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Data Crunch: Turnaround Trends

Posted Feb 25, 2014

Beginning a new year of data visualization exercises, we focus on four-win teams and their prospects for improvement – how common is a quick turnaround and what are some of the statistical harbingers?

Every season, we football fans consume the NFL through live game action, replays and highlight shows.  And then we consume it again through the numbers.  Even during the long offseason, whether it's in pursuit of fantasy football strategies or a greater understanding of our favorite team's strengths and weaknesses, statistics help us look deeper into the game we love.

Since the 2013 season, Buccaneers.com has been helping you see what the numbers are saying.  We call that labor of love "Data Crunch," and we're pleased to continue that exercise throughout the 2014 offseason.  Through these monthly data visualization exercises we help to tell the story of Tampa Bay Buccaneers football in a new and hopefully illuminating way.  Our interactive Data Crunch graphs allow the user to identify trends, gaining a better understanding of how wins and losses are generated and where the team and individual players are headed.

Last year, we used Data Crunch to examine such issues as the relative impact of each draft class in franchise history; the career potential suggested by Mike Glennon's first two months of starts; Gerald McCoy's ascendancy among the league's elite defensive tackles; the frequency of turnover among starters at each position on the depth chart; and more.  As we head into what is expected to be a very exciting 2014 season for the Buccaneers, we'll turn our attention to issues regarding the Buccaneers' attempts to return to Super Bowl contention.

In our first data visualization exercise of 2014, we note the Buccaneers' 4-12 finish in the standings in 2013 and seek to compare their situation with the other four-win teams of the last four-and-a-half decades.  What should fans expect from a four-win team the following season?  What are the outliers in that group and, most importantly, what can we point to statistically to predict a quick turnaround?

For this exercise, we identified the 20 teams that have made the most significant single-season improvements in their win-loss records.  A previous Buccaneer team made that list – the 2010 squad compiled a 10-6 record one season after a 3-13 finish in 2009.  The Kansas City Chiefs of current vintage are also on the list; their nine-win jump from 2-11 in 2012 to 11-5 in 2013 tied for the second-biggest improvement since the 1970 merger and is widely considered the model the Buccaneers could emulate in 2014.

You'll see those 20 teams displayed in the first chart below.  Switch to the second tab to see all of the teams that won four games in a season since 1970 and what their combined fortunes were the next year.  Given that there isn't too much room to sink in the standings from a 4-12 finish, it's not surprising that the vast majority of those teams won more games the next year.  The pattern of improvement is more gradual than the Buccaneers are hoping for, as the 88 teams on the list averaged 6.5 wins the following season.

There were 14 teams from that group, including last year's Chiefs but not including the hard-luck 10-win Buccaneer squad in 2010, that made the playoffs the next season.  That's close to 16% of the four-victory clubs going directly to the postseason a year later.  For some hints as to why those teams were set up for a rapid turnaround, choose the third tab below.

We tracked those 88 four-win teams on 10 statistical measures, from points allowed to turnover differential.  While we can't claim any ironclad trends, we can see a few interesting clumps of data.  For instance, teams that were at least in the middle of the pack among these 88 in terms of scoring differential seemed to have a better chance of a playoff rebound.  The Buccaneers' differential in 2013 falls squarely in the middle of a line of teams that made the postseason the following year.

Tampa Bay's turnover differential in 2013 was one of the best ever for a four-win team; however, that specific stat does not seem to have much correlation to which teams rebounded the next year.  More telling was points scored; those teams that had particular trouble scoring during their four-win seasons also had a hard time rebounding the next year, on average.

Use the charts below to conduct your own searches as to what statistics could herald a Buccaneer turnaround in 2014.