Spoiler alert: This one isn't going to contain much drama.
All year we've been identifying the turning point in each Tampa Bay Buccaneers contest, for these purposes that moment being defined when the win probability chart turned in favor of the eventual winning team for the last time. On Sunday in Detroit, the Buccaneers opened up a 21-0 lead by midway through the second quarter and eventually won by that same margin, 38-17, so one wouldn't expect there to be too many swings of momentum.
That said, any Buccaneers fans who watched Sunday's game can be forgiven if they disagree with that statement. Tampa Bay might have turned an early 21-0 onslaught into a 21-point win, but that ignores the fact that Detroit at one point narrowed the lead to seven points and had the ball in Bucs territory with just under six minutes to play. Let's just say there were some fingernails that mistakenly thought they were going to get an afternoon off.
Still, the Buccaneers did come in as favorites and were given a 57.4% chance to win before the opening kickoff. They scored first and never trailed, and as such there was no point in the game in which Lions were considered the favorites. Therefore, we have no true turning point in this game, but let's take a look at some of the plays that affected the outcome odds the most.
This season, we're looking for that final Turning Point in every game. After each Buccaneers contest we're going to find the moment when things swung in favor of the eventual winner and never swung back. We're going to do so using the "win probability" charts on ESPN.com. At any given point in the game, that chart displays the percentage that each team could be expected to win, based on data from similar situations in thousands of historical games. Unless one team gets above 50% at the very beginning of the game and never dips below that mark (such as this one), there is going to be a single point where the team that eventually wins goes from underdog to favorite for the final time.
Week 15 Turning Point: Jameis Winston Sneaks for a First Down
Outcome: Tampa Bay 38, Detroit 17
· Buccaneers score a touchdown (Breshad Perriman reception) at 7:25 of the first quarter for a 7-0 lead
The Bucs' opening odds of 57.4% dropped when Jameis Winston's third pass was intercepted by Detroit linebacker Jahlani Tavai near midfield, but only to 55.8% and the Tampa Bay defense kept it from getting worse by forcing a punt. The closest the chart got to the 50% line was on the Buccaneers' second drive, when Ronald Jones ran for four yards on first-and-10 from the Detroit 45. Two plays later, it was at 55.3% with the Bucs facing a third-and-one. It was third-and-inches, really, which prompted the call of a QB sneak at the Lions' 36.
Winston got it and the line immediately started to climb again, shooting up to 70.5% when Winston opened the scoring with a 34-yard touchdown pass to Breshad Perriman at the midway point of the fourth quarter. There was no turning back for the Bucs or the probability chart, so Winston's sneak was the closest thing this game had to a true turning point.
The Bucs' odds first crossed the 90% mark with 11:30 left in the second quarter when Winston hit Dare Ogunbowale on a 13 yards pass to get the ball across midfield, on a drive that would end in another Perriman touchdown and that 21-0 lead. At one point in the third quarter, after a false start by the Lions in their own territory, the Bucs' win probability hit 98.6%, and that was with 25 of the day's 60 game minutes still to be played.
Detroit actually overcame that penalty to score its first touchdown on that drive, then got the ball back and scored again early in the fourth quarter to make it 24-17. Again, that made things a little tense for Buccaneer fans, but the win probability chart never gave the home team more than a one-quarter chance of winning. When Wes Hills converted a third-and-one with a 15-yard run to the Bucs' 32 with six minutes to play, the Bucs' odds dropped to a second-half low of 74.4%.
Two plays later, Sean Murphy-Bunting seized the momentum back and essentially sealed the Buccaneers' win with a 70-yard pick-six to make it 31-17 with five minutes to play. After that play, the Bucs' win probability again registered at 98.7%. It was over, and Tampa Bay's final touchdown, a third Perriman catch, was window dressing.