SR’s Fab 5 is a collection of inside scoop, analysis and insight from yours truly, publisher and Bucs beat writer Scott Reynolds. Here are a few things that caught my attention this week at One Buc Place and around the NFL.

FAB 1. What It Will Take For The Bucs To Make The Playoffs

It took the Buccaneers four decades to find a franchise quarterback in Jameis Winston.

Tampa Bay has a Pro Bowler in Mike Evans, who has had three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons and is destined to become the best receiver in team history.

The Bucs have a rejuvenated Doug Martin back in the fold and he is aiming to become the first running back in team history to have three 1,000-yard seasons in his Tampa Bay career.

But when all three had tremendous seasons in 2015 and Dirk Koetter’s offense reached 6,000 yards for the first time in team history, the Bucs only managed to win six games and the team’s head coach, Lovie Smith, was fired after two disappointing seasons.

Bucs RB Doug Martin - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Bucs RB Doug Martin – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

The growing popularity of fantasy football has heightened the star status of other offensive skill positions, but even in a league that has tailored its rules and its game to help the quarterback throw the ball defense still wins championships.

For Tampa Bay to make the postseason not only will Winston, Evans and Martin need to have good seasons, but Mike Smith’s defense will have to continue to improve for the Bucs to earn a playoff berth. History shows that in every year that Tampa Bay made the playoffs the defense also ranked in the top 10 in points allowed – except for the strike-shortened season of 1982, which we’re not counting in this research because NFL teams only played nine games that year.

The Bucs defense also ranked inside the top 10 in total yards, too with the exception of the 1981 season.

Bucs’ Playoff Defensive Rankings Points Allowed / Yards Allowed
1979 – 1st in scoring defense / 1st in total defense
1981 – 4th in scoring defense / 13th in total defense
1997 – 2nd in scoring defense / 3rd in total defense
1999 – 3rd in scoring defense / 3rd in total defense
2000 – 7th in scoring defense / 9th in total defense
2001 – 8th in scoring defense / 6th in total defense
2002 – 1st in scoring defense / 1st in total defense
2005 – 8th in scoring defense / 1st in total defense
2007 – 3rd in scoring defense / 2nd in total defense

Now take a look at the corresponding offensive rankings by the Bucs in their playoff years.

Bucs’ Playoff Offensive Rankings Points Allowed / Yards Allowed
1979 – 27th in scoring offense / 28th in total offense
1981 – 18th in scoring offense / 18th in total offense
1997 – 23rd in scoring offense / 29th in total offense
1999 – 27th in scoring offense / 28th in total offense
2000 – 6th in scoring offense / 21st in total offense
2001 – 15th in scoring offense / 26th in total offense
2002 – 18th in scoring offense / 24th in total offense
2005 – 20th in scoring offense / 23rd in total offense
2007 – 18th in scoring offense / 18th in total offense

Notice that the Bucs made the playoffs on the strength of the defense in every year, given the fact that the offense was in the bottom half of the league rankings in scoring offense in six out of eight playoff seasons. Tampa Bay’s offense never ranked higher than 18th in the league in total offense in any playoff season.

Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter and defensive coordinator Mike Smith – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

In case you were wondering, the Bucs finished 20th in the league in 2015 with Koetter as the play-caller, averaging just 21.4 points per game, despite finishing fifth in the NFL in total offense, averaging 375.9 yards per game. Last year with Koetter as head coach and play-caller, the Bucs slipped to 18th in the league in total offense, averaging 346.4 yards per game, while slightly improving to 18th in the NFL in scoring offense with a 22.1 points per game average.

History suggests that the Bucs offense is good enough right now to make the playoffs without much improvement – as long as the defense continues to make strides towards becoming a dominant unit.

In 2016, which was the first year with Mike Smith calling the defensive plays, the Bucs finished 15th in scoring defense, allowing 23.1 points per game. That was marked improvement over the previous season in which the Bucs gave up 26.1 points per game and ranked 26th in scoring defense.

Tampa Bay still has a ways to go in yards allowed after ranking 23rd last year, surrendering 367.9 yards per game. Houston was the top-ranked defense, allowing just 301.3 yards per game in 2016.

Last year, six of the 12 playoff teams had defenses that ranked in the top half of the league in total defense with four teams – Houston, Seattle, New England and the New York Giants – in the top 10. When it came to scoring defense, eight of the 12 playoff teams finished in the top half of the NFL with six teams – New England, the New York Giants, Seattle, Dallas, Kansas City and Pittsburgh – in the top 10.

It’s no surprise that New England, the team with the best scoring defense last year, won the Super Bowl. The Patriots allowed just 15.6 points per game last year – 10 points per game fewer than the Bucs did.

Bucs DT Warren Sapp and Tampa Bay's 2002 defense - Photo by: Getty Images

Bucs DT Warren Sapp and Tampa Bay’s 2002 defense – Photo by: Getty Images

Hall of Fame defensive tackle and Bucs legend Warren Sapp was famous for saying that if Tampa Bay’s offense could generate 17 points in a game that the defense would get the victory by holding the opponent to 16 points or less. That’s a tall order considering that offenses have evolved over the years and scoring is up across the league. But if Smith’s unit can improve to 10th in the league in scoring defense, which was 20.4 points per game last year, that should be good enough for Tampa Bay to make the playoffs.

Former Bucs head coach Jon Gruden once told me that total offensive and total defensive rankings don’t mean squat because yards don’t win games – points do. That’s true. Points scored offensively and points allowed defensively are the key stats and the true indicators of success, and that has held true over time in the years the Bucs have made the playoffs.

That leads us to a very relevant statistic, which is point differential. That is the number of the cumulative points scored and cumulative points allowed, subtracting the lower value from the higher. You might think that a team with a winning record automatically has a positive point differential, but you would be wrong.

Despite finishing with a 9-7 record in 2016, Koetter’s Bucs finished with a minus-15 point differential. That means that the Bucs defense gave up 15 more points than the offense scored last season.

In every year Tampa Bay has made the playoffs it has had a positive point differential. The largest favorable spread in team history came in 2002 as the Bucs had a plus-150-point differential thanks in large part to the league’s top-ranked scoring defense.

Positive Point Differential In Bucs’ Playoff Seasons
2002 – 150-point differential
2000 – 119-point differential
2007 – 64-point differential
1981 – 47-point differential
2001 – 44-point differential
1979 – 36-point differential
1997 – 36-point differential
1999 – 35-point differential
2005 – 26-point differential

The Bucs have also had three additional seasons with a positive point differential yet the team didn’t end up in the postseason.

Positive Point Differential In Bucs’ Non-Playoff Seasons
2008 – 38-point differential
2003 – 37-point differential
2010 – 23-point differential

Gruden’s 2008 season ended up with him getting fired despite going 9-7 and missing the postseason by a game. Raheem Morris’ Tampa Bay team went 10-6 in 2010, but also missed the playoffs by a game. In the 12 seasons in which the Bucs have had a positive point differential, only the 2003 season, in which Tampa Bay had a 7-9 record following the Super Bowl, resulted in a losing season.

Ex-Bucs head coach Jon Gruden and DBs coach Mike Tomlin – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Point differentials can be tricky because a blowout win or two, or a couple of blowout losses, can really skew the perception that having a good point differential means success. A case in point was that Gruden’s 2004 team had a minus-3 point differential, yet went 5-11, while his 2006 squad went 4-12, but had a minus-142 point differential.

Greg Schiano’s 2012 Bucs team had a minus-5 point differential and finished with a 7-9 record as you might expect.

In case you’re wondering, the worst point differential in team history occurred in the winless 1976 season in which Tampa Bay had a minus-287 point differential in just 14 games.

One last defensive indicator as it pertains to the Bucs making the playoffs. The common denominator in all of Tampa Bay’s playoff teams is points allowed in a season. When the Bucs hold opponents to 280 points or less historically they make the playoffs.

Bucs’ Playoff Teams When Defenses Allow 280 Points Or Less
2002 – 196 points allowed
1999 – 235 points allowed
1979 – 237 points allowed
1997 – 263 points allowed
1981 – 268 points allowed
2000 – 269 points allowed
2007 – 270 points allowed
2005 – 274 points allowed
2001 – 280 points allowed

There have only been two seasons in which Tampa Bay’s defense collectively held opponents to below 280 points and didn’t make the postseason. That happened in 1978 when the Bucs went 5-11 after allowing 259 points, and in 2003 when Monte Kiffin’s defense held opponents to just 264 total points while Tampa Bay finished with an underachieving 7-9 record.

Ex-Bucs LBs Shelton Quarles and Derrick Brooks, CB Ronde Barber and SS John Lynch - Photo by: Getty Images

Ex-Bucs LBs Shelton Quarles and Derrick Brooks, CB Ronde Barber and SS John Lynch – Photo by: Getty Images

The Bucs have surrendered 300 points or more 26 seasons in the team’s history. Last year was one of those, as Smith’s unit allowed 355 of Tampa Bay’s 369 points (Winston threw two pick-sixes). Allowing just 280 points might be tall order in a day and age where scoring is on the rise. Pittsburgh, the league’s 10th ranked scoring defense last year, surrendered 327 points.

Smith’s defense isn’t far off, and was one of the league’s best scoring defenses over the last eight games where Tampa Bay’s defense allowed just 16.75 points per game. If the Bucs defense can pick up where it left off in 2016, Tampa Bay will return to the playoffs during the 2017 season.

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About the Author: Scott Reynolds

Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at:
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4 years ago

Think Trevor has spoiled me Scott. The Fab 5 was boring as heck for me.. A lot of useless old information in comparison to what should be the real valuable data starting with the Winston Era. We need some luck and no key injury loss’es to make it to the Playoffs. Go Bucs!

Reply to  Horse
4 years ago

Horse- I agree with what you said. We now have a franchise QB!

Reply to  Horse
4 years ago

Horse, Trevor is doing great, but he does not have the historical memory.

Trevor Sikkema
Reply to  76Buc
4 years ago

Football didn’t exist before 1995. Can confirm.

Reply to  Trevor Sikkema
4 years ago

Good to know. Apparently I was dreaming from 1954 through 1994! lol

Reply to  warren
4 years ago

Have you watched Matrix? Nothing is real. LOL

4 years ago

I don’t know what Horse is talking about. I enjoyed it. As a kid, I started watching the Bucs around 1995-1996. My Dad cheered for them because they were the local team and because he always likes the underdog. I thought they were the underdog because of their cream colored jerseys. Not very intimidating. I couldn’t really name any players until around 2000, and started following them religiously the year they won the Super Bowl. That’s why appreciate article like this and when you guys talk about the team history on the podcast, because I get to learn more about… Read more »

Reply to  Destino102
4 years ago

I agree with Destino and respectfully disagree with Horse. Scott, your Fab 5 article have been great this year. Very informative. I was a subscriber of your mag back in the early ’90s when it was the only news of the Bucs I could find. I remember an early article about a Buc rookie named Santana Dobson. It is only getting better.

Buc-in-Philly Fan
4 years ago

I enjoyed the nostalgia in the numbers. There are some correlations but I think this Team’s dna has changed. We are no longer the juggernaut on defense. The league has changed. The Team has changed. I like where we are and as a die hard fan having been born on MacDill AFB and seeing all of these statistics actually played out I am finally excited to the level of ’97-‘2003 and believe we are not only relevant but control our destiny. I am F’ing thrilled to be a Bucs fan again!!!!
Good article Scott and thank you!

4 years ago

Kwon needs to be the captain over Lavonte this year, he brings the general factor, the guy you want to play behind, leading the troops. His energy makes the defense play better. Pick 2 of the 3 to lead Nickerson, Sapp, Brooks. Brooks is the odd man out for me and that’s the leadership style lvd has

4 years ago

Buc football has ways been defense.
Imagine . . .
Aaron Donald instead of Mike Evans.
Luke Kuechly instead of Mark Barron.

Reply to  DrT1066
4 years ago

I agree with the Kuechly choice. But would we have been better taking Donald over Evans ?
I don’t think I would swap those two out.

4 years ago

While Doug Martin gets a lot of heat for his down seasons, and deservedly so, his “on” seasons show up pretty well on the list compared to other Buc’s running backs. Only James Wilder has one season that is better than Doug’s, but as a two year mark eclipsing the 1,000 yard mark, Doug stands alone. If, as the staff says, he is in the best form of his career and can eclipse the 1000 yard mark in spite of his suspension, he will be alone among Bucs running backs with 1000 yard seasons. No wonder, Koeter wants to give… Read more »

4 years ago

Hey Scott- your fab 5’s are awesome! Having said that I must agree with horse. I don’t think the past informs the future. The NLF is very different now and while you mentioned the Patriots leading defense, you failed to mentioned the Falcons who made the SB with an improved, but overall mediocre defense. In addition to the NFL changing, this defense, in my HUMBLE opinion, is NO WHERE even close the those iconic defenses. However, this offense has a chance to be MUCH better than any offense we’ve ever had. IMO the Bucs can make the playoffs if we… Read more »

No Fly Zone
4 years ago

Good Fab 5, but like others, I disagree with using Bucs team of the past as the benchmark for making the playoffs. I think it would be better to use Wild Card teams from the past 3 years to see what the Bucs need to do to make the playoffs. 2014- The Bengals were 15th in points per game and 12th in points against per game Ravens: 8th in PPG and 6th in scoring defense Cardinals: 24th in PPG and 5th in scoring defense Lions: 22nd in PPG and 3rd in PAPG 2015- Chiefs- 9th in PPGand 3rd in PAPG… Read more »

4 years ago

What we need is improved play from the OL which can afford no more than one significant injury, if that. With all of the weapons we have, if we get that we have a credible shot at the playoffs. The coaches are saying all the right things about the OL but what choice do they have, these are the players they have to work with, being negative won’t help anything. Lack of depth there plus several other spots leaves little margin for error so it wouldn’t be surprising if we don’t get over the hump this year. If we do,… Read more »

Reply to  matador
4 years ago

Excellent analysis matador. The only thing I would add is that there still appears to be a lack of speed and athleticism in the defensive backfield.

4 years ago

To a certain degree I agree with you in regards to the offensive line matador, but there were a few games last year where the Bucs had to put together a patch work offensive line and still managed to move the ball and win the games. Besides, with the majority of college teams using spread offense, less pro ready OL are coming into the league so the Bucs aren’t the only team that suffers from this malady. DrT, I shudder to think what the Buc offense would have looked like the last few years without Mike Evans. As far as… Read more »

4 years ago

I don’t want to sound negative about my Bucs. I believe in them and it’s about time we get a little luck and have less injuries. We deserve to be in the playoffs and now let’s get there! Go Bucs!

4 years ago

Headed off to the Pittsburgh area this morning for a few Shorty’s hot dogs and some gravy fries. Just a weekend trip to relax a bit and not visit any relatives. Shhhhhhh. Up early to read Scott’s Fab 5 and get pumped up about our Bucs before venturing into Steelers Country. In western Pennsylvania it’s all about the Steelers and rightfully so. Unlike here where football loyalties often reside elsewhere. Equally different is the too often pessimistic outlook of the upcoming season we Bucs fans adopt to shield ourselves from anticipated disappointment. I for one am looking forward to a… Read more »

4 years ago

I think I agree with our posters about attitude. I sincerely hope Kwon Alexander is sufficiently pissed off after being snubbed by virtually every poll that ranks players. I can see Koetter using the dismissive attitude about our players to his benefit. POST these negative and lackluster comments in the locker room and tell them to put up or shut up. Then take the big M**********G stick and beat the S**T out of them on the field. Good Fab 5 Scott. The biggest thing that makes me hopeful and goo-goo eyed is having Mike Smith back. The defense should be… Read more »

4 years ago

Poll question about which position we’re most concerned about left off the obvious choice – D LINE!!!!!!

4 years ago

Dman, like that picture of Kirk Douglas as Spartacus. Great movie.
Did you ever see him as Col. Dax in Stanley Kubrick’s “Paths of Glory. Fantastic movie.
Finally, one of my all time favorites and Kirk Douglas’ as well, was “Lonely Are the Brave,”
The first Rambo movie was a direct ripoff or remake of that film.
With the return of Jacquez Smith, the addition of Chris Baker and with a two armed second year Noah Spence returning, the Bucs should be able to crack the 40 sack mark this year and dare I say even 45.

4 years ago

Scott is totally correct that it is the Bucs defense that will determine whether or not this team makes the playoffs. Don’t believe the hype that today’s NFL is all about the offense. The unbelievable Super Bowl comeback by Brady last February could not have happened if thd Pats D had not stopped cold/dead the great Falcs offense in the secind half. As to the relevence of specific statistics, it is obvious from Scott’s review that there are many different ways to manufacture a winner. Whichever way it’s dine, the bottom line is the Bucs D has to lead the… Read more »

Reply to  Naplesfan
4 years ago

Naplesfan, only reason why Falcons lost even though they were up by 28 was because they went conservative on both sides. Defense gave Brady so much separation to throw his wounded ducks.

Reply to  Horse
4 years ago

Horse – you made my point … a defense can win a game, as NE’s did, or it can lose the game, as ATL’s did .. or both, as both did.

Reply to  Naplesfan
4 years ago

Yes I was agreeing with you.