Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Football Geekery: Primed for a Playoff Race

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: Wild card races, Doug Martin chases and more.

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 look at playoff hopes for 5-5 teams, Doug Martin's chances at hitting another impressive milestone and third-down conversion rate by a rookie quarterback. Let's get started.

1. Playoffs From Here?

On the heels of back-to-back wins over Dallas and Philadelphia that got their record back to even, the Buccaneers feel as if they are a relevant team as the playoff stretch drive begins. This isn't just wishful thinking.

From the most straightforward point of view, the Buccaneers are exactly one game behind the last NFC playoff spot with six weeks still to go. At the moment, the second Wild Card spot belongs to the 6-4 Atlanta Falcons, a team the Buccaneers defeated in the Georgia Dome in Week Eight and will play host to at Raymond James Stadium in Week 13. If the Bucs win at Indianapolis this coming Sunday and the Falcons fall to Minnesota, that intradivision matchup the following weekend would essentially be a battle for a playoff spot between two 6-5 squads.

Photos of Buccaneers vs. Colts matchups through the years.

Of course, the Seahawks could also be 6-5 at that point, and there are a handful of four-win NFC teams lurking. And, as confident as they are feeling at the moment, the Bucs would rather be in the positions occupied by the Falcons and the Green Bay Packers, who were 7-3 after Week 11 before a loss to Chicago on Thanksgiving night.

The NFL went to its current playoff format of four division winners and two Wild Card entrants per conference when it added the Houston Texans in 2002 and realigned into eight four-team divisions. Since then, the 52 teams that have gone on to win Wild Card berths have had an average win total of 6.23 after 10 games played. Not only is that the average win total, but the large majority of those Wild Card teams had at least six wins; that is also the mean win total of those 52 teams. Here's how all 52 break down in terms of wins after 10 games played (the entries with half-wins involved teams that had a tie):

  • 4 wins: 2 teams
  • 5 wins: 7 teams
  • 5.5 wins: 1 team
  • 6 wins: 20 teams
  • 6.5 wins: 2 teams
  • 7 wins: 15 teams
  • 8 wins: 3 teams
  • 9 wins: 2 teams

Still, that's nine teams in 13 years that went from five wins at the 10-game mark to a Wild Card berth, and a 10th team with five wins and a tie. Another four division winners were at 5-5 after 10 games, but that seems like a distant long shot for the Buccaneers, who are 5.5 games back of the undefeated Panthers with six of their own games to play.

The most encouraging season for the Buccaneers (not to mention the Seahawks and the five 5-5 teams in the AFC) among those 13 campaigns was 2009, specifically on the AFC side. That year, the Baltimore Ravens were 5-5 and the New York Jets were 4-6 after 10 games, and both won Wild Card berths over the 6-4 Pittsburgh Steelers, Denver Broncos and Jacksonville Jaguars.

Of course, not all 5-5 records are created equal…or rather, are in equally good playoff launch spots. Those 5-5 teams in the AFC this season are in a more favorable position than the Bucs or Seahawks; two of them (Indianapolis and Houston) are co-division leaders and the other three are all tied for the second Wild Card spot. Kansas City owns the current tiebreaker but the Bills, Jets and whichever team does not take the AFC South from among the Colts and Texans all have plenty of time to pull away from the others.

In the 13 seasons discussed above under the current playoff format, there have been another three occasions, not including teams with 5.5 wins or fewer, in which a club one game behind the last Wild Card occupant after 10 games went on to make the playoffs. That happened most recently in 2013 when San Diego launched from 4-6 all the way to 9-7, passing the 5-5 Jets and Dolphins in the process.

Below is a look at the average win totals the AFC and NFC Wild Card teams had after 10 games played in each season under the current playoff format. The columns marked "5-5?" and "1GB" indicate how many teams had 5-5 records and/or were one game back and how many of those made the playoffs that season. For instance, a "1/3" listing would indicate that three teams were 5-5 and one of them made the playoffs. An asterisk indicates that the team that made the playoffs actually won its division (or one of two such teams in the case of the 2002 AFC playoffs).

Season

NFC Avg. W

5-5?

1GB

AFC Avg. W

5-5?

1GB

2014

8.00

0/0

0/0

6.00

0/2

0/2

2013

5.50

1/2

1/2

6.50

0/2

1/5

2012

6.00

0/2

0/2

5.50

1/1

1/1

2011

6.50

0/0

1/2

6.50

1/4*

1/4*

2010

7.00

0/1

0/1

7.50

0/4

0/1

2009

6.00

0/1

0/1

4.50

1/3

1/3

2008

5.25

1/4

1/4

6.00

0/1

0/1

2007

6.00

1/3

1/3

6.50

0/3

0/3

2006

6.00

1/3*

1/3*

5.50

1/2

1/2

2005

6.00

1/2

0/1

7.00

0/0

0/2

2004

5.50

1/2

0/5

7.00

0/0

0/1

2003

7.00

1/3*

0/0

7.00

0/1

0/1

2002

6.25

0/1

1/1

5.50

2/6*

2/6

2. 400 in Two?

Doug Martin's 235 rushing yards in Philadelphia marked the 20th-best single-game total in NFL history. The week before, against Dallas, Martin had rushed for 63 yards on 18 totes, meaning his combined rushing yardage total from the last two games is two yards shy of 300. Of course, Martin could achieve the 300-yards-in-two-games feat with 65 on Sunday in Indianapolis.

That wouldn't exactly be breaking new ground for the Bucs' fourth-year back, thanks to the fact that Sunday's game in Philly wasn't even the best of his career. In Oakland on Nov. 4, 2012 – Martin's rookie campaign – he plowed for 251 yards and four touchdowns on 25 totes. Since he had 135 yards at Minnesota in the prior game and 68 the following week against San Diego, Martin has already crossed the 300-yards-in-two-games plateau twice. His combined total of 386 rushing yards against the Vikings and Raiders that year are a franchise record and the 16th-best over a two-game span by any NFL player since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. Martin would need another 152 yards in Indianapolis this weekend to best his own record and 165 to become just the ninth player since the merger to crack 400 in two games. Below are the top 20 two-game rushing totals in the NFL since 1970.

Player

Year

Tm

Att.

Yds.

Avg.

TDs

O.J. Simpson*

1976

BUF

53

476

8.98

3

Walter Payton*

1977

CHI

73

467

6.4

4

Mike Anderson

2000

DEN

67

446

6.66

6

Ricky Williams

2002

MIA

58

444

7.66

4

Jerome Harrison

2009

CLE

73

434

5.95

4

Jamal Lewis

2003

BAL

53

427

8.06

3

O.J. Simpson*

1973

BUF

56

419

7.48

2

Corey Dillon

2000

CIN

49

415

8.47

3

Walter Payton*

1977

CHI

60

412

6.87

2

Earl Campbell*

1980

HOU

60

405

6.75

2

O.J. Simpson*

1975

BUF

60

400

6.67

3

O.J. Simpson*

1976

BUF

54

391

7.24

2

Eric Dickerson*

1983

LAN

58

391

6.74

5

Clinton Portis

2003

DEN

56

388

6.93

7

Gary Anderson

1988

SD

60

387

6.45

1

Doug Martin

2012

TB

54

386

7.15

5

Earl Campbell*

1980

HOU

65

384

5.91

3

Barry Sanders*

1997

DET

43

383

8.91

5

Mike Anderson

2000

DEN

66

382

5.79

6

Earl Campbell*

1980

HOU

71

381

5.37

1

Racking up 300 yards in a two-game span isn't a particularly rare sequence in the NFL. It's been done 238 times in the 46 seasons since 1970, an average of a little over five times a season. Buccaneer players have done it five times; in addition to Martin's two overlapping game pairs in 2012, James Wilder did it in 1983, Errict Rhett in 1994 and Warrick Dunn in 2000. St. Louis's Todd Gurley, the New York Jets' Chris Ivory and Minnesota's Adrian Peterson have already done it this year. Even 350-yard two-game stretches aren't terribly rare; there have been 58 of those since the merger, or more than one a season. None of Gurley, Ivory or Peterson got to 350 in their big pairs this year, though, so Martin could be the first in 2015.

It would be quite a bit more interesting, and a more significant milestone, however if Martin could get to 400 yards in two games and join a very small and elite group of running backs: O.J. Simpson, Walter Payton, Mike Anderson, Ricky Williams, Jerome Harrison, Jamal Lewis, Corey Dillon and Earl Campbell. To hit that market, the target on Sunday in Indianapolis is 165 yards.

3. Keeping Drives Alive

The Buccaneers essentially put the game away in Philadelphia last Sunday when they opened the third quarter with a touchdown drive that ate nearly 10 minutes off the clock and put the visitors up, 35-14. Jameis Winston helped the Bucs convert three third downs on that drive, part of a 10-for-16 afternoon in that category.

Photos of the Colts' projected starters as listed on the team's depth chart.

That 62.5% conversion rate tied for the 15th-best mark the Bucs' offense has ever had on third downs in a single game. It marked just the fourth time since the turn of the millennium that Tampa Bay has done that well on third downs in one outing.

Overall, the Bucs have converted at least 50% of their third down tries on 112 occasions in franchise history. The correlation with that stat and wins and losses isn't necessarily very strong – the Bucs are just 62-50 in those games. Even in the 19 games in which the Bucs have hit that 62.5% mark from Sunday or higher they are just 12-7. That's good, but not overwhelming.

Below are all the games in team history with a third-down conversion rate of 62.5% or better, with the starting quarterback for each game noted in the last column. The Bucs' third-down conversion success in Philadelphia was the best the team has ever had with a rookie quarterback starting. The previous record was 58.3 (7-12) against Indianapolis on Dec. 15, 1985 with Steve Young at the helm.

Opp.

Date

Made

Att.

Pct.

W/L

Starting QB

ATL

9/13/1987

14

16

87.5

W

DeBerg

MIA

9/21/1997

7

9

77.8

W

Dilfer

STL

11/8/1987

12

16

75.0

L

DeBerg

NO

9/24/1989

9

12

75.0

W

Testaverde

CHI

9/20/1998

8

11

72.7

W

Dilfer

CIN

9/25/1983

10

14

71.4

L

Thompson

ATL

11/9/2014

12

17

70.6

L

McCown

GB

11/22/1981

11

16

68.8

W

Williams

NO

11/7/1999

11

16

68.8

W

Dilfer

DAL

9/21/1980

8

12

66.7

L

Williams

DET

9/9/1990

10

15

66.7

W

Testaverde

GB

11/30/1980

13

20

65.0

W

Williams

DET

10/14/1984

11

17

64.7

L

DeBerg

GB

9/10/1989

9

14

64.3

W

Testaverde

MIN

11/16/1980

10

16

62.5

L

Williams

OAK

11/10/1996

10

16

62.5

W

Dilfer

DET

9/17/2000

10

16

62.5

W

King

CAR

11/28/2004

10

16

62.5

L

Griese

PHI

11/22/2015

10

16

62.5

W

Winston

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