Welcome back to NFL Thursday; we’ve been taking a break for awhile here. Now, we start our third miniseries for professional football in America, and it should look somewhat familiar to frequent readers. Our order for this exploration is based on the winning percentages of active franchises, and we’ll start at the bottom with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers—the franchise with the worst winning percentage (.404), despite its two Super Bowl titles (2002, 2020).

Tampa Bay entered the league in 1976 and promptly lost its first 26 games; that puts a dent in any overall franchise winning percentage, of course. But the team was in the postseason by 1979, and in 48 seasons combined, the organization has an 11-11 playoff record. The Super Bowl victories coincided with the arrival of big personalities in Tampa Bay, and currently the team is riding a three-year playoff streak. Regardless, these are the five best teams in Bucs history … enjoy!

No. 5: 2001 Tampa Bay Buccaneers

This was the last team Tony Dungy coached in Tampa, and it was a good one: a 9-7 record brought only a third-place finish in the NFC Central Division, but the Bucs finished No. 8 in the SRS overall. The team was 15th in offense and 8th in defense, but in the postseason, Tampa Bay lost to Philadelphia on the road, 31-9. It was only an 8-point deficit at halftime, but all the big plays went the Eagles’ way in the second half, and Dungy was fired after 6 seasons (56-44).

Five players reached double digits in Approximate Value (AV): defensive back Ronde Barber (15), defensive tackle Warren Sapp (15), quarterback Brad Johnson (13), wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson (13), and linebacker Derrick Brooks (12). It was a well-balanced team that just underperformed, perhaps, at the end of Dungy’s tenure. These five guys would play key roles in team’s 2002 Super Bowl championship (see below), so maybe it was maturity, too.

No. 4: 2000 Tampa Bay Buccaneers

A 10-6 record earned second place in the NFC Central and another postseason slot for the Bucs. The offense finished sixth in scoring, and the defense was seventh in scoring allowed. This produced a No. 5 SRS finish, which always means a team should have a good postseason run. But after reaching the NFC Championship in 1999, Tampa Bay lost in its playoff opener to Philadelphia, 21-3. This flameout, plus the one above, after the 1999 postseason surely led to Dungy’s dismissal.

Eight players reached double digits in AV, led by Sapp (17), Brooks (16), and running back Warrick Dunn (15). In his second NFL season, QB Shaun King (14) still was a strong contributor to the team’s offensive success. Yet against the Eagles, the offense gained just 199 total yards and failed to score a touchdown. Dungy’s conservative game plans on offense hurt the defense’s ability to play at its best levels, and this was the undoing of both the 2000 and 2001 teams.

No. 3: 2021 Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The defending Super Bowl champions went 13-4 to win the NFC South Division, finishing No. 2 in scoring offense and No. 5 in scoring defense. That was good enough for a No. 3 SRS finish, and in the first playoff matchup, the Bucs drew the Philadelphia Eagles—again! But a 31-15 Tampa Bay win set the stage for an epic matchup against the eventual champions, the Los Angeles Rams. Trailing 27-3, the Bucs made a spirited comeback before losing, 30-27, late at home.

Seven guys reached double digits in AV during the first NFL season to feature 17 games, but the two far-superior standouts were right tackle Tristan Wirfs (17) and QB (cheatin’) Tom Brady (16). Bucs fans probably expected another Super Bowl victory, but after going up 31-0 against the Eagles, it’s like the T.B. roster just stayed in cruise control too long. The Bucs did tie up the Rams at 27-all, but a huge defensive breakdown in the final minute cost Tampa Bay dearly.

No. 2: 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The first Tampa Bay team to win an NFL title did so by finishing 12-4 atop the NFC South, and the team’s No. 1-ranked scoring defense carried the pedestrian offense (ranked No. 18). With a No. 2 finish in the SRS, though, expectations were high for this team in the postseason—and it delivered with three wins by a combined 106-37 margin. Beating the San Francisco 49ers, the Eagles (finally!), and the Oakland Raiders, in order, brought good times to the Tampa region.

Eight players topped double digits in AV, but three of them standout specifically: Brooks (23), defensive end Simeon Rice (21), and Sapp (21). That trio of defensive players helped the Bucs limit their regular-season opponents to just 196 points. The offense just had to do a little to make this team “work”—and it did just enough. In the Super Bowl, for example, the defense forced 5 turnovers, returning 3 INTs for TDs, but the offense still managed 365 total yards. What a recipe!

No. 1: 2020 Tampa Bay Buccaneers

We do hate that the best team in franchise history was led by a cheater, but it is what it is: an 11-5 record helped the Bucs to second place in the NFC South and a No. 2 finish in the SRS. The offense reached No. 3 in scoring, and the defense was No. 8 in points allowed. Tampa won three road playoff games by only 23 points combined to reach the Super Bowl before somehow blowing out the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs in a result that made no sense.

Only six players finished with double-digit AV, topped by Brady (15), LB Lavonte David (14), and LB Devin White (14). Yet the team still struggled in the postseason, even against 7-9 Washington in the first round with a mere 31-23 win. In the second round, the Bucs beat the New Orleans Saints, who had swept Tampa in the regular season by a combined 72-26 score. But somehow, the Saints lost at home, 30-20. Then it was on to Green Bay, where the Packers somehow choked.