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Bucs, NFL's East Coast teams at disadvantage when traveling west

 
In the Bucs' last visit to San Francisco five years ago, the 49ers thumped them 48-3. In 14 trips to the City by the Bay, the Bucs have won only twice. [Times (2011)]
In the Bucs' last visit to San Francisco five years ago, the 49ers thumped them 48-3. In 14 trips to the City by the Bay, the Bucs have won only twice. [Times (2011)]
Published Oct. 20, 2016

One of a head coach's many responsibilities is game-clock management. When it comes to body-clock management, however, Dirk Koetter admits he's no expert.

"There's a lot of stuff in the universe I cannot explain," the Bucs coach said Wednesday when asked why East Coast teams struggle when they play on the West Coast.

Will Tampa Bay be able to shake off the jet lag when it takes on the 49ers late Sunday afternoon in San Francisco? The coast-to-coast trip has been an obstacle for previous Bucs teams.

Since 2002 (when the NFL last realigned), Tampa Bay is 5-15 (.250) against West division opponents. Only Detroit has a lower win percentage (.130) among teams with homes in the Eastern Standard Time zone.

The Bucs have lost five straight road games against West division opponents. Their last win came in November 2012, a 42-32 win in Oakland in which Doug Martin rushed for 251 yards and four touchdowns. In 14 visits to San Francisco, they've earned just two wins.

A counterpoint might be that the Bucs have played poorly regardless of the setting. But they're not alone — EST teams as a whole have struggled against West division opponents, winning 41 percent of their games since the start of the 2002 season. Only four of 17 teams have managed to win more games than they've lost (Colts, Panthers, Patriots and Falcons).

EST teams vs. West division teams (overall)

TeamGamesWinsLossesW-L%
Indianapolis20128.600
Carolina20128.600
New England22139.591
Atlanta221210.545
Philadelphia201010.500
New York Giants201010.500
Miami221111.500
Washington20911.450
Buffalo22913.409
Baltimore22913.409
Cincinnati22913.409
Pittsburgh22715.318
New York Jets23716.304
Jacksonville20614.300
Cleveland22616.273
Tampa Bay20515.250
Detroit23320.130
362150212.414
Source: Pro Football Reference

The time of day matters, too. EST teams have won 48 percent of games that start around 1 p.m. In those cases, the opponents (Chiefs and Rams) were technically from the Midwest, where the difference between Eastern time and Central time is an hour.

EST teams vs. West division teams (early afternoon)

TeamGamesWinsLossesW-L%
Philadelphia2201.000
Baltimore2201.000
Miami541.800
Indianapolis431.750
New York Giants321.667
New England211.500
Buffalo633.500
Cincinnati633.500
Carolina422.500
Washington312.333
Cleveland624.333
Jacksonville624.333
Tampa Bay312.333
Atlanta312.333
New York Jets413.250
Pittsburgh413.250
Detroit202.000
653134.477
Source: Pro Football Reference

When games start between 4 and 4:30 p.m., EST teams' share of wins decreases to 42 percent. The Bucs are 4-10 in late afternoon games. Only the Steelers (1-7), Lions (3-15) and Browns (4-12) have worse records.

EST teams vs. West division teams (late afternoon)

TeamGamesWinsLossesW-L%
New England1284.667
Carolina15105.667
Atlanta17116.647
Indianapolis1064.600
New York Giants1477.500
Baltimore1578.467
Cincinnati1367.462
Washington1679.438
Philadelphia1468.429
New York Jets1569.400
Buffalo1569.400
Miami15510.333
Jacksonville14410.286
Tampa Bay14410.286
Cleveland16412.250
Detroit18315.167
Pittsburgh817.125
241101140.419
Source: Pro Football Reference

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The difference is greatest in evening contests, where West division teams have won nearly 70 percent of their games against EST teams. The Bucs are one of eight teams to go winless in that span (three others haven't played an evening game against a West division team). Five teams — the Dolphins, Steelers, Patriots, Colts and Eagles — have managed .500 or better records.

EST teams vs. West division teams (evening)

TeamGamesWinsLossesW-L%
Miami2201.000
Pittsburgh1055.500
New England844.500
Indianapolis633.500
Philadelphia422.500
New York Giants312.333
Baltimore505.000
New York Jets404.000
Cincinnati303.000
Tampa Bay303.000
Detroit202.000
Atlanta202.000
Buffalo101.000
Carolina101.000
Cleveland000.000
Jacksonville000.000
Washington000.000
541737.315
Source: Pro Football Reference

The effects of circadian rhythms on football games might be hard to explain, but they're real.

Contact Thomas Bassinger at tbassinger@tampabay.com. Follow @tometrics.