Jameis Winston's Scorching Hot Streak Has Turned the Buccaneers' Season Around
Things weren't looking too spicy for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers heading into their Week 6 bye. The team was 2-3, and numberFire's algorithms gave them a whopping 13% chance to make the playoffs. To top it all off, their prized possession -- quarterback Jameis Winston -- had thrown a whopping eight interceptions in those first five games, including a four-pick outing against the Arizona Cardinals.
Fast forward to Week 14, and they're entering the stretch run tied with the Atlanta Falcons for the lead in the NFC South at 7-5. Their playoff odds are up to 47.3% as they ride a four-game winning streak that includes a stunning victory over the Seattle Seahawks.
How in the world did we get here?
There are plenty of potential answers. The defense has picked things up big time and having a deity masquerading as a wide receiver in Mike Evans certainly doesn't hurt. But at the end of the day, a lot of the credit needs to go to one person, and that guy is the aforementioned Winston.
We can show why this is the case using numberFire's Net Expected Points (NEP). This is the metric we use to track the efficiency of both teams and players, with the team totals being adjusted based on strength of opponent.
NEP shows the expected points a team gains or loses on each play they run throughout the season. There's a big difference between a three-yard gain on 3rd and 2 and that same pick up on 3rd and 4, and NEP helps quantify the differences between the two outcomes to show us which teams and players are operating in the most efficient manner.
Using NEP, we'll be able to see just how ridiculous Winston has been since that Week 6 bye, and it should show why he's the reason the Bucs are on the verge of the postseason.
We mentioned at the top that Winston was struggling with turnovers early on. That's likely underselling just how bad things were through those first five games.
Entering the bye, Winston ranked 28th in Passing NEP per drop back of the 36 quarterbacks with at least 50 drop backs. The guys beneath him included the likes of Ryan Fitzpatrick, Brock Osweiler, Blaine Gabbert, and Case Keenum, and he was trailing immortals like Blake Bortles, Derek Anderson, and Paxton Lynch. It was about as bad as it could get for a player who was the first overall pick just a year ago.
Things have been just a wee bit different ever since then. Check out the table below, which breaks Winston's season into two separate halves, with "Passing NEP/P" being short for Passing NEP per drop back.
|Drop Backs||Passing NEP||Passing NEP/P||Success Rate|
He hasn't just been better since the bye week; he has essentially been a whole new player, and he's performing like one of the best quarterbacks in football.
In the first five games, Winston had more than 10 Passing NEP in just one game, and he was below -13 Passing NEP twice. In the seven games since, Winston has been below that 10 Passing NEP threshold just once, and none of those games have been negative. It's not just his aggregate numbers that are better, but he's producing consistency of which he could only dream earlier in the year.
If we were to extrapolate that 0.35 Passing NEP per drop back for the entire season, Winston would currently be third in the league in the stat among qualified quarterbacks. The only guys above him would be Dak Prescott and Tom Brady, both of whom deserve to be in the MVP discussion. This isn't to say that Winston deserves similar accolades -- those five clunker games do still count -- but he's currently performing on par with the game's elite passers.
Because of this, Winston's Bucs now rank ninth in schedule-adjusted passing efficiency, and that includes his struggles leading up to the bye week. Their pass defense is up to sixth, and when you can find a team that is excelling in both areas, you've likely got a squad that can find success beyond just the regular season. If they get there, we'll know exactly whom to credit, and that should be Winston.
The Bucs still have a tough road ahead with three divisional games and a matchup against the Dallas Cowboys on the horizon, but with how Winston is playing, they've got the tools to keep on winning.
For whatever reason, Winston became a radically different player after their bye week. He went from being one of the league's worst quarterbacks to being one of the best, even with some tough matchups sprinkled in. Guys like Evans obviously deserve kudos for aiding in this, but they were in place even during the struggles. It wasn't until Winston righted himself that the offense really started to chug.
This sample -- seven games -- is still too small to say definitively that Winston is the league's next big thing at quarterback, and his peer Marcus Mariota will certainly have something to say about that. But with what he has done recently, Winston is at least far more firmly in that discussion than he was before, and it has propelled his team into being a legitimate postseason contender.