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How much do turnovers matter?



The Owner's Favorite
Jun 30, 2009
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Raleigh, NC


One of my favorite football related websites is Cold Hard Football Facts. The reason? They dig through the stats and determine the correlation of stat with the likelihood of a team winning a football game.

Kerry Byrne, the head honcho at CHFF did an article for SI in which the staff at CHFF went back through all the NFL games dating back to 1978 to determine the correlation between winning the turnover battle in a game and the likelihood of winning. In other words, what's the overall record of teams who did have fewer turnovers and, more interestingly, did the difference between how many turnovers the wining team have versus the losing team have make a difference in the likeliood of winning.

It turns out it seems to make a notable difference.

Tracking the Importance of Turnovers With Spreadapedia
Most fans instinctively know that if you win the turnover battle, you typically win the game.
But do you know how often? Neither did we, until Cleveland's rare +7 near-death experience inspired us to consult with Spreadapedia to find the empirical evidence that highlights the importance of turnovers.
Spreadapedia is our database at Cold, Hard Football Facts Insider with every score, point spread, over-under line, box score and game result since 1978. It gives football fans the power to instantly search any trend in modern football history.
The short answer about turnovers: winning the battle might be more important than even the smartest fans realize. Teams that win the turnover battle are:

• 5,478-1,477-14 (.787) since 1978
• 106-30-1 (.779) here in 2012
The results get more interesting when you break down the record of teams turnover by turnover.

+1 in turnovers --1,895-937-5 (.669)
It doesn't take much for turnovers to pay off. Teams that merely win the battle by just one turnover win two of three NFL games. They are 37-18-1 (.673) here in 2012, virtually identical with the historic average.

+2 -- 1,623-366-6 (.816)
Turnovers and victories move like clockwork -- a jump of .147 percentage points from +1 to +2 in turnovers. Teams that are +2 are 32-10 (.762) here in 2012.

+3 -- 1,056-135-2 (.887)
Now it's getting serious: teams +3 in turnovers win nearly 90 percent of NFL games. They are 22-1 (.957) in 2012, with the lone exception the Lions outlasting the Rams, 27-23, back in Week 1.

+4 -- 588-30 (.951)
The New England Patriots, to cite a recent example of un-Browns-like competence when enjoying a glut of turnovers, were +4 in turnovers in each of their last two games. They crushed the Colts and Jets by a combined score of 108-43. Teams +4 are 13-0 here in 2012.

+5 -- 218-7 (.969)
We witnessed a bit of history two weeks ago, when the Falcons survived the Cardinals, 23-19, despite losing the turnover battle, 6-1. They were just the seventh team in 35 seasons to win a game when -5 in turnovers.

+6 -- 72-1 (.986)
Only one team since 1978 has lost a game when +6 in turnovers. That's right: the Cleveland Browns. They blew a 6 turnover advantage at Tennessee in 2000, losing 24-10.

+7 -- 21-1 (.955)
The 1983 Steelers hold the distinction as the team to overcome the greatest turnover differential and still win a game. Cliff Stoudt was picked off three times while Pittsburgh fumbled the ball away four times, before finally edging the Buccaneers 17-12.
With one more score Sunday, third-stringer Charlie Batch and the Steelers would have matched that feat again here in 2012.

+8 -- 2-0 (1.000)
The Buffalo Bills famously gagged away Super Bowl XXVII with nine turnovers, while forcing the Dallas Cowboys into just one. America's Team rode the 8-turnover advantage into a 52-17 Super Bowl blowout.
The Cleveland Browns, back when they were competent, beat Pittsburgh 51-0 on Sept. 10, 1989, with an 8-turnover edge.

+9 -- 1-0 (1.000)
Green Bay (2 turnovers) beat San Diego (11 turnovers), 24-3, back on Sept. 24, 1978. Three Chargers quarterbacks combined for five interceptions that day, including two by Hall of Famer Dan Fouts. San Diego ball carriers fumbled the ball an incredible nine times, losing six of them.

+10 -- 1-0 (1.000)
The 49ers coughed up the ball 10 times against the Cowboys (0 turnovers) on Oct. 12, 1980. Dallas won, 59-14. Steve DeBerg threw 5 picks for the 49ers that day, with back-up second-year QB Joe Montana sitting on the bench.
In a league built for parity, turnovers are clearly the great un-equalizer.
Here's the all-time record of every NFL team (since 1978), when winning the turnover battle. Even the worst team, the Lions (naturally), win games at a 67.3 percent clip when winning the turnover battle.

Read More: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/20...1/27/browns-steelers/index.html#ixzz2Dowroy3W
Just to be clear-this is obviously not saying that turnovers are the deciding factor but as you can see from the stats in the article, it is a factor that has a lot of influence on whether or not a football game is won or lost.

Article link: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2012/writers/kerry_byrne/11/27/browns-steelers/index.html?sct=nfl_wr_a3

Last edited:

Lanky Livingston

I saw a stat the other day that leads me to believe the Falcons are pretenders - they won the turnover battle Thursday night for the first time in 8 weeks; that is unsustainable. They will be bounced from the playoffs early, I have zero doubt.


The Franchise Player
Jul 15, 2009
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Columbia, SC

I think we're gonna need at least a +2 on Monday Night. Eli is like that kid you hated in school that partied all week and didn't get started on a project until the night before it's due and gets an A.


Nov 17, 2010
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I live in the warmest city in the coldest provinc


Turnovers are massive thats why guys like Gregg Williams are better DC's than Blache, Blache will win the stats battle and wont LOSE you the game, while Williams will give up some big plays but will often win you games. when you have a great offence like the saints did, a few big plays given up are more than balanced by getting the ball back quickly.

I wonder about how often teams with great offences overcame turnovers, obviously being able to consistently move the ball in chunks would mitigate that.


Super Bowl MVP
Staff member
BGO Ownership Group
Oct 8, 2009
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Leesburg, Va

There are few stats that have a serious impact on a game, and this is one of them...

1. Turnover margin
2. Time of possession
3. First Downs

Each of them effects the other in some form, and if you can lead in all 3 of those, you're going to win more games then you lose.

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