Factoring turnovers into W-L equation

Aug 27, 2002 4:14 AM

Much of the difficulty in predicting the outcomes of football games comes from the intervention of fumble and interceptions.

Memorable turnovers linger for years in the minds of football fanatics and many clubs have felt the harsh sting of the play that went awry. The question posed to us though is how to make good use of these lightning strikes that change the outcome of games?

There are two types of turnovers ”” fumbles and interceptions. In the NFL the average team turns the ball over 1.9 times per game (1.1 from interceptions, 0.8 by fumbles). In a typical NFL contest you’ll see close to four turnovers.

Turnovers come out as far and away the most predictive of the six statistics tested. In more than 3-of-4 games, the team with fewer turnovers will win.

The question then comes whether being proficient in net turnovers a sign of talent, expert coaching, precision timing, aggressive defensive techniques or is it largely a matter of blind dumb luck?

In 1995 the St. Louis Rams got off to a surprising 4-0 start. The Rams had 14 takeaways and no giveaways in those outings. The Rams finished the season 7-9 with a final turnover net of —3. Score one for dumb luck.

Marty Schottenheimer’s Kansas City Chiefs ranked 3rd, 11th, 1st, 2nd, 5th and 1st in net turnovers over a span of six seasons. Getting the best of it in turnovers can make a team look good even when they’re not.

Surprisingly, the wrong approach is to back the team with the better performance thus far. If you decided to play the team with the better net turnover mark coming into the game over the years, you would have been crushed from a betting standpoint. On the other hand, those who played the worse turnover team would have been well rewarded!

In using the "Turnover Difference Theory," you need a difference in net turnovers between the two teams of half a turnover per game or more. For instance, after five games, Team A is +4, team B is +1, which translates to a

0.6 difference per game. In such cases, look at the poorer team to make an imminent turnaround.

In successful handicapping, where 52.4% is break even, 55% is solid, 57.5% is excellent, and 60%+ is world class, this falls right in the "solid" range. When you consider the simplicity of the strategy, it is remarkable indeed that one factor can be so strong!

Consistency is unfortunately not ideal. Following the T/O method blindly from 1991 to 2000 would have produced yearly efforts of 53%, 62%, 64%, 55%, 67%, 51%, 54%, 55%, 54%, 46%. Still this rates as only two losing seasons out of 10.

However, last year’s turnover difference results rated among the best seasons ever. Plays were a solid 50-30 (62.5%) in weeks 5-12, and a more than respectable 29-20 (59%) starting from week 13.

All in all, turnovers are worth following for handicappers.




Home Away  

Overall Win%  


Fewer Turnovers  





More Rushing Yards  





Most Possession Time  





More Total Yards  





Most 3rd Down Makes  





More First Downs  






Play Type  

VS The Spread