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From 2-5 to the playoffs? Bucs wouldn’t be the first

By Greg Auman
Bucs defensive end Robert Ayers, shown during the loss at Arizona, has been on a 2-5 team that made it to the playoffs, pulling off the rare turnaround as part of the 2011 Denver Broncos. (LOREN ELLIOTT | TIMES)

First, to be clear: We're not trying to traffic in false hope here.

The Bucs are 2-5, so it's very unlikely they'll be able to turn their season around enough to be a playoff team. But win Sunday in New Orleans, and they're 3-5, which is exactly where they were last year after eight games, still finishing 9-7 and just a tiebreaker short of making the playoffs.

But if you're wondering, Lloyd Christmas style, if it's been done before, a 2-5 team making the playoffs, the answer is this: Of course. It happened two years ago. Twice.

Before we detail that too much, here is the harsh, cold aggregate data: In the past decade, 42 NFL teams have opened with a 2-5 record, and only three made the playoffs — only two without the help of Tim Tebow. The average final win total for a 2-5 team? 5.4 wins, so a 6-10 finish would be overachieving.

But if the Bucs were to somehow finish at least 7-2 in their remaining games to end up at 9-7 or better, if they did make the playoffs, it wouldn't be unprecedented.

In 2015, the Texans opened 2-5, then went 7-2 down the stretch and won the AFC South. They opened the playoffs by losing to a Chiefs team that opened 1-5 and won 10 straight, beating those Texans in the playoffs before losing to the Patriots.

And yes, the 2011 Broncos were 2-5 and finished as 8-8 division champs, with Tebow leading them to an overtime playoff win against Pittsburgh before, yes, losing to the Patriots. They had a young defensive end named … Robert Ayers, who started 13 games and had three sacks that year.

There are other teams that offer hope of NFL relevance still ahead — the 2010 Chargers went from 2-5 to 9-7 and still missed the playoffs. Two other teams made it back to 8-8.

Most 2-5 teams fall well short of that. The most common outcomes are 5-11 or 4-12 — nine teams each. Another three never won again and finished 2-14.

The Bucs have the full spectrum of possibilities in their remaining nine games. Win them all, lose them all, it's all been done before.