For the first time in years, the Buccaneers are bona fide playoff contenders.
The optimism is justified. On offense, the supporting cast around Jameis Winston is deeper than ever. On defense, coordinator Mike Smith is back to lead a unit that made significant strides during the second half of last season.
But Madden NFL 18, which hit stores today, isn't buying the hype.
We simulated the regular season 10 times, and Tampa Bay underwhelmed, winning an average of six games. It didn't make the playoffs once.
I know what you're thinking: Who cares what a video game says? Let's see what the real Bucs do for three quarters against the Browns on Saturday.
We've done this exercise before, though, and it has been eerily prescient.
In 2015, our simulations predicted a five-win season. The Bucs finished 6-10.
In 2016, our simulations predicted an eight-win season. The Bucs made the playoffs 40 percent of the time. In real life, they finished 9-7 and just missed out on the postseason.
Maybe these are flukes. It's hard to totally dismiss them, though, especially when you consider that Madden has correctly predicted the winner of 10 of the past 14 Super Bowls, including the Patriots last season. The game even came within five points of nailing Roberto Aguayo's field goal percentage last season.
Here are the game-by-game averages of the 10 simulated seasons.
|OPPONENT||BUCS' RECORD||POINTS FOR||POINTS AGAINST|
|Week 1 at Miami Dolphins||2-8||19.8||28.7|
|Week 2 vs. Chicago Bears||8-2||26.1||19.2|
|Week 3 at Minnesota Vikings||2-8||20.3||27|
|Week 4 vs. New York Giants||4-6||19.7||29.4|
|Week 5 vs. New England Patriots||1-9||22.2||31.6|
|Week 6 at Arizona Cardinals||7-3||29.2||24.1|
|Week 7 at Buffalo Bills||4-6||24.4||23.1|
|Week 8 vs. Carolina Panthers||2-8||17.1||29.4|
|Week 9 at New Orleans Saints||4-6||22.7||25.1|
|Week 10 vs. New York Jets||8-2||26.5||17.5|
|Week 12 at Atlanta Falcons||1-9||17.7||31.9|
|Week 13 at Green Bay Packers||5-5||23.5||28.4|
|Week 14 vs. Detroit Lions||4-6||25.9||26.5|
|Week 15 vs. Atlanta Falcons||1-9||20||31.6|
|Week 16 at Carolina Panthers||3-7||17.7||31.4|
|Week 17 vs. New Orleans Saints||3-7||21.6||30.2|
Despite the talented receiving corps surrounding Winston, Madden sees only a modest bump in overall production for the Bucs offense. In nine of our 10 simulations, Tampa Bay averaged fewer than 24 points a game. It averaged a little more than 22 points a game last season.
Winston's performance varied wildly from simulation to simulation. He threw as many as 30 touchdown passes and as few as 19. He threw as many as 17 interceptions and as few as five.
As for his receivers, Mike Evans' and DeSean Jacksons' real-life numbers are more eye-popping than their Madden numbers. It seems rookie Chris Godwin ate up some of their targets.
|*Howard entered each season ahead of Cameron Brate on Madden's depth chart.|
The game also raised red flags about the defense, which allowed more than 27 points per game in our simulations. The magic number for the Bucs last season was 24. When they held opponents under that, they were 8-0.
Playoff and Super Bowl LII forecast
So if the Bucs aren't in, who is?
Madden doesn't see the Falcons' devastating Super Bowl LI collapse carrying over into this season. Atlanta was one of two teams to reach the playoffs in all 10 simulations, and it even reached the Super Bowl twice, winning once.
The other team to reach the playoffs in every simulation? The Patriots, led by cover boy Tom Brady. They played in six Super Bowls and won three of them.
The Seahawks (nine appearances), Chargers (eight), Eagles (eight), Steelers (eight) and Titans (seven) also made frequent trips to the postseason.
The Bucs were one of only five teams (the Bears, Browns, 49ers and Jets) to not make the playoffs a single time. Yes, that's right. Even the Bills made it once.
Contact Thomas Bassinger at [email protected] Follow @tometrics.