Buccaneers: Stronger Than the Average Defending Champion

Bucs offense
Bucs offense
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

It won't surprise anybody to read this, but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are pretty good for a defending Super Bowl champion.

We know that the Buccaneers are having a strong start, currently No. 4 in DVOA at 26.3%. I was curious how that compared to other defending Super Bowl champions, so I went back and looked through DVOA history. The average Super Bowl champion had a DVOA of 21.9% after five games, a little below where Tampa Bay is right now. Tampa Bay ranks 14th among all defending champions since 1983 in DVOA after five games.

The best start for a defending champion may surprise you, even though it was just a couple of years ago. Yes, the best defending champion after five games was the 2019 New England Patriots at 56.4% DVOA. Even though that season ended in disappointment, the first couple months were phenomenal. Here's a list of the best defending champions after five games:

Best DVOA by Defending Champion
After 5 Games, 1983-2021
Year Team W-L DVOA Rk
2019 NE 5-0 56.4% 2
2007 IND 5-0 47.7% 2
1998 DEN 5-0 47.4% 1
1994 DAL 4-1 46.3% 1
2015 NE 5-0 43.6% 2
2003 TB 3-2 42.1% 1
1986 CHI 5-0 40.6% 2
2004 NE 5-0 38.8% 2
1995 SF 4-1 38.6% 2
1983 WAS 4-1 36.3% 1

The rare repeat champions are not all at the top of the list. The 1998 Broncos are here, as are the 2004 Patriots. However, the 1993 Cowboys had DVOA of 22.6% after five games, and the 1989 49ers had DVOA of 21.2%.

The worst defending champion after five games was the 1999 Denver Broncos after John Elway's retirement. Second is another recent team, the 2018 Philadelphia Eagles. Here's a list of the five defending champions who had negative DVOA after five games:

Worst DVOA by Defending Champion
After 5 Games, 1983-2021
Year Team W-L DVOA Rk
1999 DEN 1-4 -20.8% 26
2018 PHI 2-3 -13.2% 24
2013 BAL 3-2 -6.4% 21
1987 NYG* 2-3 -4.5% 16
2017 NE 3-2 -2.3% 21
*not including strikebreaker games

What about the Kansas City Chiefs compared to recent Super Bowl losers? Given the history of the "Super Bowl Loser's Curse," it will not surprise you that the average DVOA for defending Super Bowl losers is much lower than it is for winners. The average defending Super Bowl loser has a DVOA of 8.4% after five games. Kansas City's current rating of 3.2% is below average but it's not among the worst ratings for defending Super Bowl losers. Kansas City ranks 29th among 39 defending Super Bowl losers since 1983.

Here are the best of the defending Super Bowl losers since 1983:

Best DVOA by Previous Super Bowl Loser
After 5 Games, 1983-2021
Year Team W-L DVOA Rk
2014 DEN 4-1 37.7% 1
1996 PIT 4-1 31.0% 2
1985 MIA 4-1 29.6% 2
1993 BUF 4-1 28.2% 3
1997 NE 4-1 28.1% 4
2012 NE 3-2 27.1% 6
1992 BUF 4-1 26.9% 4
1986 NE 3-2 23.4% 7
1998 GB 4-1 21.7% 7
1989 CIN 4-1 20.9% 6

The 2018 New England Patriots are the only team in the DVOA era to win the Super Bowl a year after losing it. They were not among the better of these defending Super Bowl losers, with DVOA of just 5.2% through five games. If they came back from that to win the title, certainly Kansas City can come back from 3.2% DVOA to win the title. Neither can compare to the teams that got hit the strongest by the Super Bowl Loser's Curse. Here are the worst of those teams since 1983:

Worst DVOA by Previous Super Bowl Loser
After 5 Games, 1983-2021
Year Team W-L DVOA Rk
2007 CHI 2-3 -31.0% 28
1999 ATL 1-4 -25.5% 28
2002 STL 0-5 -25.1% 26
2008 NE 3-2 -23.5% 26
2004 CAR 1-4 -18.5% 26
2003 OAK 2-3 -13.2% 25
2016 CAR 1-4 -6.8% 22
1988 DEN 2-3 -4.6% 15
2020 SF 2-3 -2.0% 19
2019 LAR 3-2 1.9% 17

Thursday Night Preview

So a little bit about tonight's game, featuring the aforementioned defending Super Bowl champions. Tampa Bay is of course much better than Philadelphia in DVOA so far this year, but the Eagles are probably better than you think. Right now, we have the Eagles at No. 16 overall. So far, their defense is 11th in the league, which is ahead of the Buccaneers at 19th. But their offense is much worse than Tampa Bay; the Buccaneers are second behind Kansas City while Philadelphia is 19th.

Here's what to expect out of tonight's game: passing. These are not teams that like to run the ball very much. Philadelphia is currently 30th in total runs, not including scrambles, with just 90 carries. Tampa Bay is one carry below them, ranking 31st with just 89 carries despite being 4-1. And of course, opponents are very wary of running on the Tampa Bay defense, which ranks third in DVOA. Tampa Bay has faced just 72 running plays this year, again not including scrambles. That's dead last in the league. Philadelphia has faced 148 runs, more than twice as many as Tampa Bay.

Tampa Bay has the advantage passing the ball, and that's why the Bucs have to be clearly favored in tonight's game. Philadelphia's passing DVOA of 6.1% is better than Tampa Bay's pass defense of 10.7%. Combine the two and it suggests you'll get a little bit more pass efficiency than average when Jalen Hurts and the Eagles are on the field. However, Tampa Bay's pass offense DVOA of 52.0% is far superior to the Eagles' pass defense DVOA of -0.6%. Stopping Tom Brady is tough. Philadelphia is 23rd against No. 1 receivers this year, so perhaps this is setting up for Mike Evans to have a strong night.

Comments

12 comments, Last at 23 Oct 2021, 2:09am

1 1987 Giants

1987 NYG 2-3 -4.5%

Not included are the three scab games in which the 1987 Giants went 0-3 and had the worst DVOA in the league.

FWIW, the team abbreviations for teams that now have a different abbrievation (Oilers, Chargers, Raiders, Cardinals, Rams, Colts, Browns 1.0) aren't showing up in the historical tables.

3 Philadelphia's passing DVOA…

Philadelphia's passing DVOA of 6.1% is better than Tampa Bay's pass defense of 10.7%. Combine the two and it suggests you'll get a little bit more pass efficiency than average when Jalen Hurts and the Eagles are on the field. 

I don't actually think that's really true - yeah, Philly's had some success passing and Tampa's struggled... but only with certain kinds of passers. Brissett put up ~0 DYAR, Jones put up 63 DYAR, Ryan put up -97 DYAR. Prescott and Stafford rang the Bucs defender's bells, sure - but why did I split the QBs up this way?

Ryan air yards/completion: 5.0
Jones air yards/completion: 5.0
Brissett air yards/completion: 4.9

Prescott air yards/completion: 5.8
Stafford air yards/completion: 7.6

The Bucs have done a pretty good job dealing with passers who mainly target shorter completions, and regardless of the whole "Hurts bombs to DeVonta Smith" belief, those bombs don't happen until the safeties start cheating on the shorter stuff. And I don't think that they'll need to.

9 Holy crap this was accurate…

Holy crap this was accurate. I mean, except for the whole "we'll just chuck it deep even if there's still decent coverage and our QB isn't particularly accurate" part that led to two pretty lucky* DPIs. But yeah, wow did the Eagles just try to challenge the wrong part of Tampa's defense for most of the game.

Tampa's defense did start to get sloppy by the end of the game, but if it wasn't for those two DPIs, that would've been an awful performance.

*: lucky in the sense that those throws weren't great, so against better CBs they would've... turned out worse. not lucky in the sense of "bad call" lucky.

10 What on earth are you…

What on earth are you talking about? The backup CBs on Tampa, esp after Sherman left, were exactly the right part of TB's defense to challenge. They were holding all over the field, blatantly so in many cases. Its on Hurts to make basic throws that he is unable to make like the Ertz miss on 3rd down and the terrible INT.

11 The backup CBs on Tampa, esp…

The backup CBs on Tampa, esp after Sherman left, were exactly the right part of TB's defense to challenge.

Yeah, that's what I said? They didn't challenge them. Barely at all. They mostly stuck to plays that had no chance of working, like RPOs and short screens and stuff. Which is dumb, because that portion of their pass defense is fine.

4 I don't know about the other repeat champs

However, the 1993 Cowboys had DVOA of 22.6% after five games

Emmitt Smith holding out for the first two games may have had something to do with that. I don't know if other repeat champs with lower than expected DVOA had similar problems, but small sample sizes are always suspect. 

5 I'm actually a little…

I'm actually a little surprised to not see 2011 GB on that list. They started 5-0 (on the way to 15-1 and divisional round disappointment). I know they only finished the season with a 26.2% DVOA but my perception, and their weighted DVOA being 23.4%, was that they started hot but cooled off at the end of the year. The defense was awful (though McCarthy/Capers fielded worse) but at the time it was the 2nd best scoring offense ever behind only the 16-0 2007 Pats (both passed by the 2013 Broncos and the Packers also by the 2018 Chiefs).

Maybe they did just hover around 26 all year or maybe the hot start was only like 30% which is still really darn good but you need to hit 35% to make that list those are some crazy starts.

The 97 teams started 3-2 before finishing 13-3 and losing to Denver in the SB so I'm not surprised they don't show up. Not surprised by the 98 team being one of the better losers. Though they slipped from 4-1 to 11-5 to end the Homgren era. 

6 2011 Packers

2011 Packers were never as high in DVOA as their record, mostly because of defensive problems. They were at 23.5% (third) after five games, using the current formula. They peaked in Week 10 (30.6%) and then, as you noted, faded a little at the end of the year.

8 Yeah and their running game…

In reply to by Aaron Schatz

Yeah and their running game was average at best too. The memories all get swamped by that 67.8% passing DVOA. It was a fun team to watch, but it was a team that had some obvious flaws.

But thanks for the stats, they didn't even start as hot as I thought, it was a mid season burst that really made them shine.

7 Fluky game.

This could go one of two ways.

The Bucs roll and blowout the Iggles.

The Eagles make enough splashy plays to make this game ugly but competitive. 

Not sure which.

12 Friday a week later

The Buc's passing game was good. And they also ran well. Forenet was good out of the backfield, too.

Not as close as the final score. Except, of course, it was exactly as close as the final score.

Thanks for the Taunting, Eagles.

 

Go Bucs.