The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have won their last two games after beginning the season 0-8. Seattle's not so miraculous escape from a 21 point deficit against the Bucs in week 9 of the NFL season left many pundits and fans shouting, "Overrated!" and , "Exposed," from their collective roof tops. Those premature condemnations look less sage given Seattle's offerings over the last two weeks, but a brief examination of the Bucs' performance this season would have saved us all some hand wringing (and tempered some glee in Mos Eisley).
It is easy to see a goose egg leading a team's record at the midpoint of the season and conclude that the team is awful, but this lazy analysis bears bad fruit when applied to Tampa Bay:
The Bucs have led in the fourth quarter of games seven times this season, but what really suggests that the Bucs are much better than their record is the list of teams they've faced. Six of their eight losses have come against teams with a combined record of 42 wins and 14 losses (I am including the Eagles on this list but only counting the games that Nick Foles has started--call it arbitrary if you like but I believe Philadelphia is a different team with Foles). Those six teams are the aforementioned Philadelphia (4-1 with Foles), New Orleans (8-2), New England (7-3), Arizona (6-4), Carolina (7-3), and Seattle (10-1). A murderer's row, I humbly suggest. According to Football Outsiders, only Atlanta has played a harder schedule, which might shed a little light on the Falcons' receiver-less season.
Every one of the teams on that list has one questionable loss. If you toss out those six losses as each team's mulligan, you are left with 8 total losses between them. Except for New England's loss to Cincinnati (the day God decreed Tom Brady would lose--as opposed to Monday night, the night the refs decreed Tom Brady would lose) and Arizona's loss to San Francisco (no shame there), all of those losses have come against teams on this list. In short, each of these teams had one bad day, but other than that, they've beaten nearly everybody on the path, mostly accruing losses only against each other.
In the face of this schedule and a badly botched coach/quarterback relationship, Tampa Bay managed to lead late in 70% of their games. The defense currently ranks 12th in DVOA whilst playing seven of their games against offenses ranked in the top 13 in DVOA.
Rookie quarterback Mike Glennon, after some growing pains, currently ranks 15th in DYAR and ahead of such luminaries as Jay Cutler, Colin Kaepernick, Andy Dalton, Alex Smith, Carson Palmer, Michael Vick, RGIII, Ryan Tannehill, Super Bowl MVPs Eli Manning and Joe Flacco, and, yes, Josh Freeman.
Which is more likely: The Bucs are a bad team that stayed competitive for long stretches against a brutal schedule or they are a talented young team with questionable coaching and a not so unusual inability to close out games? Put bluntly, Tampa's won/lost record is the only piece of information that indicates this is a bad team. Young teams often have problems closing out games, which Seattle can attest to after their bumpy first half of 2012.
I am not predicting that the Bucs are about to go on tear akin to Carolina's. They will likely continue to find ways to lose close games. Such is life with a bad coach and a rookie quarterback. Yet suggesting that Seattle's quality was called into question because the Bucs jumped out to an early lead is insulting to the quality of Tampa Bay.
If anything, the competitiveness of Tampa overall makes Seattle's second half domination all the more impressive.