Analyzing Turnovers in the NFL

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How important are turnovers in the NFL? That is the question I set out to answer by comparing data over the last five years.  I have gone through and researched the teams that finished in the top three and the bottom three in turnover differential.  It’s clear that taking care of the football is huge in determining wins and losses in a given year, which is why coaches stress turnovers so much.  Let’s take a look at what I have found.

Best/Worst Turnover Differential Combined Records (2007-2012)

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that having one of the best turnover differentials in the league will likely lead to a successful season, and having one of the worst will lead to a team sitting at home during the playoffs.  Teams that have finished in the top three in turnover differential have gone a combined 222-66 straight up and 180-103-5 against the spread since 2007.  On the other hand, the three teams that finished in the bottom three in turnover differential have compiled a 96-192 straight up and 110-173-4 ATS record during that same time frame.  Now, let’s take a look at how these teams have fared in their next season.

Teams With the Best Turnover Differential Regress the Following Season

The teams that have finished in the top three in turnover differential since 2007 have regressed the next season by 2.2 wins on average.  That’s likely due to the 13.5 average drop in turnover differential, as their previous year’s total was simply unsustainable.  These same teams have averaged two fewer wins against the spread as well.  Only the 2011 Patriots (15-1) were able to improve their record after finishing in the top three in 2010 (14-2).  Only the 2011 Steelers (12-4) won the same amount of games as they did the year before. The 2012 Patriots (+25) were the only team among the top three that managed to improve their turnover differential from the previous season (+17 in 2011). No top three team has ever improved on its ATS record the following season.

Teams With the Worst Turnover Differential Improve the Following Season

Conversely, teams that finished in the bottom three in turnover differential managed to show dramatic improvement the following season.  In fact, they averaged 1.7 more wins, had a swing of 16.4 turnovers in their favor, and won 2.2 more games against the spread.  Only the 2011 Jaguars, 2011 Dolphins, 2011 Eagles and 2012 Eagles won fewer games than they did the previous season after finishing in the bottom three in turnover differential.  The 2008 49ers and the 2012 Eagles were the only teams that did not improve their turnover differential from the previous year.  Also, there have only been three teams (2010 Raiders, 2011 Steelers, 2012 Eagles) that did not improve their ATS record the next season after finishing in the bottom three.

Turnover Differential Data (2007-2012)

2007
Following Year (2008)

Top 3

Team
TO Diff.
SU Record
ATS Record
TO Diff.
+/- TO
SU Record
ATS Record
+/- SU Wins
+/- ATS Wins
Win Total
Win Total Result
Chargers
+24
11-5
11-5
+4
-20
8-8
7-9
-3
-4
10.5
UNDER
Colts
+18
13-3
9-6-1
+9
-9
12-4
8-8
-1
-1
11
OVER
Patriots
+16
16-0
10-6
+1
-15
11-5
9-7
-5
-1
12
UNDER
Bottom 3
Team
TO Diff.
SU Record
ATS Record
TO Diff.
+/- TO
SU Record
ATS Record
+/- SU Wins
+/- ATS Wins
Win Total
Win Total Result
Ravens
-17
5-11
3-13
+13
+30
11-5
12-4
+6
+9
6
OVER
Texans
-13
8-8
7-8-1
-10
+3
8-8
8-8
0
+1
7.5
OVER
49ers
-12
5-11
5-10-1
-17
-5
7-9
7-8-1
+2
+2
6
OVER
2008 Season
Following Season (2009)
Top 3
Team
TO Diff.
SU Record
ATS Record
TO Diff.
+/- TO
SU Record
ATS Record
+/- SU Wins
+/- ATS Wins
Win Total
Win Total Result
Dolphins
+17
11-5
8-8
-8
-25
7-9
8-8
-4
0
7
PUSH
Titans
+14
13-3
12-4
-4
-18
8-8
6-9-1
-5
-6
9
UNDER
Ravens
+13
11-5
12-4
+10
-3
9-7
8-8
-2
-4
8.5
OVER
Bottom 3
Team
TO Diff.
SU Record
ATS Record
TO Diff.
+/- TO
SU Record
ATS Record
+/- SU Wins
+/- ATS Wins
Win Total
Win Total Result
Broncos
-17
8-8
5-11
+7
+24
8-8
9-7
0
+4
6.5
OVER
49ers
-17
7-9
7-8-1
+9
+26
8-8
11-4-1
+1
+4
7
OVER
Cowboys
-11
9-7
7-9
+2
+13
11-5
9-7
+2
+2
9
OVER
2009 Season
Following Season (2010)
Top 3
Team
TO Diff.
SU Record
ATS Record
TO Diff.
+/- TO
SU Record
ATS Record
+/- SU Wins
+/- ATS Wins
Win Total
Win Total Result
Packers
+24
11-5
11-5
+10
-14
10-6
9-7
-1
-2
9.5
OVER
Eagles
+15
11-5
9-7
+9
-6
10-6
7-9
-1
-2
8.5
OVER
Saints
+11
13-3
8-8
-6
-17
11-5
6-9-1
-2
-2
10.5
OVER
Bottom 3
Team
TO Diff.
SU Record
ATS Record
TO Diff.
+/- TO
SU Record
ATS Record
+/- SU Wins
+/- ATS Wins
Win Total
Win Total Result
Lions
-18
2-14
4-12
+4
+22
6-10
12-4
+4
+8
5
OVER
Raiders
-13
5-11
8-8
-2
+11
8-8
8-8
+3
0
6
OVER
Rams
-13
1-15
7-9
+5
+18
7-9
10-6
+6
+3
4.5
OVER
2010 Season
Following Season (2011)
Top 3
Team
TO Diff.
SU Record
ATS Record
TO Diff.
+/- TO
SU Record
ATS Record
+/- SU Wins
+/- ATS Wins
Win Total
Win Total Result
Patriots
+28
14-2
11-5
+17
-11
15-1
11-5
+1
0
11.5
OVER
Steelers
+17
12-4
10-6
-13
-30
12-4
7-9
0
-3
10.5
OVER
Falcons
+14
13-3
11-5
+8
-6
10-6
8-7-1
-3
-3
10
PUSH
Bottom 3
Team
TO Diff.
SU Record
ATS Record
TO Diff.
+/- TO
SU Record
ATS Record
+/- SU Wins
+/- ATS Wins
Win Total
Win Total Result
Bills
-17
4-12
8-7-1
+1
+18
6-10
7-9
+2
-1
5.5
OVER
Jaguars
-15
8-8
9-7
+5
+20
5-11
6-8-2
-3
-3
6.5
UNDER
Dolphins
-12
7-9
8-8
-6
+6
6-10
8-7-1
-1
0
7.5
UNDER
2011 Season
Following Season (2012)
Top 3
Team
TO Diff.
SU Record
ATS Record
TO Diff.
+/- TO
SU Record
ATS Record
+/- SU Wins
+/- ATS Wins
Win Total
Win Total Result
49ers
+28
13-3
11-3-2
+9
-19
11-4-1
9-7
-2
0
10
OVER
Packers
+24
15-1
11-5
+7
-17
11-5
9-7
-4
-2
12
UNDER
Patriots
+17
13-3
9-7
+25
+8
12-4
9-6-1
-1
0
12
PUSH
Bottom 3
Team
TO Diff.
SU Record
ATS Record
TO Diff.
+/- TO
SU Record
ATS Record
+/- SU Wins
+/- ATS Wins
Win Total
Win Total Result
Bucs
-16
4-12
4-12
+3
+19
7-9
9-6-1
+3
+5
6
OVER
Eagles
-14
8-8
8-8
-24
-10
4-12
3-13
-4
-5
10
UNDER
Redskins
-14
5-11
7-9
+17
+31
10-6
11-5
+5
+4
6.5
OVER
2012 Season
Upcoming Season
Top 3
Team
TO Diff.
SU Record
ATS Record
2013 Win Total
Patriots
+25
12-4
9-6-1
11
Bears
+20
10-6
7-8-1
8.5
Redskins
+17
10-6
11-5
8.5
Bottom 3
Team
TO Diff.
SU Record
ATS Record
2013 Win Total
Chiefs
-24
2-14
5-11
7.5
Eagles
-24
4-12
3-13
7.5
Lions
-16
4-12
5-10-1
8

Breaking Down the Numbers

Biggest Movers

Season Win Totals

Sportsbooks set season win totals for each NFL team.  You have to predict whether that team is going to finish with more or less wins than that set number.  Surprisingly, betting the UNDER on teams that finished in the top three in turnovers the previous season would be a losing wager over the past five years.  Those teams have actually gone 8-5-2 to the OVER during this span.  However, what really stands out is backing the OVER on teams that finished in the bottom three in turnovers the previous year.  These teams have gone a stunning 12-3 (80%) OVER their win totals the next season.

Win Totals for 2013: Best Three Turnover Differential Teams from 2012

All three of these teams’ win totals have been set at numbers less than the amount of games they won last year.  While the UNDER on these teams in the top three in turnovers has been a losing bet, there could be some value in 2013.  The top three teams since 2007 have regressed by an average of 2.2 wins the next year.  The Patriots won 12 games last season, so a 2.2 difference would put them at 9.8, which is well below their posted total of 11.  The Bears fall into the ‘play against’ category after winning 10 games last season.  Subtracting the 2.2 from that total puts them at 7.8, which is nearly a full win less than their win total of 8.5.  However, you have to remember that betting the UNDER on the top three teams in turnovers since 2007 has yielded a 5-8-2 (38.5%) record.

Win Totals for 2013: Worst Three Turnover Differential Teams from 2012

The teams in the bottom three in turnovers have averaged 1.7 more wins the next season.  While that average wouldn’t put the Chiefs, Eagles or Lions over their posted win total in 2013, the fact of the matter is that betting the OVER on these teams blindly has gone 12-3 (80%) since 2007.  I could see all three of these teams winning at least eight games, which would give you a 2-0-1 record on OVER bets if they were to all finish 8-8.  The Chiefs now have a proven head coach in Andy Reid and a quarterback in Alex Smith.  The Lions lost nine games last year by a touchdown or less, and that is not going to happen again.  The Eagles have new life with Chip Kelly and could be a sleeper in the NFC East as their win total has been set at a number less than the other three teams within the division.  Thinks back to the Redskins last year, whose total was set at 6.5 but won 10 games.  Kelly will not put up with turnovers because this team is deep at the quarterback position if a change is needed.

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