Brady left New England, but also why he chose Tampa Bay. Why would a player so accomplished pick a franchise that hasn’t been to the playoffs in 12 years and has won double-digit games just once in that span over the Patriots, perennial Super Bowl contenders who have won 10 or more games every year in that period? Well, perhaps he had access to some of the information I’m about to unveil, information that pointed to an almost certain resurgence by the Buccaneers in 2020 even before he arrived

By adding Brady, Tampa Bay’s Super Bowl odds immediately jumped from 40-1 to 22-1, according to Caesars. They were bet rapidly, and by the end of the first day, the odds had moved to 14-1, and 13-2 to win the NFC. As you’re about to see, perhaps those jumps still weren’t enough and make the 14-1 price still seem like a strong value. Let’s dig into this and see if you are persuaded enough to invest in the Buccaneers for 2020.

 Tampa Bay scored 458 points in 2019. The Bucs’ total was the seventh most in the last 28 seasons by a team that did not make the playoffs. The six teams that scored more in that span were the 2004 Chiefs with 483, the 2014 Eagles with 474, the 2016 Saints with 469, the 2002 Chiefs with 467, the 2008 Saints with 463 and the 2012 Saints with 461. The combined record of those teams the next season was 67-29, an average of 11.1 wins. Only one failed to make the playoffs, and the 2009 Saints won the Super Bowl.

Turnovers were the Bucs’ biggest problem. It’s no secret: QB Jameis Winston’s turnovers almost single-handedly kept Tampa Bay from achieving its potential. He threw 30 interceptions last year. Brady has thrown 29 in the last four seasons combined. The Bucs also lost 11 fumbles for a total of 41 giveaways last season, leading to a turnover differential of -13. Of the last 33 teams that endured seasons with turnover differentials of -13 or worse, seven had worse records the next year, four stayed the same and 22 improved, including the 2018 Buccaneers and 49ers. Obviously, San Francisco made it to the Super Bowl last season after going 4-12 in 2018, completing a nearly epic turnaround. Brady and the Bucs don’t have nearly as far to go.

The Bucs actually outscored their opponents last year. Seven of the last nine teams that had negative turnover differentials but positive point differentials and failed to make the playoffs rebounded to do so the next season, including Tennessee in 2019. Tampa Bay overcame this situation enough to outscore its opponents 458-449. According to the trend just shown, the Bucs have a 77.8% chance to make the playoffs in 2020. If you examine only positive point differentials with losing records, the last 13 teams with this combination improved the next season, including the 2017 season Super Bowl champion Eagles. The average win total for these 13 teams was 9.9, with seven winning at least 11 games, and the average win improvement was 3.2.

Six of the nine losses by coach Bruce Arians’ team were by a touchdown or less. Close losses are another sign of a team that could show a drastic improvement the next season. As evidence, 54 teams since 2008 have gone into the next season after having lost at least six games by one score or less. Of those, 44 improved their records the next season, including 25 teams by four or more wins. The average improvement of the 54 teams was 3.1 wins, and if that were to happen to Tampa Bay in 2020, it would result in a 10-6 record and probable playoff berth. The biggest improvements were nine-win boosts for the 2012 Colts, 2016 Cowboys and 2019 49ers. A nine-win improvement for the Bucs would give Brady his second 16-0 season!

Tampa Bay has some solid pieces in place. The Bucs’ two premier wide receivers get the most publicity, but this franchise has a number of other high-potential pieces in place. Let’s start with Chris Godwin and Mike Evans, as they could be the best set of receivers Brady will work with since Wes Welker and Randy Moss. Both are dynamic talents. Godwin could be the biggest beneficiary of the addition of Brady. It doesn’t end there, though, as the Bucs’ offense also has solid tight ends in O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate plus a trio of backs capable of producing in both the running and passing games. The defense has been maligned the last couple of seasons, but the team just re-signed veteran Jason Pierre-Paul, a top-100 player from 2019, and franchise-tagged linebacker Shaq Barrett, who had 19.5 sacks last year. In addition, a lot of talk emerged after the Brady news that other key free agents were willing to explore Tampa as a new home.

Arians led a resurgence in Arizona. Arians took over a Cardinals team that went 5-11 SU and 7-9 ATS in 2012. In the next three seasons, Arizona won 10, 11 and 13 games in the regular season, coming up just short of a Super Bowl berth in 2015. Arizona’s combined point-spread record in that span was 30-20-1 ATS, or 60%. Arians’ first season with Tampa Bay netted just a 7-9 record, but the Bucs boasted the statistical characteristics of a much better team.

Tampa Bay plays a third-place schedule in 2020. Having finished third in the NFC South in 2019, the Bucs will face a third-place schedule this season. Only six of their 16 opponents had winning records. Aside from two games against the division-winning Saints, the highest-profile contests will be against the Packers and the Chiefs, and both will be at home. In fact, the Saints contest in New Orleans is the only road game in which Tampa will face a team that had a winning record last season. This schedule looks very manageable.

None of this even takes into account that Brady has a career 219-64 regular-season record (30-11 in playoffs) and has never endured a losing season. Even if he just maintains close to that 76.8% winning percentage, the Bucs would be headed to a 12-4 season.

Clearly, we have many reasons to expect a much better Tampa Bay team in 2020. With all this evidence, it doesn’t make much sense to bet against TB or TB12.

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