Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Football Geekery: One and Two

Once again this year we channel our inner pigskin nerd and dive a little deeper into the statistics to help illuminate Buc football…This week: Week One wins and two-point conversions.

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Statistics can help illuminate the game of football…or they can take us down a misleading path.  As Tampa Bay Buccaneers Head Coach Lovie Smith said: "I believe in stats, but it's [which] stats."

Smith, for instance, doesn't pay much attention to the NFL's defensive rankings, since they are based on yards, which he considers a meaningless measure.  When he shares defensive stats with his team, he focuses on points allowed, takeaways, scoring on defense and red zone proficiency.

Here on Buccaneers.com, we unabashedly love stats, but we also understand the need to wield them wisely.  Sometimes, we can get a better feel for why the team is performing as it is by going a little deeper into the numbers. Other times, we simply want to point out a few numbers we consider interesting, and hope you will find it interesting as well.

That's our goal with Football Geekery.  Each week, we're going to give you a sampling of statistical and/or historical analysis, hopefully in a way that is relevant to the Buccaneers' current state of affairs.  This week we start out by studying how important it is to win in Week One, and whether that changes based on if you're playing at home or on the road. We then take a closer look at two-point conversion success rates over the past decade, under the assumption that we're going to see that play more often in 2015. Let's get started.

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1. The Road to California

Does it start in Tampa?

Super Bowl 50 will be played in Santa Clara, California next February 7, and according to the league office, the Buccaneers will have a much easier time getting there if they win this Sunday in Tampa. More to the point, the Bucs' chances will be greatly improved if they're one of 16 teams that posts a "W" this weekend, wherever they're playing.

The NFL notes that 39 of the previous 49 Super Bowl winners won their opening game. Only nine lost and one actually started the season with a tie. Of course, you only have to go back to last year to find a team that lost its season opener but ended up hoisting the Lombardi Trophy five months later, as the New England Patriots fell to the Miami Dolphins in Week One last week.

*

(As an aside, how strange would it be to start the season with a tie? That hasn't happened since 1971, when Denver and Miami couldn't break a 10-10 knot. Things worked out a lot better for Miami, which made it to the Super Bowl but lost, than Denver, which finished 4-9-1 and last in its division. That one team that tied in Week One and went on to win the Super Bowl was the 1967 Green Bay Packers. They tied Detroit but eventually took home Super Bowl II.)*

Buccaneer fans know that their team is one of the nine exceptions (well 9.5 exceptions, counting the tie) to that overall trend. Tampa Bay lost an overtime game to the New Orleans Saints to start the 2002 season, then won 15 of their next 18 outings, culminating in a blowout of Oakland in Super Bowl XXXVII. One can get a larger picture of the importance of winning the opener by including all teams that made the playoffs, not just the Super Bowl victors. Do the Bucs follow the trend in that regard?

The NFL says that, since the league went to a 16-game schedule in 1978, there have been 538 teams that won in Week One and 539 that lost. The reason those two numbers aren't an exact match is that from 1999 to 2001 the league had 31 teams, which meant at least one team had a bye in every week, including Week One. Note, then, the distinction between calling these contests, "Week One games" and "season openers." Every team would have a season opener, even if it was in Week Two.

Of the 538 Week One winners, 281 (52.2%) went on to make the playoffs and 168 (31.2%) won their divisions. Of the 539 Week One losers, 129 (23.9%) made the playoffs and 74 (13.7%) won their divisions. So you're a little more than twice as likely to reach the postseason if you win that first week, and about 2.25 times as likely to win your division.

The Buccaneers have an all-time record of 15-24 in Week One. When they have won, they've gone on to make the playoffs six times (40.0%) and won their division three times (20.0%). When they've lost, they've made the playoffs four times (16.7%) and won the division three times (12.5%). That means Tampa Bay has been 2.4 times as likely to make the playoffs with a Week One win but only 1.6 times as likely to win the division.

The Bucs happen to be starting this season at home, but it doesn't appear to make much of a difference in terms of the impact of a Week One win. The Bucs are 7-12 all time in Week One home games, and those seven wins have started three playoff seasons and four non-playoff seasons. In the 12 seasons they lost at home in Week One, they made the playoffs twice and missed them 10th. The Bucs are 8-12 all time in Week One games on the road. The Week One winners led to three playoff seasons and five non-playoff seasons. The Week One losses, just as with the home games, led to two playoff seasons and two non-playoff seasons.

2. Time to Go for Two?

The NFL adopted the two-point conversion rule in 1994, which means it has been around for just over two decades. It might soon become a much bigger part of the game, however.

The shifting of the extra point kick line back to the 15 has changed that play from a nearly automatic 20-yard chip shot to a 33-yard field goal that might give coaches pause from time to time. The NFL instituted the rule change believing it would inject a little more excitement into what had become a repetitive and (some would say) tedious moment in the game. That could happen if teams elect to go for two more often.

And that in turn could give a slight edge to teams that have proved to be proficient at two-point conversion attempts. Chicago leads the way with an impressive 85.0% success rate, while Seattle and the New York Jets bring up the rear at 27.3% each.

Below is a table of how each team fared from 2005-14 on two-point tries, including a break out of those plays into passing and rushing attempts. (On the app? Click HERE)

Overall

Rush

Pass

Team

Made

Att.

Pct.

Made

Att.

Pct.

Made

Att.

Pct.

1

CHI

17

20

85.0%

4

5

80.0%

13

15

86.7%

2

PIT

10

13

76.9%

3

3

100.0%

7

10

70.0%

3

TEN

7

11

63.6%

3

4

75.0%

4

7

57.1%

4

HOU

10

16

62.5%

4

7

57.1%

6

9

66.7%

5

STL

13

21

61.9%

4

6

66.7%

9

15

60.0%

6

NYG

10

17

58.8%

8

11

72.7%

2

6

33.3%

7

BUF

7

12

58.3%

3

4

75.0%

4

8

50.0%

8

DAL

10

18

55.6%

3

4

75.0%

7

14

50.0%

9

CAR

6

11

54.5%

2

2

100.0%

4

9

44.4%

10

ATL

9

17

52.9%

0

3

0.0%

9

14

64.3%

11t

MIN

11

21

52.4%

6

9

66.7%

5

12

41.7%

11t

NE

11

21

52.4%

4

6

66.7%

7

15

46.7%

13t

BAL

8

16

50.0%

4

7

57.1%

4

9

44.4%

13t

MIA

8

16

50.0%

3

4

75.0%

5

12

41.7%

13t

SF

4

8

50.0%

0

1

0.0%

4

7

57.1%

16t

DEN

9

19

47.4%

4

9

44.4%

5

10

50.0%

16t

NO

9

19

47.4%

5

10

50.0%

4

9

44.4%

18

SD

6

13

46.2%

1

4

25.0%

5

9

55.6%

19

IND

10

22

45.5%

3

6

50.0%

7

16

43.8%

20

DET

11

25

44.0%

0

2

0.0%

11

23

47.8%

21

GB

9

21

42.9%

0

1

0.0%

9

20

45.0%

22

WAS

11

26

42.3%

2

5

40.0%

9

21

42.9%

23

OAK

5

12

41.7%

1

1

100.0%

4

11

36.4%

24

PHI

8

20

40.0%

1

3

33.3%

7

17

41.2%

25

CLE

6

16

37.5%

1

7

14.3%

5

9

55.6%

26

CIN

7

19

36.8%

3

6

50.0%

4

13

30.8%

27

TB

8

23

34.8%

3

5

60.0%

5

18

27.8%

28

KC

5

16

31.3%

1

2

50.0%

4

14

28.6%

29

JAX

7

23

30.4%

4

11

36.4%

3

12

25.0%

30

AZ

8

27

29.6%

5

11

45.5%

3

16

18.8%

31t

NYJ

6

22

27.3%

1

2

50.0%

5

20

25.0%

31t

SEA

3

11

27.3%

0

1

0.0%

3

10

30.0%

The Buccaneers finish in the bottom quarter of the league in two-point success rate over the last decade, though they've been a bit more effective when choosing to run it in. Tampa Bay's 60% success rate in that category (while admittedly in a small sample size) is 13th in the league. There is, however, a silver lining.

Note, again, that Chicago leads the way by converting 17 of 20 tries. Now note that, of the 10 years included in this analysis, the Bears had a head coach by the name of Lovie Smith. Smith actually took over the Bears in 2004, and he spent his 10th year as an NFL head coach last season on the Buccaneers' sideline.

Adding in the numbers from 2004, which were not originally included in this chart, Smith's teams were eight of 13 on two-point conversion tries, for a success rate of 61.5%. It's true that Chicago has tried far more two-pointers in the two seasons since Smith left, going 10 for 11 in that span, but even if Smith's teams went for it less they still had a success rate that would have landed sixth on the above chart. The Bucs did not go for two in 2014 during Smith's first season as the head coach.

Smith has a new offensive coordinator in Dirk Koetter, who held the same position in Atlanta for the previous three years. During that time, the Falcons were two of five (40.0%) on two-point tries, and two of three when they went for it through the air. During Koetter's five years as the OC in Jacksonville (2007-11), the Jaguars were two of eight on two-point attempts.

So Smith's teams have gone for two 13 times in 10 seasons, which is obviously just a little bit more than once a year. Koetter's teams have tried it 13 times in eight years, only slightly more often than Smith's clubs.

Over the last decade, roughly half of the league has gone for two an average of two times a season or more. Arizona has been the boldest, doing it 2.7 times per campaign; San Francisco has been the meekest, at 0.8 times per season. The Buccaneers, under four different head coaches, have actually been the fourth-most likely team to go for two, at 2.3 times per season.

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