TAMPA — Let’s get the bad news out of the way:
History is not kind to teams that begin a season at 3-5. Statistically, it usually means they’re showing up in January with six or seven wins, and inviting a lot of fans to question their life choices.
Also, the odds of making the playoffs after a 3-5 start? Over the last 20 seasons, 13 teams have pulled it off. That sounds promising until you realize there have been 121 teams in that predicament. That works out to a success rate of 10.7 percent. Woo hoo!
At this point, you might be wondering why you just risked ruining your morning with such a negative vibe. The answer is simple.
It’s because the Bucs should be one of those rare comeback teams.
Doesn’t mean they will be. Doesn’t even mean they are likely to beat the odds. But, if you look at it dispassionately, the Bucs have all the qualities you’re looking for in a second-half team.
“We have the talent, we’ve always had the talent, we just have to get our swag back,” receiver Chris Godwin said. “Once we do that, once we start playing together, we’ll be fine. It’s just a matter of us putting the proof out there on the field for everyone to see.”
Sounds confident, right? Maybe even too confident. But there are legitimate reasons why the Bucs are good candidates for the rare 3-5 turnaround.
Just begin with the schedule. Over the next nine games, the Bucs face only two teams that are currently above .500, and they have several imminently winnable road games.
And, yes, I know, the Bucs have already nose-dived in several games against weak competition. Particularly in Pittsburgh and Carolina. And if they continue down that path against the struggling Rams this weekend, the odds of recovery drop from 10.7 percent to 2.1 percent. So, yeah, they need to beat L.A.
But that brings us to another factor in Tampa Bay’s corner. Those percentages are mostly based on a 16-game schedule. The NFL is now playing a 17-game schedule, which provides a smidgen of extra time. And, trust me, that could matter.
From 2016-20, only two out of 27 teams went from 3-5 to the playoffs. Then, with a 17-game schedule in 2021, two of six teams qualified for the postseason, including the 49ers, who needed a victory in that 17th game against the Rams.
“There’s a lot of football to play and we’ve got to play better,” quarterback Tom Brady said. “That’s just the reality of the situation we’re in.”
And that, really, is the crux of the matter. Softer opponents help. A longer runway with the 17-game schedule also helps. But none of it matters if the Bucs do not begin playing better. A lot better.
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So what are the chances of that happening?
Again, more favorable than the current scenario suggests.
When the season began, the typical over/under for Tampa Bay victories in 2022 was 11.5. That’s ridiculously high and the Bucs would have to win all nine games just to cash that bet.
But the point is everyone looked at this team and saw high-end talent. They saw experience. They saw depth. Those same players are still here, they’ve just been hurt or underperformed.
Will it matter when defensive players such as Akiem Hicks, Antoine Winfield Jr. and Carlton Davis begin returning to the lineup. It should. Will it matter that the offensive game plan is being tweaked, in a similar scenario to 2020 when the Bucs went on a second-half run? It could.
“Everybody in this locker room knows what winning is and knows what it’s like,” said cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting. “We know how to win, but things haven’t gone our way. So now we just need to get one win. Then we start to stack one on top of another, and that’s going to be a game-changer for us.”
So is there any doubt this team will be in the playoff hunt in late December?
“Absolutely not,” Murphy-Bunting said. “There is no doubt.”
Me? I have doubt. Lots of doubt. Generally speaking, a team that approaches the halfway point of the season with a losing record is simply a losing team. Nearly 90 percent of those teams are never heard from again.
But, as we’ve just discussed, there are extenuating circumstances here. If history says a 3-5 team has a sliver of a chance to make the playoffs, then the 2022 Bucs might have two slivers of a chance.
It ain’t much, but it’s all they’ve got right now.
John Romano can be reached at email@example.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.
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